Subsistence farming cannot sustain Nigeria-Don

Interview   November 2.JPGProf. Tunde Oluwalana is the  Head Of Department, Food Science  and Technology at the Federal University of Technology, Akure( FUTA). He spoke with LOLA OMOWAYE & BUKOLA OLAMONA on the need for government to be committed to agriculture, in order to boost food security, implement policies that will attract youths to agriculture,  and the need to curb wastage of agricultural products.


What informed the topic of your inaugural lecture”Give Us This Day, Our Daily Fruits which you delivered recently”?

My inaugural lecture topic gave a suggestion on the panacea to losses, wastages and micro nutrient deficiency diseases. Well, this topic emanated from two directions, one is in line with my area of specialisation and the other is an inspiration, because when you want to do certain things, you need to seek the face of God.

The first one which is my area of research is Post-Harvest Technology. The first component is post-harvest, what happens to agricultural commodities after harvesting them. You know when agricultural commodities are still in the soil, they derive their nutrients from the soil. Nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, minerals, iron and so on, but the moment you harvest them, you have cut them off from the source(life).

Being biological materials (living entities), they still want to struggle to survive ,so  we post-harvest technologists still look for means to extend the shelve life( how long it can last before consumption) because once it is harvested, they keep respiring, they take in  oxygen and give out carbon dioxide and in the process, they get deteriorated. So, if no concerted effort is made to preserve them  by keeping them under the conditions that is acceptable to the commodity, they will deteriorate quickly. So I got those insight to that topic  through this means and the other one, I just asked God.

 I picked fruits because I found out that there are a lot of health benefits in consuming fruits. Though those chemicals are in small quantities  but once you  make it a routine to eat them constantly, you will get sufficient quantity of those chemicals which are biological. It is different from the synthetic chemicals that we inject in our bodies, the ones in the fruits are natural.

Sir, don’t you think the chemicals  and fertilisers used in nurturing the fruits are hazardous to our health?

If I get what you are talking about correctly,  it is about GMO, Genetically Modified Products  which get fattened up and big. Well, I think scientists are busy everyday and they are working against time, because if you look at the rate at which the world population is increasing, it is alarming and if we are  to go by arithmetic progression and waiting for when the commodity will mature and ripe enough for harvest, there may be no food.  So, I will not advocate against it, as long as what is given to the land will still go through  breakdown before the plant absolves them. What those using Genetic Modification are doing is that they are looking at different crops, different varieties, different species  and looking at what is dominant in these fruits or what is needed in this species that can be extracted and can be implanted into another one, so that the one hitherto regarded as having some weaknesses can be strengthened. So that if a plant will take eight months to maturity,  and they have a specie that takes like say three or four months  to mature,  they may look for those traits in the early maturity ones  and imput them in the late maturity ones.

The area you delivered your lecture on,  is an area Nigeria has challenges in terms of production, processing, and preservation. On production, why is it that Nigeria cannot grow fruits like apple, strawberry, or walnuts in large quantities?

There is one thing that marvels me about God, He has put in right places, right instrumentation, right atmosphere, right crop, everything that suits those that are located in that area. The apple, strawberry and  grape, they all grow very well in the cold region of the world, because there are certain pathways for the development and growth of these plants. Those that do well in the advanced countries need some season of cold for them to grow, so if you bring them to hot region like Nigeria and some parts of Africa, they will rot. Our own plant follows a Carbon 4 pathway while those that do well in the Western region follows the Carbon 3 pathway and it has something to do with certain period of their growth requiring exposure to cold weather. So if Nigeria attempts  to grow such crops, we may need to subject  them to the conditions  available abroad. We are planting on free land without fertilisation, we are still not doing  enough, so how will you now ask a peasant farmer  to now go and build a green  house?

For those who are doing modern agriculture, you do not need a space more than this building to be a commercial tomato farmer, all you have to do is just build a green house ,you plant the tomato, you screen them from insect, and they grow well.

Israel is a desert land and yet they are able to grow fruits in large quantities?

Yes, they do not have large land, the topography there is very hilly, it is  mountainous and they know what they went through before they had access to that land. Besides, they are God chosen people. So, they developed the land because they are very brilliant. In Israel when you build your house, you do not put zinc roofing there, you make it  flat, put soil on top of the building and you grow crops there.  They mapped out some flat hilly place and grow crops. In fact they are a leading country in the world producing citrus, so if you now want to compare them with Nigeria, We are miles apart.

