The call by the National Committee of Heads of Colleges of Agriculture and Related Disciplines (NACHCARD) for concerted efforts by governments at all levels in ensuring adequate food production, distribution and security across the country could not have come at a better time.
Nigeria is blessed beyond measures humanly and materially and that is why the major problem confronting the country is not the availability of human or natural elements but the ability to harness existing ones to make life richly comfortable.
Nigeria’s current population is conservatively pegged at 200 million, projected to increase to 250 million by 2050. With the growth rate significantly faster than that of food production and infrastructure, there is the need to increase the nation’s agricultural production and ensure food security, particularly as the country is gradually easing out of Covid-19 lockdown with its attendant economic setback and food shortages.
The growth of any nation depends on her ability to produce food, feed its citizens and reduce importation of food items for the purpose of food security and earning foreign exchange. The true wealth of a nation is not measured in terms of money but in its production of goods and services.
The federal government is commended for ensuring that Nigerians did not experience acute hunger during the Covid-19 enforced restrictions. However, there is high risk of food crisis which could lead to lack of foreign exchange earnings for economic growth and development if effective mechanisms are not put in place to guarantee food security in the post Covid-19 era. This is time for consolidation.
It is necessary to note that every Nigerian is concerned on how the nation could facilitate the pace of its food production in order to feed her citizens, aid economic development and increase its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in post Covid-19 pandemic. The answer is to re-position Nigeria’s agricultural scientist and agricultural extension officers in line with international agricultural best practice. By doing this, food security and other development will be positively influenced.
This has been proved with the use of science and technology in the quest for the best method of improving the yield of crops, protecting crops against diseases and pest, making livestock healthy all the time, designing the best method of crops preservation, storage and even helping in predicting the climate conducive for agricultural practice all of which cannot be over emphasized. To re-position these roles, efforts should be focused on crops processing, packaging, storage, preservation, branding and patency in order to add value to agriculture.
This should be complemented with mechanized and intensive farming system during and after post covid-19 pandemic by focusing in the following areas: availability of credit facilities/financial supports through collaborations to farmers, mechanization and application of Information and Communication Technology, ICT and associated scientific approaches, effective agribusiness management and entrepreneurship development as well as provision of Climate Adaptation seeds and plants
Other factors include government’s encouragement and support for agricultural engineering, enhancement of knowledge of fertilizer formulation, types, ratio and application; application of effective disease and pest control, workable government policy to encourage farmers in their business and provide protection and enabling environment for good farming practices; and making accessibility to farmlands and evacuation of produce cheap through construction of link roads that will see to the easy movement of farm produce from the hinterland to the cities and various market places.
Furthermore, institutions in Nigeria should start incorporating special topics in the agricultural engineering and management classes. Through this, agricultural scientist and extension students in specific classes will gain more knowledge about mechatronics and mechanics; vibration and control of machinery and precision farming machines; intelligent farming and food-processing systems; sensors for crop field surveys; drone flight control; data retrieval and processing; data-based modelling and optimization; and cloud storage and computing to boost agricultural production and development.
Training of more agricultural scientist and extension officers can also attract grant that will support our students/researchers through which they will get extra exposure to advanced technologies in today’s farming and food industries, and be introduced to major food-related companies in the world to get a better understanding of how those technologies are applied now and could be applied in the future is paramount.
In Nigeria today, agricultural transformation is a reigning mantra for sustained food security, exportation and foreign exchange earnings. As the government at the centre is chanting this mantra, the colleges of agriculture and agricultural research institutes should join hands with government to catalyse this desire by incorporating training of more agricultural scientists in their programmes in order to enhance the realization of this lofty goal as part of their mandates.
Agricultural training and research institutions in Nigeria should be empowered to build the capacity of agricultural scientists and agricultural extension agents in order to re-position them to boost agricultural production and management for food security amid post Covid-19 pandemic.
Agbo wiites from Abuja