Why plant protection deserves urgent attention

Over the years, the nation has embarked on a series of plans, programmes, and projects to diversify the economy, achieve food security and sustainable development. Unfortunately, not much can be said to have been achieved due to a number of factors chiefly among which little attention is paid to the enormous opportunities that plant protection. What Africa’s most populous country needs to do to realise its huge potentials was offered in a communiqué issued after the 45th Annual/1st International Conference and Golden Anniversary of the Nigerian Society for Plant Protection  (NSPP), held recently in Uyo, Akwa Ibom state.

The historic three-in-one events had as its theme, “Strengthening the Nexus between Research, Industry and Policy in Plant Protection for Increased Agricultural Production” and was attended by plant protectionists, members of agriculture-related agencies and associations including the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, and All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom state Chapter. The historic events’ opening ceremony was chaired by Nigeria’s Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mustapha Shehuri.

Additionally, there were over 500 scientists, students, and stakeholders from more than 40 institutions representing universities, research institutes, private and governmental agencies and organisations. In the 3-page communiqué signed by the Chairman, Communiqué Committee, Prof. Samuel Adebitan, a Fellow of NSPP, observed that Nigeria, which currently ranks 7th is predicted to become the 3rd in the world  population by 2050, implying greater concern for sustainable food, income securities and the reality that agricultural  productivity in the country is continuously being threatened by climate change and aggravated by a lack of early warning systems for plant pests/diseases and pest detections.

The society decries the indiscriminate importation, marketing, and utilisation of agro-chemicals and planting materials in the Nigerian agricultural system, which has caused more damage than providing solutions while sustainable plant health is the key to feeding the growing global population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050 while plant protection remains the main precursor for industrial development by providing the basic materials for processing and enhancing crop plant productivity. The society states that despite  the  fact  that  the  role  of  plant  protectionists  impacts  directly  on  the  economy  of the country, there is inadequate funding and provision of modern facilities by the government for plant protection research to tackle the challenges of pest and disease problems in Nigeria.

NSPP stresses the imperative of reducing malnutrition and its attendant negative health effects on children, nursing mothers, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities with adequate preventive and management measures to ward off biotic factors, which can largely mitigate against food sufficiency in a cheap and affordable manner on the field, in transit and in the stores and warehouses. The body recommends that Nigerian universities’ crop protection curricula should be sacrosanct as the plant protectionists, who are correctly known as plant doctors in the sense that they are the equivalent of the medical personnel as applicable to human and veterinary medicines.

It further calls on the government and universities to establish science and technology parks to serve as technology incubators for the transfer of research outputs, innovations and technology to the industry and having a positive impact on the living standard of the society. Not only that, but linkages between the university, the government, and industry, which should be strengthened with a view to enriching community life as there is a critical need to increase the capacity of research so that bio-ecological models, based on broad geographical scales, can be developed for important pests and diseases. More importantly, there is the need to vigorously pursue the establishment of a Nigerian Institute of Plant Protection (NIPP), which would coordinate issues on plant protection and advise the government on related matters.

NSPP was founded on May 16, 1970, at the then Department of Agricultural Biology (now Crop Protection and Environmental Biology), University of Ibadan, Oyo state. The society is made up of professionals in the field of plant protection and allied Membership is spread across the entire country covering individuals and corporate organisations that are members of the Society. NSPP enjoys excellent cooperation of other societies like the Entomology Society of Nigeria, and Nigerian Society of Nematologists, among others. The incumbent President is Professor Jonathan Atungwu, Professor of Plant Nematology and an Organic Agriculturist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun state and his major focus and contributions to science and development include identification of sources, mechanisms and inheritance of resistance to root-knot nematodes in crops, and the efficacies of organic materials as nematode suppressants.

Certainly, the pathway to agricultural and economic transformation can become a reality when the NAPP is empowered to becoming a full-fledged institute by leveraging of its array of members that are plant protectionists or plant doctors, meticulous implementation of key issues highlighted in the communiqué, NAPP’s thrust of extension, research, storage, and quarantine and in fostering a synergy between research, industry, and policy in plant protection for increased agricultural production and economic development in our dear country, Nigeria.

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