By Adewale Kupoluyi
Over the years, crude oil has been the main source of revenue for Nigeria. Many observers, however, believe that, rather than being a blessing, oil resources appear to have been a curse because the nation has virtually neglected other sectors of the economy while proceeds and management of oil exploration were said to have been poorly handled. This line of argument took the centre-stage at the just-concluded Cassava2017Tech Conference as well as the facilitation and communication skills training programme held for the Agricultural Development Programmes’ (ADPs) extension officers and procurement staff of large-scale cassava producers.
The Cassava2017Tech Conference was put together by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), through the project; ‘Increasing the Performance of the Cassava Industry in West and Central Africa (IPCI)’, by bringing together actors involved in cassava processing, including manufacturers of equipment, factory owners, policy makers, financiers, scientists and engineers, to consider the latest developments in cassava processing in West and Central Africa. Major themes discussed at the well-attended conference covered the profitability of cassava processing, drying innovations, High Quality Cassava Flour, novel cassava value chains, Bioenergy from cassava waste, cassava as animal feed, ‘garri’ and cassava processing as well as the environment. The conference also made it possible for presentations of equipment to be made by Nigerian fabricators.
On the other hand, the facilitation and communication skills’ training programme for Agricultural Development Programmes’ (ADPs) extension officers and procurement staff of large-scale cassava producers was organised by the Cassava: Adding Value for Africa (CAVA II); a project led by the Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta, Ogun State, Nigeria, in partnership with the Natural Resources Institute, University of Greenwich, United Kingdom; Food Research Institute, Ghana; Tanzania Food and Nutrition Centre, Tanzania; Africa Innovations Institute, Uganda; and the Chancellor College, University of Malawi, alongside other partners.
CAVA is set out to increase the incomes of at least, 200,000 value chain actors, mostly smallholder farmers and processors in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Malawi within five years. Another collaborator at the scientific conference was the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa), which is affiliated to the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, and Food Supply.
The uniqueness of the conference was an opportunity for cassava equipment displays, demonstrations at AgraInnovate; CassavaTech mobile app and NRI Cassavabag launch as well as rich presentations by experts such as Dr. Louise Abayomi, Senior Representative, NRI/University of Greenwich; Prof. Ben Bennett, Deputy Director of NRI, University of Greenwich, Prof. Lateef Sanni of FUNAAB; Prof. Kolawole Adebayo of FUNAAB and Mr. Jan Priebe, Senior Research Fellow, NRI/University of Greenwich. Other renowned presenters include Prof. Andrew Westby, Director, NRI, UK; Dr. Marcio Porto, Embrapa, Brazil; Mrs. Yemisi Iranloye, Chief Executive Officer, Psaltry Starch, Nigeria; and Mr. Michael Oye, Bank of Industry, Nigeria; and Engineer Ayo Olubori, President, Nigeria Cassava Processors and Marketers Association (NACAPMA), among others.
The Vice-Chancellor of FUNAAB, Prof. Felix Salako, speaking at the occasion, stressed the need for the nation to increase cassava production in order to meet the increasing local and international demand for the nation’s cassava, stating that the crop’s yield per hectare could be increased through the use of appropriate agronomic practices by farmers and other stakeholders along the cassava value chain. Prof. Salako observed that even though Nigeria prided itself on being the largest producer of cassava in the world, the product yield per hectare still remained low and that, there was an urgent need to increase the national average yield of cassava from less than 12 tonnes per hectare to about 50 tonnes.
Prof. Salako, whose University, FUNAAB hosts CAVA II (Nigeria), observed that “We are having new generation of extension officers. All of you sitting here are young, seeing your faces; I think we are meeting new generation of extension officers. And I hope you are really going to be the catalyst that would push the nation forward in terms of using agriculture as an alternative to crude oil export. It is dawning on everybody now – whether we like it or not – we are running into trouble with oil. What may even make oil to be useless in the fact that people are already thinking of alternative source of energy, even for running cars. The training could not have come at a better time than now”.
The Vice-Chancellor added that “We are ready to partner to strengthen the skills of workers; extension agents in particular, using participatory and adult-learning methodology, to enhance timely and sustained supply of cassava root by small medium farmers. We are confident that the completion of course will make you better and help in building your capacity to aid effective facilitation and communication with farmers. As extension officers, you need to step up your roles and duties in contributing to the development of our nation.
You need to develop good relationship with farmers and subsequently, use these skills to connect yourself. And one thing that has come to fore these days is that farmers did not trust agriculturists anymore. You must be ready to convince the farmer, even to listen to you. So, you need a lot of effort to be able to convince farmers about innovation these days and this is where I think you have Herculean tasks, being agricultural extension agents”.
Salako, a Professor of Soil Physics, the Southwestern Nigeria Coordinator (2016-2021), African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI), a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Project of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Nigeria as well as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) of FUNAAB, noted that it was crucial to put together the training, aimed at enhancing facilitation and communication skills of participants in having better knowledge of life-changing management, saying that this approach of engaging both extension agents of the state ADPs and procurement executives of cassava-processing factories would definitely achieve the desired results. He further charged the country to move away from its over-dependence on oil resources and embrace agriculture, as a sustainable route to national development.
On his part, the Country Manager of CAVA II (Nigeria) and the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) Designate of FUNAAB, Prof. Lateef Sanni, recalled that the issue of inconsistency in the supply of raw materials was a major and critical point for the survival of large scale industries, noting that sourcing for raw materials of between 250 and 450 tonnes of cassava required quite a lot of work.
“We are aware that you have different locations where you source for raw material but at present, there are some issues we have itemised in the last two years – right quality, right quantity and right time of supply – which should be urgently addressed. The major problem is that the farmers themselves have informed us that some of the extension officers or procurement officers are delaying their payments, which is attitudinal and that’s why we felt its better we bring in a consultant that will interact with you on facilitation, communication and sustainable engagement”, he added.
The main lessons that we can take home from the series of activities highlighted above are that agriculture remains one of the best and most viable options to be embraced by developing countries, to attain economic independence and sustainable development. Apart from providing the enabling environment that would make farming to be attractive, what we simply need is the strong political will and commitment, on the part of policy makers and executors, to ensure that agriculture truly takes its pride of place.