Can’t we replicate same here?

Well, once you have a problem and you did not realise you have a problem, then it will persist. Nigeria is so blessed, when I look around, I wonder how God has been so favourable with us. The land is so fertile, the environmental conditions are so favourable, so, I think our problem is that we are lazy but our laziness is a conditional one, because when our people migrate to other countries of the world they work like jackals and they excel. In fact, Nigerian medical doctors are one of the best in the US now, even in the area of ICT. So we cannot say we are naturally lazy, but I want to say circumstances around us is making us to be lazy. I used to believe in the past, that we have bad leaders, but again over the years I came to the conclusion that the leaders are bad, the followers are bad. A system will only evolve what it has, so you find out that our problem is not about leadership, it is about you and me. Until the day Nigerians  rise up and they are bold enough to face our leaders and ask them questions, then we will remain where we are.

So, if we link that up to why we are not doing it right in agriculture, it is as a result of what we have just discussed politically. The government does not have policies that they believe in,  because if you look at policies that support agriculture in Nigeria, they are fantastic. The documents are there, but when it comes to implementation, it is then another story will come up.

 Is it good enough that Nigeria that has enough oil and so many natural resources  will even be borrowing money?

We allow people to explore that oil and sell them at ridiculous prices and even the money is not ploughed back into the economy. Some people starched the money abroad, some are now having oil wells, something that should be common wealth, individuals are now having it. So I will still say that the issue of food and agricultural production in Nigeria is not in  the productivity.

It is about good  policies  and believing in those policies and their implementation. If you have a policy which people put their heads  together to formulate and it goes through the legal process, goes through the House of Assembly  and it becomes an act and it comes to the point of implementation and certain people felt that because they are in the corridor of power, they want the benefit for themselves and not for the totality of the nation, then there would be a policy summer sault.  It  is not that Nigeria cannot grow rice, but some people are bringing the rice from Indonesia, Thailand, India, China and they are making more money by bringing in these commodities, so they will never support the  policy of rice cultivation,  no matter how good it is.

Naturally, what food do we have a comparative advantage to produce  over other countries?

Some unpopular fruits  like cherry (Agbalumo), Oro, when you take them abroad, they will be crazy about them. Is one of the fruits we do not value in Nigeria. . The pawpaw that is called Papaya all over the world, there are some countries whose economy depends on it. The major economic power of Israel is drawn from citrus and all these grapes are used in making wine. The major thrust of economy in India is fruit. So, how do you encourage its cultivation when after harvest, it cannot stay more than a week as it rottens away and government is not putting in place policies and facilities that will encourage their safekeeping. You know if the farmers leave their products to ripe, someone who did not  plant it will harvest it for them, so it is not the fault of the farmers using chemicals to ripen it. If they harvest it at that immature stage, and they do not force ripen it, it will not be ripe, because it has not attain the stage of maturity.

How can we produce these  fruits in large quantities  for exportation as a way of boosting Nigerian’s foreign exchange?

We have a very teemed youths, instead of buying them motorcycles to kill themselves, why do I say kill themselves? If you are buying these motorcycles for youths in their twenties and they are exposing themselves to the wind all day long, at least ten hours in a day. He may think he is making money, but he is  also digging his grave. By the time they are in their fifties or sixties, they will develop one vocal or chest disease or another. If the youths know that government can provide main land,  facility, the necessary inputs,  seedlings, fertilisers and even after the farming they are sure of having good sales, they will be interested in agriculture .

Government can give the bank, instructions, that youths will come to apply for loans like from Bank of Industry at seven, eight or nine percent interest, that would attract them. There is need for provision of land. I have talked to many governments at different fora, nobody do the type of farming we do in Nigeria and goes anywhere. We need to change our perception and the way we do things.  What do I mean?

