Prof. Trenchard O. Ibia is the Chairman, Local Organising Committee (LOC) of the forthcoming 38th Annual Conference of the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (SSSN), billed for 10th – 14th March, 2014. He also teaches Soil Science particularly Soil Chemistry, Soil Fertility and Fertilizer in the Department of Soil Science and Land Resources Management, University of Uyo, AkwaIbom State. He spoke with FRANCIS OGAR, ahead of the conference
What is the conference all about?
Thank you very much. The 38th annual conference of Soil ScienceSociety of Nigeria (SSSN) is the annual conference that looks at soilin relation to development. It is held every year. This is the 38th annual conference. This university hosted it last in 1994. That wasthe 21st annual conference. Between that time and now is 21years andwe are happy now to host it again. The last one was hosted in Nasarawa state last year. University of Nigeria, Nsukka hosted it 2012.
The Soil is the life of any nation. The soil is a sub-set of the land.
We are interested on how to look at the land and get integrated into development. It is going to pull people from all over the world.
Hopefully to come here to brain storm on soil and development.
This year’s theme “Nigerian Agricultural Transformation Agenda: Soil as key to National Development” is apt because we just want to go beyondlooking at soil for agriculture. We want tolook at issues that challenge the utilization and management of the Soil. Agriculture is taking a good portion of the land for soil anddevelopment. What about other aspects that compete with agriculture;namely large acre of land for housing development, large portion of land for infrastructural development, large portion of land forurbanisation of the Air Port, rail, road, and the hospitals.
Incidentally, in Nigeria we take large part of the land for development. Like AkwaIbom Airport that took over 300 acres of land.
What is the challenge to all these developments?
If you take that aspect of land what happens to agriculture, what are we required to do. Besides that, we have natural challenges like erosionravin development. In Akwa Ibom state we have several erosion sites. We want to look at the soil in relation to climate change.
Incidentally as in rain forest you add up what it has to do with climate change. So, there are many things we want to look at. We have given the governor of AkwaIbom State a topic to address the conference.
The topic is “Uncommon Transformation, Paradigm in AkwaIbom State; Prospects and challenges of soil and land utilization and management.
What informed us is that we have seen massive development. Something is suffering. Soil and land is suffering. If you are going to dualize the road, you must get land. When we take land, something is being deprived. Besides that, you are going to extract the road materials that you are going to use. The top soil, you see all kinds of borrow pits that are created.
When you take that, you have created another challenge, erosion and environment hazards and so on. Besides that we are developing challenges, because when you expand the road you take away the farming land near the road. So, something must suffer. We want to look at development in all aspects. Right now we had crisis of flood, if it rains now in Uyo, you are going to have flood. The reason is very simple, you have blocked the natural drain.
When you raise the soil surface from here you create problem for water to find its way which hiders to discharge into the river channels or streams. So the system has to look at that aspect of challenge. Our soil scientists are also interested because anything you do on environment affects the soil. If you can not channel water properly it is going to destroy somebody, farm land. The person may be boor or has no capacity to channel the water. It is going to pose another challenge. This is what this conference brings out.
I have also given the speaker, AkwaIbom State House of Assembly another topic “Soil and land Resources and management; Issues for Legislature. We are expecting the minister of Agriculture to address the conference as the key note speaker and several other people like that.
38 years has been a long journey; what have been your impacts?
Well, right now we have a bill in the National Assembly requesting to create a Law to establish Nigeria Institute of Soil Science. That idea and the formation for that thinking has been on for 45years. If we succeed in creating that bill, we will be able to regulate utilization of land.
Every where in the world there is interest in how soil is used, how land is used. If we get that done we have achieved a lot. We have seen that Nigeria has not been able to produce a soil map. But we have gone far in that process. 38years of the existence of this society we have linked to several international organisations and all members of International Union of Soil Science. We are members of a lot of other professions that look at the soil. We relate to food and Agricultural organization that regulate agriculture utilisation and land. So in Nigeria model we have made model achievable, we will achieve more if agriculture would have been a priority in Nigeria.
Nigeria has a vast land yet there is food crisis in the country, why?
Well, land is vast to the extent that is not as vast interms of where you are. Land may vast in the North but it is not vast in AkwaIbom State. In every one square kilometer of land you have human beings living. The population density is very high here. That is why is going to be difficult for when Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) said they want 10 hectare of land in one place, I shouted that it was not going to be possible because you can find it here.
If you want two square kilometer you may relocate people, to settle this or that for that purpose. However, we have food scarcity because we have not given priority to agriculture. Everywhere in the world agricultural workers are the highest paid. In the university right from 1974 we started doing agriculture ever 5years. The intent was that when we graduate agriculture graduate, you enter the civil service on level 9. You become a professional. T
hat is why we changed it from BSc to B agriculture. It is not for agriculture graduate to room around the street. When you go around the ministry they starts them with Grade level 8. A lot of things happen here. Private people are not prepared to invest in agriculture because of somersault of policies. Government starts something, another person comes in and change. Another person puts in a law that we are not going to import aparticular food item, another person comes and change the system. So policy somersault, policy inconsistency, minimal funding of agriculture makes the difference.
In Ghana, Cocoa production is in the ministry of finance. In Ghana if you produce one cup of cocoabeans that meet international price they pay you 70% of international price of cocoa and you are linked to the shares where our minister now called “value added shares”. So it does not matter how small your shares are.
This cocoa is being sold at 100 dollar per ton. The government of Ghana takes only 30%, 70% goes to the farmer. But we don’t have that kind of regulation. The smaller farmers who are in that production go home with anything. Nobody borders to the extent that this cocoa price increases from 100 to 105 a dollar per ton. Out of the 30% that the government takes, Ghanian farmers will get free spraying every year.
We have cocoa here, we have oil palm and what are we doing. Research institute in Nigeria that look at agriculture are not funded. When I was a commissioner and I had a programme that needed me to go to (NAFOR) Nigeria Institute of Agriculture Food and Research when I got to NAFOR the Director of NAFOR will tell me that for the past 4 – 5 years he has not received capital grants and they have no money to link to the national grid.
They were generating their electricity from the generators. It can not work. We are the first country in the world to have Oil Palm Research Institute but Indian that never had oil palm had the best funded Oil Palm Research Institute and is a credit to them and they are planting oil palms. We can not produce. The level of production rests more on lower poor farmers. When something happens to any farmer there is no insurance.
Role of Education
Well, for agriculture the bulk of farmers are naturally educated and knowledgeable but we have not been able to empower them to translate their traditional knowledge to scientific knowledge. Agriculture is driven by market technology and farmers research all over the world but here our researches are not needed. People go to school but they have no access to apply the knowledge. I am a professor of soil science, how relevant am I to the industry. How many farmers consult me, Nobody. How do I create the thinking for the industry to function effectively for the country. It poses a problem to educational institutions in both ways.