The leak in our ship: How lack of agricultural research is hurting Nigeria

  • The problem of Nigeria has never been whether or not research institutions exist. They abound. Every now and then, I stumble upon a new one.

    For instance, do you know that Nigeria has a space research agency? I didn’t either until a short while ago. It is called the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA), and it is located in Abuja, the country’s capital.

    I also recall that in my penultimate year in the university, my school organized an excursion to the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT). I was overwhelmed by the nature of agricultural innovations that could be translated into diverse sources of revenue. However, the wider public was not getting a whiff of the milestones.

    In addition, I attended a conference on biosafety organized by Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) on April 10th in Abuja. There, I made some startling discoveries.

    The first one is that there is a seed agency in Nigeria, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). Don’t blame me for not knowing earlier.

    The second discovery is that there is a massive influx of genetically modified seeds into Nigeria. The third realization is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can pose threats to one’s health and the farmer’s livelihood, even though GMOs are supposed to ‘take care’ of all the woes of farmers.

    Ultimately, experts advised a review of regulatory frameworks around biotechnology, preservation of farmers’ rights and lastly, efforts to revamp agricultural research institutions so that they can provide sustainable solutions to our agricultural problems.

    However, we are not here to discuss this conference (abeg, it is not as if I am being paid to be a PRO). The point is that it awakened something in me. It got me questioning the status quo. We say that we are diversifying the economy, but we are not even equipping ourselves for the task. Who are we deceiving?

    There is something fundamentally wrong with agricultural research in Nigeria. How can we have so many of them but do so poorly in agriculture?

    Before I get into the problems of research in Nigeria, take a look at this compendium of agricultural research institutes in Nigeria and their mandates.

    How our ship is leaking

    The main stumbling block to research in my opinion is that as a nation we don’t prioritize it. Sure, there are other problems as well, but this one is first and foremost.

    When you don’t prioritize a particular issue, you will not see the need to allocate necessary resources or dedicate time to devising a strategy for it, and this is what is at play here.

    Generally speaking, Nigeria does not place a premium on planning, investigation of any kind and indeed, anything scholarly. We would rather go with trends or rely on others to do the thinking and digging for us, and then we react based on what we have been told.

    It is sickening to see how lackadaisical we are when it comes to research. It is evident that each administration that has enjoyed the privilege of power does not esteem research or have you ever seen anyone hinge a campaign on the drive for technological innovations and research?

    At the same time, you can’t blame them as the populace will not give a rat’s ass because they believe it will not put food on their tables.

    Going further, Nigerian Finder lists the problems of agricultural research in Nigeria as including:

    1. Lack of funds

    Funding seems to be an eternal challenge when it comes to anything academic in Nigeria. Very little is usually allocated to research and so, researchers are not even motivated to carry out any research.

    2. Lack of transparency in allocations

    One thing the Buhari-led administration has revealed is how institutional corruption is. According to BudgIT, the budgetary allocation for research and development in 2018 was 333.67 million Naira, and that should be enough to get the country off to a good start if it is well managed.

    However, “Budgetary allocation for research and development activities is not well articulated. This is extremely worrisome for purposes of accountability as any sort of expense can fit into this broad and opaque classification.”

    Enough said.

    3. Lack of relevant infrastructure

    Sure, the government may allocate the funds, but if these funds don’t translate into the needed infrastructure then we are all joking. How can we expect researchers to carry out experiments without functional labs?

    In a related event, the DG of NAFDAC Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye complained in November 2018 that 80% of the equipment in their labs are not working and that the last time World Health Organization visited the Yaba lab, the agency in charge of the country’s food and drugs scored a zero. But then, I digress.

    4. Brain drain

    Almost everyone is looking for a Canadian visa these days (if you have one you are not using, I don’t mind taking it off your hands) and sadly, most of those who want to leave are the scholars that should be at the forefront of technological strides. Nigeria just has a way of forcing her own out of the nest, but then, they end up soaring in other climes.

    5. Poor educational system

    We keep circling back to education because it is the bedrock of development in the modern world. I asked educationist, Alice Ejikunle about this and she said, “Our school system does not train you to be research-oriented. We don’t stimulate creative thinking in our curriculum.”

    The system is so broken down that we are not even producing enough vibrant minds that will push the frontiers of the status quo.

    Check out this thought-provoking article on how our education system unmakes us.

    6. Ignorance of the right methodologies

    In another interview, Ibrahim Sagir, a journalist, explained, “Due to the poor educational system, Nigerians hardly have an understanding of research. Our government runs business researches on unimportant subjects, just to organize a press briefing to launch such studies that will not be interpreted for better implementation.

    How can we be appreciative of something we don’t understand? Nigerians generally have a very poor understanding of research, with the exception of those who have individually decided to be better at it. Unfortunately, it is not anybody’s fault, only those to whom we have handed the education. Many lecturers have little understanding of diverse research methods, so they play it safe and in turn, limit their students’ scope.”

    7. Inadequate information

    We have poor record-keeping skills in this nation. Therefore, it makes it hard to know the existing body of literature on certain issues so that others can pick up the baton. Also, a template for successful research is essential, but without a structured database, it is near-impossible to have access to such a template.

    These are some of the challenges confronting agricultural research, but I am not done yet.

    What is the big deal?

    Indeed, you may wonder why I care so much about agricultural research. Africans are not inclined to research the way white people are. Besides, we have other pressing matters to tackle, like corruption, electricity etc.

    However, that is just a myopic way of looking at the whole issue. The West has been able to make scientific leaps because they esteem research.

    So, you ask what the big deal is. I’ll tell you.

    Agricultural research is important and should be given priority because of the following:

    1. It solves a myriad of problems and right now, Nigerians could really do with some solutions. For example, the reason farmers started turning to genetically modified organisms in the first place was to get increased yield. With research, we can come up with solutions that will boost our seeds to increase productivity, be resistant to weed etc.
    2. It finds better agricultural methods. Someone did research to come up with cross-breeding, flood-water farming, biological pest control etc. So, what is stopping us from taking the lead this once and have others follow? Why can’t we come up with new breeds? Why can’t we find better ways of boosting crop yield? We say we are diversifying into agriculture and other sectors, right? Why can’t we put our money where our mouths are?

    We can’t rely on old methods and have our farmers break their backs for little or nothing when there could be better ways of going about the profession.

    For example, in an exclusive chat with The Pioneer, a publication of the Mass Communication Department, Ahmadu Bello University in 2016, Dr Ismaila Ilu, the then-Director of National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services (NAERLS) mentioned the issues that farmers are confronted with.

    They include the effect of the seasons on crops, expensive cost of fertilizer and other agrochemicals, lack of informed techniques, lack of mechanized farming implements.

    With these monsters scaring young people from agriculture and making the efforts of older farmers futile, how can we even expect ever to enjoy food security?

    These are the pertinent reasons why agricultural research must be given due attention in Nigeria. Research may seem insignificant, but it may be all that stands between us and food security in this country.

    How to stop the leakages

    Now what?

    We can’t possibly analyze this subject matter and then go away depressed, without seeking solutions. In an effort to be as encompassing in the framework as possible, I carried out a series of interviews.

    Samuel Buka, a student of Ahmadu Bello University, noted that the best option would be to allow private companies take up the management of agricultural research institute. He added that privatization is usually useful for ensuring success as companies would want to produce results that can yield profit.

    However, if we ply the route, there is cause for concern as the point of seeking solutions to the efficacy of our agricultural research institutes is so that the average man can enjoy the dividends of research; so that the farmer will have access to good seeds and better farming strategies.

    On the contrary, the past has shown us that privatization will consequently lead to a spike in prices and that defeats the entire purpose.

    With a similar opinion as Buka, Shittu Fawora, an engineer and researcher suggested that since Nigeria has a poor approach to research, individuals who are passionate about it should instead do the research using international grants and make the findings available to companies outside the country that will interpret the results and make good use of them.

    Perhaps, there is some merit as there is a host of international agricultural institutes out there. Furthermore, the Department for International Development (DFID) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are just as interested in agriculture and food security. These bodies are ever willing to invest in relevant research projects.

    On the other hand, Ejikunle came at it from a different perspective. Advocating the need to inspire critical thinking in classrooms, she said, “A research-driven economy must start grooming its future workforce from the cradle by teaching children to think outside the box. It all begins with our educational system.”

    In the same vein, Sagir insisted that the way forward is to revamp the education sector. He opined, “The quality of education in a nation tells on its citizens, and if you check Nigeria’s educational system and you check Nigerian citizens, you will not be surprised because they are products of that system.

    Also, beyond appreciating research, we must see that we understand it as well. For instance, a man who does not know the value of gold will consistently argue that gold is mere stone while money is different until he has been informed and educated that gold is valuable. Until more light is shed on research, Nigerians will never appreciate or understand it.”

    It is against this background that I recommend an overhaul of the entire educational system. Critical thinking has to be encouraged amongst youngsters so that they can learn to question the status quo and doggedly seek solutions.

    Also, the government has got to take research seriously enough to formulate policies that will move research forward. Let us take a leaf out of the American playbook. The Space Program was seen as a waste of money in the 1960s, but when the government threw its weight behind it and set it as the most important agenda, taxpayers did not mind giving so that the unknown parts of the universe could be explored.

    It is the same thing we must do here. If the government prioritizes it, Nigeria will become the hub of agricultural research in Africa.

    On an individual note, you and I have got to stop seeing research as a waste of money/ time or something that is reserved for the book nerds who love numbers and have spectacles dangling at the tip of their noses. This way, we can take up little bits of research that will seek to provide answers to the agricultural problems in our environment.

    We could always decide to apply for foreign grants or carry out the research under the auspices of international organizations, at least until our government decides to drag itself awake.

    Whatever we do, we have got to demystify research for posterity. If not, at this rate, we will have absolutely nothing to hand over to our children, both in terms of food security and innovative strides.

    This is not just talk. It is a call for all hands to be on deck because we are already in a sinking ship.

    Drop your comments on what you believe to be the problems of research or agricultural research in Nigeria.

    Photo by Donzielea young on Unsplash

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