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Subsidise Agriculture, Ignore IMF, World Bank, Expert Tells FG

By Queeneth Opara, This Day (Lagos), 7 November 2000

Lagos—The Head of Department of Soil Science in the Federal University of Technology, Minna, Dr. Akim Osunde, speaks about the difficulties experienced in the agricultural sector and the way out in this interview.

Q: In view of the fact that policies are essential for development, how would you rate agricultural policies in Nigeria? Do they favour development of the sector?

A: The Agricultural Policy of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has not got much to be desired. This is because you hear a lot of heart-lifting stories in the mass media about promises to improve the sector; yet when it comes to the reality of implementation, we have a very big problem. It is rather unfortunate that agriculture, which is the backbone of development, has been left to a fast rate of decline over the years. We have subjected agriculture to the least area of priority at the expense of oil and technological development. but what government has forgotten is that there is no country in this world that can stand on its feet without a reasonable commitment to agriculture. A simple example is the collapsed old empire of the Soviet Union which fell because it lacked food security which is procured through agriculture. The Soviet Union was a super power like the United States; but while barely less than 10 per cent of the American people were able to feed the nation and also conveniently feed the world, you find that agriculture was neglected by this other nation and that is why it fell. Nigeria has the potentials of becoming a giant in agricultural produce because it has a lot of fertilised land. but we have not done much in the area of agricultural development.

Q: In your opinion then, how can agricultural development be achieved in Nigeria?

A: Within the circle of government, there are a lot of experts. Within the last one month, I have attended two major conferences, one in Nairobi and two weeks ago, another in Cotonou, Benin Republic. In both, we discussed the problem of agricultural development on the continent. Specifically, the main theme of the conference was Balance Within Management Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. The major issue that was under focus in that conference was that we scientists don't have policymakers in our midst. So we come with a new discovery, we come with our achievements on the field, we come with a lot of invigorating developments on how to improve the present state of agriculture. But how to carry these things from our research stations to farmers out there who need to improve their methods of farming in order to ensure increased sustainable agriculture which urgently needs to be developed, but unfortunately, the most important aspect of that is implementation because if the government, the policy makers who determine policies of government are not well-informed or do not accept what the scientists are propagating, nothing can be done.

And that is one serious issue we were asking ourselves: What efforts are we going to make or are we making to convince policymakers that this is the line which is good for agricultural development? We have experts who are supposed to advise the government but it baffles the mind, and one wonders if it is because the policy makers have made up their minds not to listen to these experts or because there are contending priorities - and the latter looks like the real reason for the setbacks in agricultural development. The government seems to have a lot of priorities and considering the fact that government has limited funds they have to choose among those priorities which is most important and this goes to show that despite all the lip service the government pays to agriculture in the media, it does not consider agriculture in actual fact as a top priority. Otherwise we would not be in the state we are in.

I lecture in the university for example and the low rate of subscription to agricultural courses by our students is one issue of concern to us. And this is a direct reflection of the importance government attaches to agriculture. I remember that around the 1970s there was a problem with the educational courses and so the government gave a lot of incentives to attract students to take up educational courses so that we would continue to have teachers to teach our youths. And so if government is to pay adequate attention to agriculture, such incentives should be given to students to subscribe to agricultural courses. And that is completely lacking right now.

My belief is that no matter what we do in this country as experts in agriculture it would amount to very little advancement for our agricultural sector because the productive forces of agriculture appear crude. We have been talking about peasant farmers, at least, every secondary school student knows a lot about the peasant farmer. There should be this gradual development from peasantry to some level of modernised agriculture. The problem is that with the peasant and illiterate farmers, transfer of technology becomes difficult. For example, new approaches to agriculture come in regularly as indigenous scientists interact with scientists from developed nations but you find out that the ultimate end user of the innovation from these developed nations is the illiterate, peasant farmer and being traditional and very conservative people, you go through quite a lot of trouble trying to make them adopt these new technologies acquired from developed nations.

Q: Considering that the nation presently lacks sufficient number of educated farmers, what approach should be adopted to carry along these peasant farmers in the area of transfer of technology?

A: This is the duty of social economists in agricultural planning. You don't just go into research to get something new, without adequate plans on how to convince the peasant farmers to accept it. This is because no matter how interesting your innovation may be, it may just be rejected by the farmers, and years of scientific research would be wasted. So what social economists do is to look at the social background of the people and carry the people along in the planning and design of the innovation so that it would be adaptable to the rural farmers. And so, this calls for a holistic approach to development of innovation packages to ensure a high percentage of adoption of these packages by the farmers.

Q: When precisely do you think the social scientists would have been able to get the farmers interested in the outcome of their researches?

A: This is an ongoing process and it is not time-defined. For example, if I want to develop a new rice variety if the normal rice variety grows to maturity within about three months and I want to develop a variety that matures within two months and is disease-resistant and so on, the social economists have to look at the background and conduct a survey in the environment seeking the opinion of the farmers about the new variety that can mature within two months or one and a half months instead of the normal three months. Books Home Page