Unleashing Innovation: Can Nigeria Reconstruct Its Agriculture Narrative?

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This year could very well mark a turning point for Nigeria’s agriculture narrative bedeviled by challenges limiting the nation’s productivity and a slide in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Despite numerous internal challenges militating against the most populous black nation in the world, such as corruption, renewed militancy in the Niger delta regions and insurgency in the north-east, Nigeria has positively lived up to its moniker as the giant of Africa in many ramifications.

With a total geographical area of 923, 768 square kilometers, Nigeria is one of the largest countries in Africa, and lies wholly within the tropics along the Gulf of Guinea on the western coast of Africa.  It is also endowed with a highly diversified agro-ecological condition, which makes possible the production of a wide range of agricultural products.

Particularly important in terms of its employment generation and its contribution to GDP and export revenue earnings, agriculture constitutes one of the most important sectors of the economy.

However despite Nigeria’s rich agricultural resource endowment, the sector has been growing at a very low rate as less than 50 per cent of the country’s cultivable agricultural land is under cultivation.

Efforts to encourage its mostly youth population to embrace farming and agricultural related ventures have yielded little results, as the youths still consider a career in agriculture unexciting and unrewarding.

In Nigeria today, it is common to see smallholder and traditional farmers who use rudimentary production techniques cultivate most of the land with resultant low yields.

This is because the smallholder farmers are constrained by many problems including poor access to modern inputs and credit, poor infrastructure, inadequate access to markets, land and environmental degradation and inadequate research and extension services.

Solutions from Aso Villa

Three weeks from now July 28th precisely, President Muhammadu Buhari will host 50 of Nigeria’s brightest technology start-ups from across the country at an event tagged ‘Aso Villa Demo Day’ AVDD, as they exhibit their innovations to a wide range of investors and decision-makers in the public and private sector.

It is hoped that AVDD which is aimed at promoting entrepreneurship, innovation, job creation and economic growth through the use of new and emerging technologies would encourage innovative ideas in the agricultural and alternative energy spheres.

Also this year, the Federal Government plans to establish innovation hubs across the country — two ‘super’ hubs in Lagos and Abuja with six regional technology hubs in the six geo-political zones.

This will be done in partnership with several major technology companies and the technology hubs will be fully resourced with infrastructure and capacity building tools.

While it is a laudable initiative coming from the presidency, the six regional hubs should be specifically dedicated to produce technology solutions that would spark youths’ interest in agriculture, while the two super hubs in Abuja and Lagos can focus on producing relevant innovative technology solutions for a wide range of business, commercial and government problems.

Before the recent passing of the government’s 2016 budget, Vice President Yemi Osibanjo had revealed government’splan to encourage innovative technologies to spearhead smart domestic production especially in agriculture once the budget was passed.

According to him extension services which will map and match soil data with best soil and harvest practices ensuring that farmers get relevant and tailored advice via cloud technology will be implemented.

“We intend to create a reservoir of human capacity in technology that can be exported internationally. Nigeria can lead India as a market for technology and innovation.

However, VP Osibanjo says: “On its own technology isn’t enough because new technology is a tool that merely enables us to transform how services operate to serve citizens. It isn’t an end in itself but it does unlock the doors.”

Bridging the gap

According to Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr Ogbonnaya Onu, the nation was still too far away from where it should be in technology development.

Onu said this at the opening of a two-day National Workshop on Development of a Second Project Plan for the Reform of NigerianSTI system in Abuja on Monday, noting that the partnership between Nigeria and UNESCO to develop and implement a Science Technology and Innovation (STI) policy would propel Africa’s largest economy to new levels of growth.

“ STI holds the key to development of any nation; its level of acquisition determines whether a nation develops or not, as nations’ growth is measured by factors like increase in Gross Domestic Production(GDP), power supply and food security,” he said.

Onu said Nigeria cannot ignore the need at this time to increase investments in research and STI like other developed nations of the world.

“Nigeria has enormous human and material resources but it needs to move the economy from being a resource-based to knowledge-based nation and innovation -driven economy. “

Onu said that Nigeria’s cooperation with UNESCO on STI development started in 1999, but that the first phase of the project started effectively in 2004 and ended 2015 with some achievements including review of Science Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP).

He urged the workshop participants to put Nigeria’s interest first in everything they did.
Onu called on researchers not to rest on their findings until their works got to market places and compete favourably with other products and services.

He assured that President Muhammadu Buhari was determined and working very hard to take the nation to where it should be in STIdevelopment.

Also speaking at the occasion, Dr Benoit Sossou, the Director, UNESCO Regional Office, gave assurance on the readiness of the organisation to sustain the support to Nigeria in STI development.

“UNESCO will continue to provide technical assistance, play advisory roles and collaborate with FMST, Federal Ministry of Education and other relevant agencies in promoting STI for sustainable development
“Phase 1 of the joint projects; tagged: `Assistance for the reform of Nigerian STI system’ was to provide assistance to the Federal Government in strengthening national system on Innovation.

Sossou recalled that the project built science and innovation management capacities in the country, while providing high level policy advice which culminated in the 2012 Nigeria STI policy.

The Director also urged participants at the workshop which included members of the academia, representatives of research institutes in the country, representatives of FMST parastatals and international resource persons on STI to use acquired knowledge from the summit in promoting STI for sustainable development.

“ I look forward to Nigeria-UNESCO Phase 2 project document,” he said.

 

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