Kano State Deputy Governor, Dr Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna, has said Nigeria’s agricultural prowess is being consistently weakened by some age-long practices and factors like over reliance on rain fed agriculture, smallholder land holding, poor planting material, low fertiliser application, and the weak agricultural extension system in the country.
He is, however, optimistic that Nigeria could by-pass these challenges with effective use of emerging technologies and the media.
Dr Gawuna, who made this known in an address presented at the opening of a two-day retreat for journalists, farmers and extension workers in Kano, also said Nigeria could leapfrog other countries to become a major supplier of agricultural products with timely deployment and adoption of biotechnology and getting the media to communicate it rightly.
While lamenting the low productivity of agriculture in the country and the attendant losses, he said, “Even though agriculture remains the largest sector of the Nigerian economy and employs two-thirds of the entire labour force, the production hurdles have significantly stifled the performance of the sector.
“Over the past 20 years, value-added per capita in agriculture has risen by less than 1 percent annually. According to FAO, Nigeria has lost $10 billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities.”
The Deputy Governor, who was represented by his Special Assistant on Agriculture, Mr Hafiz Muhammad, noted that while other countries are getting almost 10 tons of maize per hectare, in Nigeria, the highest variety is giving about 4 tons; when we are getting 13 tons for cassava, others are getting 40 tons; bean which is popularly called, “Naman Talaka”, and one of the most important legumes in the country leaves us with farmers producing 0.75 tons per hectare.
He, therefore, challenged the media to promote activities that would increase agricultural productivity, noting that for many decades, the nation had experienced a gradual decline in the farming population, static land size with an ever-increasing population that must be fed.
“Meeting this demand looks almost impossible when viewed against our degraded land, poor yield and the emergence of new crop diseases and pest,” he said.
According to him, the media remained very strategic in national development and without the media understanding and buy-in of the use of modern and emerging technologies, efforts of government to enhance the living standard of the people will be in vain.
He said no development has ever succeeded anywhere in the world without the media playing a vital role of leading its propagation and ensuring its acceptance.
“The question now is how long do we have to wait? The time is now, we now have technologies that have been tested and proven to be safe with many years of usage and there has never been any published report of adverse effect on both human and on the environment.
“Our strength as a country lies in our ability to optimize our agricultural production to create jobs, create incomes and raise the standard of living of our people; for all this, agricultural biotechnology offers us a golden platform and I think we should grab it with both hands.”
Prof. Abdullahi Mustapha, Director General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), reiterated the need for the media to play a crucial role in Nigeria’s efforts to boost food production especially the deployment of modern biotechnological tools in addressing agricultural productivity challenges.
In his remarks delivered on the opening day of the retreat, Professor Mustapha cautioned the media against giving space and airtime to anti-technology critics that are disrupting Nigeria’s progress in agriculture by advising farmers against using technology in enhancing their production.
Prof. Mustapha said that, over the years, arm-chair critics have taken advantages of the media to propagate unscientific views and opinion that not only stalled our agricultural progress but also instill fear in our farming communities.
“Northern Nigeria is one of the leading producers of agricultural products in the country hence, the just commercialised products of biotechnology (Cotton Bt. and PBR Cowpea) will go a long way in helping our farmers profit from their efforts, this means the media must be prepared to support them in their efforts to ensure a food secured Nigeria,” he said.
Nigeria made history as the first country in Africa and the world at large to develop and release a cowpea variety that is resistant to the notorious Pod Borer, which has the capacity of destroying a whole beans farm and leaving the farmer helpless.
The Director General said the National Biotechnology Development Agency as a Federal Government Agency responsible for promoting biotechnology activities and has been doing so positively in response to the government’s aspirations of ensuring national food security, job/wealth creation, affordable healthcare delivery, and sustainable environment.
“It is also the duty of the agency to make Biotechnology an engine of growth for socio-economic development of Nigeria by promoting, coordinating, and deploying cutting-edge biotechnology research & development, processes, and products for the socio-economic well-being of the nation,” Prof. Mustapha said.
Dr Rose Gidado, Country Coordinator, Open Forum On Agricultural Biotechnology (OFAB) said that the training was aimed at providing accurate and up to date information about advances in the biotechnology sector since its adoption in Nigeria in order to ensure that the media are fully acquainted with facts and effectively disseminate same to the public. The two-day training attracted journalists, scientists and policy makers from all over the country.