By Adewale Kupoluyi
The just-concluded 5th National Conference/Exhibition and Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Nigerian Women in Agricultural Research and Development (NiWARD), themed: “Diversity and Inclusiveness in Agricultural Transformation”, offered another opportunity to review the place of this important sector in turning around the economic fortunes of African nations and as well as the importance of women in agriculture. As a fall-out of the discourse, African leaders have been urged to strengthen and increase investment, research and development in agriculture as well as engage more women, if the continent is to sustain the current momentum of improved Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Giving the charge at the NiWARD conference was the Director, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD), Dr. Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg. She added that the African Development Bank (AfDB) had identified agriculture as the continent’s second largest industrial sector by value while the McKinsey Global study estimated that agriculture in Africa would grow by 6 per cent per year until 2030. Dr. Rutenberg noted that strengthening agriculture would have significant economic impact that reaches the majority of African population. The Director of AWARD reminded stakeholders that women make significant contributions to agricultural production, but do not get as much recognition and opportunities to influence policy and decision-making, saying there was need for greater efforts aimed at making the agricultural sector more gender responsive while concerted action from several actors leading to the birth of inclusive agricultural value chains, should be embraced. She stated that AWARD had contributed positively towards the inclusive agricultural transformation through AWARD Fellowships, a career development programme that had reached 465 fellows and 397 unique mentors from 16 Sub-Saharan African countries.
Dr. Rutenberg commended NiWARD for being a shining example to many African countries. The Kenyan-born AWARD Director highlighted the programme’s Phase III Strategy (2017-2022), to include seeking to have capable, confident and influential African women scientists leading critical advances and innovations in agricultural research and development. Other strategies are seeking to support African agricultural research and development institutions that prioritise and embrace gender responsive agricultural research in both policy and practice.
The chairman of the occasion, who is also the Executive Director, Small and Medium Scale Enterprises (SME), Bank of Industry (BoI), Mr. Waheed Olagunju, stated that Nigeria was more of an agrarian country than an oil-producing nation. He said that if the per capita income of the country was to make meaning to the population, the nation should start with agriculture and continue to build on agriculture. He stressed the need for the country to continue to strive to produce most of the equipment that the nation needs to add value to the personal production, if the country needed to domesticate its production capacity.
According to him, “I am not aware of any other country that is more or better blessed than Nigeria. If I come to this world a hundred times, I would want to come as a Nigerian. I have been privileged and opportune to travel widely. My antecedent was in communication and by virtue of this I had travelled over the world”. Comparing Nigeria with other nations of the world, he said that Nigeria have huge agricultural resources, the nation have access to the Atlantic ocean, noting the fact that the country was not landlocked was something the citizens have been taken for granted. He stated further that Nigeria was better placed by virtue of its geographical location in West Africa, noting that the citizens should harness the potentials of the location.
On climatic conditions, the BoI Boss said that the nation had one of the best weather, as the country could farm all year round, adding that the country had marine resources across the length and breadth of Nigeria. He noted further that the nation had what it takes to sustain life, stating that with agriculture’s per unit investment, the multiplier effect was higher in the developmental impact than other sectors because the value chain is extensive, whether vertically or horizontally. He stated further that for the nation to get to its required destination, the country cannot be practicing agriculture, the way it had been practicing it, noting that research and development was very important. Mr. Olagunju noted that youths needed to be encouraged to go into farming, placing the achievements of the Federal Government recorded in the telecommunications and banking industries, which was unprecedented in the history of the country.
He said that BoI was proud to be associated with the process, saying that most of the equipment the country used were still imported. His words: “We need to increase the extent to which we are self-reliant. For us to be self-reliant, we must have food security which is food sufficiency. This could not be achieved without proper research and documentation. We have to link research with the industry. For instance, in Europe, we have cows that produce about 50 litres of milk per day while in Nigeria, we are still struggling with cows that produce one litre of milk per day. With a population of about 200 million, how can we achieve food security? Yield per hectare is much higher in some countries of the world than in Nigeria”.
He commended the initiative of the NiWARD officials, saying that it was in order and consistent with the country’s national objectives and priorities. He noted that the country could not be industrialised without agriculture, assuring that any initiative that was potentially valuable and bankable that came out of these processes would be funded by the BoI, stressing that BoI would continue to assist entrepreneurs for their businesses to be viable and sustainable.
The Dean, College of Food Science and Human Ecology (COLFHEC), Professor Lateef Sanni, in a message at the conference, hosted in Abeokuta by the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, had stated that the College perceived agriculture from the point of view of what should happen to it, after it might have left the farm and when the fork starts to do justice on it. In concluding this discourse, we may need to ask: what are the three things that conference has taught us? First, agriculture remains the key to development. Secondly, women should always be empowered to go into agriculture. Africa should be allowed to determine its future by refocusing in agriculture. With these insights, there should be a brighter future for Africa and indeed, Nigeria.