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Monday, December 5, 2022

We can feed ourselves – Moyinjesu

Interview Page 16 Oct 26Dr Emmanuel Moyinjesu is the head of the Agronomy Department and Director of Entrepreneurship Centre of the Federal College of Agriculture, Akure (FECA). He spoke with Kehinde Oluwatayo on innovations of the school and challenges before the nation in achieving food security.

Excerpt;

You will observe lately that the prices of food items have continued to rise. What do you think is responsible for this?

Multiple factors. Issue of demand and supply. Our population is increasing at a terrific rate, getting to 200 million. There is much demand for food, but the supply is very low. There are few people going into agriculture. Our production does not match the huge demand. You will discover that it is worsening as government is trying to reduce importation, much food is not imported into the system. That is why I say there is no food in this country and our population is growing. These are the major factors. There is also climate change. Between August and September, the volume of rain that fell was huge. This is not good for agriculture. It resulted into flooding, a lot of large scale rice farms along River Niger and so many parts of the country were flooded and washed away. Definitely that will contribute to low production. And not only that, the farmers because of poor marketing structure, agric products are very inelastic, this year, the price goes up, next year it comes down. The farmer that suffers huge loss last year will not be encouraged to cultivate this year. And for now in this country, we don’t have large scale farmers. There are small scale farmers, cultivating a small piece of land. Accessibility to land is an issue. Much land is not opened up for agriculture. I have said it so many times, land is not used for housing and industrial estate alone, but also for agriculture. We do not plant in the air or on water. The zeal of government  to allocate land for housing estate and industrial estate is high and it is not like that in agric. If you say you want to go into agriculture, let me give you an instance, a plot of land of 120/100, if you move from Mobil to Oba-Ile, it is not less than one million naira, who will buy that one for agric?  Urbanization is coming up everyday and people are moving inward. So there is scarcity of land for agric. And there are no incentives for farmers. For instance, for farmers who have laboured much and suffered drought or loss. There is no insurance for them. There is car insurance, building insurance, the farmer is bearing 100 percent risk and any business that is full of risk, people will run away from it.

Besides, no fund. Look at our banks, how much do they set aside for agriculture or credit facility. If you want to obtain bank loan, you cannot get it for less than 37 percent interest rate. Where will the farmers get that from? The banks and all these institutions are our problems in agric. There was a time they were preaching that agric is the moving business. Investible fund that should have gone into agriculture has been used for another sector of the economy. Majority of them, when the economic meltdown started, they put investible fund in oil and gas and that was the year the price fell, that is why so many of them are still in trouble up till now. So, most of these economy managers are out of touch with economic realities.

Then weak government policies. Look at all the 36 states of the country, look at their budgets, they do not put more than three percent into agriculture, what will they get from that? Is it three percent that you will use to buy inputs? What about irrigation, what about silos? Agric is beyond buying cutlass and chemicals. They need to be tutored, so the totality of these are factors responsible for high cost of food items. Pressure is on the few available foods.

Recently, the Federal Government launched a six month cassava plan in your institution. What is it about and how far have your institutions gone in effecting it?

As a Federal Government institution, we are to implement government’s programmes and you will discover that in the cassava value chain initiative, what government is saying is that, we have the comparative advantage here, i.e. our climate favours mass production of cassava. People know a little bit of it. Many people going into agric think it is like the way our fathers were doing it, but it needs technology and those technology can only be received by training. That is why as an institution, we are pursuing a complete cassava value development. What do I mean by complete? For instance, when you want to produce cassava, our people produce for tubers alone, they don’t talk about the stems and leaves. The stem cutting and the leaves have more monetary value than the tubers. So we want to show the farmers that right from the production, you can get enough income.

Not that alone, the technology of getting higher yield. Most of our farmers don’t get more than 10 tonnes because of the spacing and because of the varieties they plant. You see, we are growing different varieties, the Vitamin A Cassava we developed through technology, that Vitamin A is for sightseeing and some other opportunities. We are encouraging the growth of Vitamin A through some organisations that are working with us. There are a lot of varieties we have developed. There is one called 0581, TMS419. Most of them are new and the aim is to increase the tonnes per hectare. On our own field, with our farmers, we can get 30 to 45 tonnes. Not only that, we encourage processing. Not that you produce tubers alone to produce garri and fufu and there is something we call cassava snack, cassava mixed with cowpea to make snack. All these will encourage mass production. In processing at that stage, the farmer will get more money. So, if people cannot go into production, they can go into processing to make money. If you get to our farm, we have a very big cassava processing given to us by our donor agencies. We have partnership with HarvestPlus, CAVAII and some other ones.

Apart from that, as an institution, we are rendering more capacity building and training, a lot of people are coming from outsides. Some people just came from the East to learn more about this cassava production. As an institution, we are the first institution that developed agric value chain curriculum. So we train students to become agric entrepreneurs so that when they go out, they would have started doing the work. This is a holistic way by which, through us the government is creating job, to increase income of farmers, to make sure there are enough raw materials for the agro allied industries. You heard the Ondo State Government saying they are developing ethanol project. From cassava alone, 60 percent of ethanol can be derived, that will reduce the cost of fuel by almost 50 percent, these are opportunities. Our textile industries use starch from cassava to bind their clothes, our pharmaceutical companies use starch from cassava to bind their drugs. It is to bring all these into the value chain so that people will know that it is not when you produce it from garri alone that it is business. We are taking it to higher ground. So that whatever product we produce can be exported or consumed internally, to create market, to create opportunities through the assistance of the Federal Government. As an institution, we have four adopted villages around us. One is along Airport road in Owode, there is a garri processing factory. The farmers come here to receive training, we gave them technology in processing and production and they are doing well. There is another one at Eleyowo, cassava and poultry. We have much presence at Ibulesoro for cassava. The technology is being disseminated downward to reach more and we believe with time, we will reach more.