For example, we have farmers and everyone of them is just cultivating one thousand heaps of yam each at different locations. How can that be sufficient for the country, local consumption? What they do in the advanced countries is that they map out areas that are good for specific commodities. In Ondo state, areas in Akokoland , Owo, and Ifon have massive land that would be good for cassava and tomatoes. The government  should earmark that type of land for that commodity. Areas in Akure,  Ilara, and Igbara-Oke and up to Idanre are very good for yams and some other products. Then form the farmers into agriculture cooperatives, like yam tuber producers,  cassava tuber producers, and tomatoes producers,  according to the commodities they produce and let them have access to those lands. Then give them the inputs, tell them to produce these commodities and share the commodities forty percent for government and the farmers to take sixty percent. America spends billions of dollars on agricultural substitution. There was a time they were debating about giving Africans food, but some of their legislators opposed it, that it is better to teach Africans how to farm, not giving them free food.

If you want to farm now and you go to get labourers to weed the place,  you will hear how much they will charge you. At the end of the day, how will you get back the money used in mantaining the farm? The days of cutlasses and hoes are over. If you go on the internet, you will see small tools that are motorised that you can easily use for farming, but where do you get money to purchase them. Where will you get electricity to drive these  tools? If you go to the market now to ask for the cost of chemicals, it is unapproachable. If you engage manual labour, by the time you pay them during the season, by the time you sell your produce, the cost of production will be more than the money you will realise. Also, if you produce in large quantity and unable to sell off, it goes into wastage. The level of wastage in our agricultural products is over forty percent.

How can we curb this wastage?

The only way for us to curb wastage is for government to change its perception of agriculture. Let them look favourably into agriculture and encourage people . First by encouraging youths to take up agriculture from the secondary school. Once a youth in the secondary school makes up his mind and knows that he can become whoever he wants to be through agriculture, he will want to come and read it in the University. Most youths seeking admission into universities are either looking for admission to study medicine, civil engineering, petroleum engineering while nobody is interested in agriculture.  Any nation that decides to spend the largest portion of its foreign reserve on food can never be great. It is  not a curse. Agriculture determines the direction of technology. When you develop your agriculture base, then you can now start thinking about how to keep the excess agricultural commodities. Develop technology to keep them and then develop other technologies. If Thailand does not have extra rice, bring your money, they will not sell rice to you. Other countries too started  importing rice to Nigeria when they saw how much Thailand was making. Our markets are loaded with rice from abroad.

 So why can’t Nigeria produce rice and export to Cotonou or Benin Republic?

Government must find a way in reviewing  its land owner policy. If the land belongs to the families, rent from them. Tell the owners of the land that  government wants to rent it for agriculture for certain years, not to take it over completely and document it. That was what Chief Obafemi Awolowo did. He used the reserved areas, built schools there and gave it the necessary infrastructure and it became attractive. It is something that should start from the bottom, make agriculture syllabus robust in the secondary school, make it attractive at the university level.  If packaging of water has turned many people into billionaires today, imagine someone who can plant,  harvest and process tomatoes into different things like tomatoes paste, and all kinds of products. Now in Akure, you will see different perishable foods packaged and tagged to be sold. If government is resolved that it wants to make agriculture the most desirable job in Nigeria, we can do it but let me sound this warning, if they do not do something about agriculture there is impending danger of hunger in this country, because people are just procreating at an alarming rate. No government has the details of birth rate and all the money we are getting we are pumping it into food importation. The white guys are developing technologies that will not depend on petroleum again and by the time they are through with this, they will no longer need our petroleum and we will be left with agriculture.

What are your future projections?

The rate of cancer is alarming because people are no longer sure of what they are consuming. There are fruits that can be processed in Nigeria if we take things serious  you can walk into the factory to see for yourself what they are producing for you to consume. The things you are buying from abroad, you do not even know what they are putting into it.  Government should encourage people to join agriculture,  provide facilities, inputs,  land, access to finance at one unit (I mean one to nine percent) interest rates.

There should be re-orientation, people should learn to work before enjoying money, that is what the National Reorientation Agency is there for. In Nigeria we like to put work aside,  no nation works like that. If people are not reorientated, when these loans are made available, you will see people going to marry more wives.

Scientists, technologists and engineers must collaborate to find solutions to Nigeria’s problems. Ordinary radio, we cannot manufacture in this country. We are celebrating and over celebrating paper qualifications.  It is time we show forth what we have acquired academically , so that the people can benefit. It is time we do a rethink and our leaders must drive it. Let our governments promote academic excellence.

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