As the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) marks its 50th anniversary, stakeholders in the agricultural sector have commended the institute for developing and nurturing Nigeria’s agricultural and food sector.
Our correspondent on Tuesday in Abuja said that IITA had improved farmers’ livelihoods, enhanced food and nutrition security, while boosting employment and preserving the country’s natural resource integrity.
The stakeholders described IITA as one of the world’s leading research institutes that were committed to finding pragmatic solutions to the problems of hunger, malnutrition and poverty in the society.
Dr Tunde Arosanyin, the National Coordinator of Zero Hunger Commodities, said that IITA as a research institute has done much in Nigeria, particularly in the area of agricultural research.
“Starting from its pilot programme in the 1970s and the soya bean improvement and cassava value chain, the institute has collaborated with many local and international agencies to come up with improved varieties of agricultural produce,’’ he said.
Arosanyin said that IITA had made significant impact on the country’s food sector via its focus on key tropical food crops, such as banana and plantain, maize, cassava, soybean, cowpea, tree crops and yam.
He, however, noted that some gaps still existed in the institute’s programmes.
He cited the research between the agency and the West African Seasoning Company Ltd. and the clusters of farmers in the Middle Belt region on the expanded cassava programme as an instance of the missing links.
Arosanyin said that the programme was not properly handled, adding that after some years, the scheme collapsed.
He also said that in the area of value chain, IITA could have done better by partnering with some multinational companies to develop the value chain on sorghum.
“IITA can also support the farmers with varieties of SK5912 (a sorghum genre) so as to come up with good high-yield varieties of sorghum and link up with multinationals.
“The institute can also build on the value chain of maize and other cereals, while partnering with multinationals, because there is need to explore the area,’’ he said.
He, however, called on the three tiers of government to wake up to their responsibilities in the efforts to improve the country’s food security and ensure the provision of adequate raw materials for its industries.
Arosanyin emphasised the need for the government to go into full collaboration with IITA in efforts to package and transmit the research findings of the institute to farmers.
“Government should be proactive by intervening, from the research point to point of project implementation in the field, by giving support to the farmers,’’ he said.
He said that the government should reactivate its extension services units, which used to serve as intermediary between research institutes and the farmers.
Also speaking, Mr Ike Ubaka, an agriculturist, commended IITA for its research findings, most especially in the area of tuber crops, and for its capacity building activities.
He also extolled the institute for all its training collaborations with the All Farmers Association of Nigerian (AFAN) and the International Fertiliser Development Centre (IFDC) on fertiliser application.
Ubaka said that there were high hopes for Nigeria’s agriculture as a result of the “impressive and advanced agricultural technologies of IITA’’.
He said that IITA, through its Research for Development (R4D) scheme that was aimed at enhancing food security and improving the people’s livelihoods, had tackled so many challenges by pursuing many interrelated objectives.
“IITA has improved food security, increased profitability of food and other agricultural products, while reducing risks to producers and consumers and helping national entities to expand agricultural growth,’’ he said.
Ubaka said that IITA, under its 2012-2020 Refreshed Strategy, had planned to lift 11 million people out of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, while reclaiming 7.5 million hectares of degraded land and putting the land into sustainable use.
He said that Nigeria would be one of the beneficiaries of the strategy, with the potential of bringing many benefits to the country and boosting its agricultural production and job creation capacity.
Dr Samuel Negedu, the National Coordinator of National Agricultural Foundation of Nigeria, also lauded IITA for its quality service delivery over the years.
He praised IITA for making its research facilities part of its operational strategy, urging the institute to expand its research agenda and reinforce its impact at the farm level.
Negedu said that IITA had always sought to bring research closer to the farmers, with a view to creating systemic, transformational change in the agricultural sector.
He said that as the institute marked its 50th anniversary, it inaugurated a new research station in Ago-Owu, Osun, as part of efforts to expand its research agenda and create a lasting impact at the farm level.
Negedu said that the station would serve as a research and training centre that would backstop the state’s agricultural programmes, while offering training support to the youth in the neighbourhood and the country at large.
IITA, an international agricultural research institute working with various partners across sub-Saharan Africa, was established in 1967 to generate agricultural innovations to meet Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation.
The institute operates in Nigeria and has 13 research stations/hubs across sub-Saharan Africa.