Not government alone, our telecommunication industries need to change their approach towards corporate social responsibilities. It is not when you pay millions of naira to bandmen and take them round the city alone, they can fund the purchase of processing machine, dryer, fund large scale farm, buy tractor so that they know areas they are useful and can assist them after all farmers too buy airtime. Check their CRS, there is nothing for farmers. Even banks, check their annual report, they give millions of naira to those playing polo and the rest of them, nothing for farmers. These are economic dislocations and they are facing the fact. And then there is something we call backstocking, this is a situation where farmers on the field have problem and run to us, we give them technical advice. Our Agroshop serves as an advisory centre. People come for technical advice. There is much linkage between us and the society. It is not about the Federal Government alone, our elites should plough back to agric that made them great so that the future generation can learn from it. Instead of them to launch foundations that are not beneficial, they can launch agric endowment fund. Even our private sectors are not living up to expectation. Those who are into soap making, how many support are they giving to agric, afterall, they use oil, not sand. Those making baby food, they use grains. We need to change our perception and I won’t blame them. It is because there is weak political will. A matter of law, our politicians, House of Assembly, Representatives, Senate should bring up a law that will advance agriculture. For instance, a law that 20 percent of our cassava should go into bread making and make it compulsory for flour mill, or secondary school students should cultivate or six months of NYSC must be used to do agric. It will stimulate cassava production. Weak policies not backed by law. We are just consuming, we are not producing. I am not an Economist, but I know that any economy where consumption is more than production is a weak economy and unfortunately, our oil is no longer selling. A lot of energy alternatives are coming up.

We visited Brazil recently, they use biofuel from sugarcane to drive their cars. European government in 2025 will not be producing engines using petrol. Our fuel will soon be useless. Government policies, government does not give national merit award to farmers or a researcher in agriculture, they give to those who read Law, Medicine and so on. We have fundamental societal dislocation regarding agriculture and we are paying for it as a nation. Our currencies are weak; there is massive unemployment, no industries. Youths that are supposed to be innovative and energized are becoming social misfits and above all, people who do not eat will lose self esteem, become subservient and become less privileged.

Rain this year took another pattern and almost everywhere in the country was flooded. What is the effect of the prolonged rain?

It is a matter of studying. There are some institutions we do not build in agriculture. Build these institutions, empower agroclimatological agencies with state of the art equipment who can give predictions to farmers. So that they can guide the farmers as to when to plant and not to plant. All these advisory services are not there. This rain we are talking about is  still within its own time. Our God is the number one factor in climate change, other factors depend on planning. October 22 is the commencement of dry season. We are not planning for that. How many irrigation sites do we have? When we have prolonged rain, there will also be prolonged dry season of six months, we do not study the weather. What we are seeing is a normal climatic change. People should study all these climate trend and provide what is called agric seasonal calendar, so that farmers will know when to cultivate.

We are not building capacity of people in an important area. It is a problem. I have said it, a country cannot go beyond its body of research embrace research. You will discover that rain is no longer evenly distributed. It is concentrated in the last two months resulting in flood and we are the cause of it. It is our activities, depletion of ozone layer, gas flaring, felling of trees, all these culminated to climate change. We need some policies, it requires concerted effort. In oversees, you have an agency in charge of that. This can be passed and backed by law in form of national commission for climate change mitigation.

Another issue is Fulani herdsmen. Develop pasture for cattle rearers and sink borehole for them. They don’t need to roam about I planted a maize farm and when I got there, it has been destroyed by cattle rearers. So what will be the gain of such farmer.

Apart from the achievements you mentioned, are there latest discoveries by your institution?

 There are a lot of them. I told you we are a training centre and we have a lot of discoveries by the students. For example, in the Fishery Department, we have a fish cage culture . It is different from the conventional pond. It was brought in by the Chinese government for us and people who have river passing through their areas will benefit more. They can put fish cage culture and put 3,000 to 5,000 fish in it. People from agencies and ADP are coming to learn about it and we are using it to train the students.

Our Agric Engineering Department is doing fantastically well. Recently, they developed solar energy to provide alternative source of energy for drying and for domestic uses. If those things are built up, I am sure most of our villages that do  not have light will be lightened up and it will be used for drying and for other domestic uses. And in the Crop Department here, there are a lot of researches we have done. We have shown that wheat can grow here, that cucumber can grow here and our Extension Department developed bulletins and flyers to disseminate information to farmers in our adopted villages and for record keeping. So we have a lot of potentials here, but we are not funded.

The Hope Owena Press
The Hope Owena Presshttp://www.thehopenewspaper.com
Owena Press Limited (Publisher of The Hope Newspaper), Akure

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