Take Profitable Opportunities In Agric Sector, Expert Urges Nigerians

Kenton Dashiell

International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s (IITA) Deputy Director-General, Partnerships for Delivery,  Dr. Kenton Dashiell, is encouraging Nigerians to take up sustainable and profitable opportunities in the country’s agriculture sector.

He made the plea in his keynote address at the National Conference on Agricultural Innovations for Food Security in the Post COVID-19 era.

Dashiell received degrees from Purdue University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Florida in Agronomy and Crop Breeding. He was the Soybean Breeder for IITA based in Ibadan, Nigeria from 1983 to 2001.

While at IITA he worked with several partners in the national agricultural research systems and other IITA scientists to develop soybean varieties with promiscuous nodulation, high grain and fodder yields, good resistance to pod shattering and several diseases.

Some of these varieties were tested and released in several African countries and are now being grown by smallholder farmers. He was the Leader of the Grain Legume Improvement Program at IITA for many years and managed soybean and cowpea projects in several African countries.

Before leaving IITA in 2001 he was the Director of the Crop Improvement Division. Before joining IITA in 2012 he was the Leader of the N2Africa Project-based with CIAT-Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility in Nairobi, Kenya.

This project is working with partners in eight African countries to increase the productivity and nitrogen fixation of grain legumes. He was the Location Coordinator and Research Leader for the North Central Agricultural Research Laboratory at the USDA-ARS in Brookings, South Dakota, for six years and the groundnut breeder at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, for three years.

At present his biggest interests include moving technologies that increase crop yields in farmers’ fields and improving the health and nutrition of African families from the labs and research fields to the end-users, and building the capacity of the next generation of agricultural scientists, technicians, extension agents, and farmers. He is always looking for new partners for IITA in the areas of agriculture, food, nutrition, and health.

In his presentation, Dashiell however, highlighted multiple technologies and solutions that could help sustainably achieve food security. He emphasized that farmers and other actors in the different agricultural value chains must use proven technologies appropriately and precisely to succeed.

Adhering to excellent farm practices and standards will guarantee high levels of productivity, including increased crop yields.

He is also advocating the use of location-specific advice and reviews to optimize the knowledge of local experts. “If you are working to improve your production practices and you are in Kano State, you need to find experts and advice from people in Kano because they know the right way to do it. If you are in Oyo State, go to your experts in Oyo State”, he says.

He encouraged people to work with State Agriculture Development Programmes or other local experts such as seed companies, agro-dealers, and universities.

Many still think of the old manual methods of farming as representative of the agriculture sector today. However, Dashiell debunked this view and cited several professional opportunities in the different value chains, which he insists people should approach as a business.

He spoke of the importance of a business plan, a theme on which other speakers at the conference also focused.

Dashiell outlined some of the innovations that the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative is deploying at scale to strengthen the cassava, maize, rice, aquaculture, and poultry value chains.

Similar to Asia, enhancing Africa’s productivity requires significantly increased investment from African governments, businesses and development institutions to deploy proven 21st-century food production technologies to tens of millions of African farmers where they will have the most impact.

These food production technologies already exist and include new high yield crop and livestock varieties,  micro-nutrient dense crops – for example, pro-vitamin A-rich orange-fleshed sweet potato and high iron beans, drought-tolerant maize varieties, integrated pest and disease management (IPDM), and simple storage and post-harvest technologies to reduce crop losses.

The potential of these food production technologies to provide food and nutrition security has been demonstrated and needs to be taken to scale.

For example, DroughtTEGO® is a trademark for a high yielding drought-tolerant maize variety developed by the Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Project to mitigate against drought stress.

Experts predict that with global changes Sub Sharan Africa will be disproportionately affected by drought and suffer a 30% decrease in yields.  Kenyan farmers who grew the WEMA varieties during the drought of 2016 obtained 3.6MT/Ha of maize compared to 1.5MT/Ha in fields of farmers who grew other commercial hybrids.

In addition, it has been demonstrated that 125g of orange-fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP) can provide the daily provitamin with A needs of a preschooler. Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) is a significant health concern in Africa contributing to high rates of blindness, disease and premature death in children and pregnant women.

An estimated 43 million children under 5 years are Vitamin A deficient and between 50,000 and 125,000 of those vitamin A-deficient children go blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight.

A major target of TAAT is the control of the Fall Army Worm  (FAW), a recent pest problem on the continent that currently puts at risk an estimated 13.5 million tons of maize valued at US$ 3 billion in the 2017/2018 season.

This assessment is from research funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) at the Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) that assessed current and potential damage of the Fall Army Worm  (FAW).

Based on the aforementioned research findings, DFID requested the leadership of the African Development Bank to contain the serious problem of the Fall Army Worm (FAW). Following, the Bank hosted a meeting of experts at the recent World Food Prize symposium in Des Moines, Iowa; in attendance were Center for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI), USAID, the International Center for Improvement of Wheat and Maize (CIMMYT, the Spanish acronym), the International Center for Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), and the private sector.

The meeting recommended a regional approach,  awareness-raising campaigns, scouting and early detection, Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM), and search for resistance in preferred varieties.

TAAT will tackle Fall Army Worm (FAW) based on these recommendations working with CABI, ICIPIE, CIMMYT, National Agriculture Research and Extension Systems (NARES) of RMCs, regional and Sub-Regional Organisations, and R&D Centers.

Simple storage and post-harvest technologies being to reduce crop losses and help farmers manage the increased harvest under TAAT include: hermetic grain storage (Purdue Improved Crops Storage system) that prevent pest and mycotoxins infection of stored grains.

Other post-harvest technologies include affordable and efficient grain drying, and low-cost extruders for the production of simple processed food by small and medium scale agribusinesses.

Crop campaigns to reach farmers with agricultural technologies of inputs and extension have occurred in Africa with significant success in the past.

Over a four-year period, 2011-2015, Nigeria, working closely with Africa Rice, the rice CGIAR centre in Africa, combined innovative (ICT-based) ways to deploy improved rice production technology of seeds and fertilizer, a value chain approach, and supportive public policies to reach 6 million rice farmers.

Average yields in the country doubled from 2MT/Ha to over 4MT/Ha and national paddy rice production rose by an additional 7 million MT.

Similarly, in Malawi, delivery of subsidized seeds of improved maize varieties and fertilizer to millions of farmers in 2004 made the country self-sufficient in maize production and a net exporter of maize in a single season.

Ethiopia’s national extension system also deployed new crop technologies to over 4.4 million smallholder farmers from 2010 to 2015 on nearly 2.2 million hectares of land. Since then, Ethiopia’s agriculture sector has enjoyed an average growth rate of over 7% per year, which has contributed in no small way to the double digit annual growth rate of the economy overall.

The approach to scaling technologies has been based on national boundaries, instead of agro-ecological zones across multiple countries. The releases of crop varieties often go through four years of testing in national contexts, which has to be replicated across countries within the same agro-ecological zone in which the same technology can make a difference.

Thus, a technology that is a good fit for a given agro-ecological zone of ten countries could take 40 years to reach farmers if deployment from country to country spreads one after the other. What is needed is a new approach that will cut back on these unnecessary regulatory bottlenecks and fast track the release of technologies across similar agro-ecological zones in one go.

This is what TAAT will do. This will help open up the regional seed industry and markets and lead to faster uptake of technologies.

TAAT will engage Regional Technology Delivery Infrastructure (RTDI) – of CGIAR centers and other technology providers to develop a menu of proven food production technologies working with National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES), Sub-Regional Organizations (SROs) and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), the umbrella body of NARES in Africa.

Based on the menu of proven food production technologies, RMCs, as represented by NARES, will work with the CGIAR centers to prepare proposals for food technology outreach campaigns across similar agro-ecological zones that cut across multiple countries to the decision making body of the RTDI, the Clearinghouse.

There are eight Priority Intervention Areas (PIA) of TAAT that are agroecology based and cover 18 priority commodities.  But for this phase, nine food production technologies have been prioritized because of potential impact to increase food security, combat malnutrition, reduce food imports, and improve livelihoods.

They include: Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA), high yielding rice varieties adapted to Africa (the NERICA varieties), high-yielding and high-starch cassava varieties, high yielding sorghum and millet for the Sahel, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, high iron beans, small livestock (goat and sheep), aquaculture, and new wheat varieties.

Control of pests and diseases, for example, the Fall Army Worm (FAW), is a cross-cutting intervention across all nine technologies.

While TAAT is not a research program to develop new technologies—for the most part, the needed technologies already exist and in some cases are already in use—but rather a crop and livestock outreach campaign to disseminate best-bet crop varieties/livestock breeds and practices to the farmers, it requires a close partnership with National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) and International R&D Centers to provide solutions that tend to arise as research is deployed over a wide range of similar but diverse agro-ecologies with unique micro-ecosystems.

Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) options include resistant germplasm, pesticides, biopesticides, botanicals, pheromones, biocontrol via natural enemies, etc.

Earlier, the Assistant Director of Agricultural Biotechnology at the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA), Dr Rose Gidado, spoke about the need to diversify the economy to attain economic growth and food security.

In recognition of the importance of biotechnology to national development, the Federal Executive Council on 23rd of April 2001 approved the National Biotechnology Policy, which led to the establishment of the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) in November 2001.

The agency was established under the aegis of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology to implement the policy that is aimed at promoting, coordinating, and setting research and development priority in biotechnology for Nigeria.

Based on this premise, the programmes of the agency are structured in line with the international standard bearing in mind the development of local technological contents.

Representing the NABDA Acting Director-General Prof. Alex Akpa, she commended the Nigerian government for implementing policies that have strengthened the agriculture sector. Still, she called for more action to help achieve optimum food production levels.

“Nigeria cannot attain food security with the current way agriculture is practised,” said Gidado. For this to change, she continued, “the nation’s economic growth must be accompanied by diversification of the economy by adopting sustainable and innovative technologies that advance food production.”

The virtual conference, organised by the AgroBusiness Times, focused on aggregating sustainable innovations for food security during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria and globally.

AgroBusiness Times is Nigeria’s premier national magazine on agriculture and its related businesses.


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