OBASANJO CALLS FOR INVESTMENT IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH
By Jimoh Babatunde with agency reports
Nigerian government and African nations have been urged to invest in international agricultural research by supporting the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) to tap into the opportunities offered by the vast arable lands in the continent.
Former Nigerian President, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo made this call weekend at an event marking the 45th anniversary of the biggest international agricultural research center in the continent, IITA.'This is an important institution for us in Nigeria and Africa and we need to support it.'
Food insecurity and poverty remain on top of the agenda of African governments but not many of them have been able to meet the Maputo declaration of allocating 10 percent of budgets to agriculture.
Obasanjo said that for Africa to maximize its full potential, the governments on the continent must support institutions such as IITA to acquire the technology and knowledge needed to create wealth. He said that Africa needed to think about the next generation as the population is expected to hit 9 billion by 2050. 'The point is that the tools used 45 years ago are likely to be obsolete, unless we rejuvenate,' he said.
On the benefits of IITA to Nigeria in particular and Africa in general, