HOW AGRICULTURE CAN TURN RURAL AREAS TO ZONES OF PROSPERITY
A Professor of Agricultural Extension has posited that Nigeria has a great potential to become the food basket of the world and a food exporting country. Professor Olaniyi Okunlola made the submission while delivering the 112th Inaugural lecture of the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA) titled “Transforming Nigeria’s Agriculture: Agricultural Extension in the Saddle”. Professor Okunlola said if agriculture is taken as a business, and not a way of life, the agricultural sector will be transformed into a wealth creating sector providing jobs for the country’s teeming unemployed youths. He said the first step would be to turn the rural areas which are zones of economic poverty to zones of economic prosperity through a well formulated agricultural extension system. Thus, the need to institute sustainable policies and actions that will transform agriculture in Nigeria with the youth as the focal point is inevitable.
The Don stated that agriculture is a proven path to prosperity and with the projection that by the year 2030 the population of Africa will be about 1.8 billion there is the need to boost agricultural productivity in Nigeria and the continent at large by turning small holder farmers into profitable rural businesses that generate surpluses so as to improve food security and pave way out of poverty and hunger that presently constitute serious challenges to Nigeria and sub-Saharan Africa. He advised that Nigeria should take the lead by turning its rural areas from zones of poverty to zones of economic development and prosperity through sound agriculture policies based on demand driven extension services to rural farmers. He said the youth should be guided to see agriculture as business with the right incentives and policies that would make them establish farms and related enterprises in the rural areas. He said this will greatly reduce the spiraling unemployment figures and increase the country’s local and foreign exchange earning with a salutary effect on its economy.
The Don lamented that Nigeria has been displaced by other African countries in the production of cash crops and food crops such as cotton, cocoa, cowpea, cassava pineapple and citrus with a heavy dependence on massive importation and the dearth of hitherto thriving industries. According to him, lack of national agricultural extension policy has brought inconsistencies in the implementation of agricultural programmes in the country hence the importance of reviewing the present agricultural extension draft policy by all stakeholders and passing appropriate law give effect to it. Okunlola recommended that a demand driven extension approach that will articulate the local needs of farmers to fast track adoption of innovation and promote need driven research be put in place. This he said will not only enhance production and productivity but will lead to a sustainable agricultural development in the country. He highlighted the challenges of Nigeria’s agriculture to include limited access to financing and inputs by farmers, the problem of land tenure system, serious threat of climate change on yields, unstable input and output prices, security threats, policy issues, poor rural infrastructures, lack of adequate insurance over a weak extension delivery system.
He said, agricultural extension, which is a process that involves dissemination of information to change the attitude, improve knowledge and skill of farming households to improve their production efficiency is imperative for national development and national food security. To this end, the lecturer urged the Federal and State governments to allocate more resources to agricultural extension especially the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) to make the organization functional for effective service delivery. He also pointed out that there is the need to strengthen the Research Extension – Farmer – Private sector linkage. Thus extension Managers in each State and at the National levels should take responsibility of coordination while the Federal Government should provide the required support and conducive environment to make the linkage effective and sustainable so as to form holistic and strategic programmes that will address the real problems of agriculture in Nigeria.
The Don pointed out that Nigeria’s agriculture cannot develop without ICT enabled extension, therefore there should be a development of ICT enabled public extension system which could be done in collaboration with the private sector. He said FUTA and other Universities should be committed to national food security by establishing strong links with the Ministry of Agriculture and the ADP so as to undertake user – focused research, develop ICT packages in Agriculture, Agripreneurship programmes and ensure that the products are transformed into profitable enterprise. He called for concerted efforts to make Nigeria self-reliant in food production, make citizens food secured and reduce the level of poverty.
In his remarks as Chairman of the occasion, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Joseph Fuwape represented by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development), Professor Philip Oguntunde commended the lecturer on the excellent delivery of the lecture, describing it as apt and timely to the state of the economy and the country as a whole. He described Okunlola as an erudite scholar, who has contributed immensely to his area of specialization and has served the University meritoriously in various administrative capacities.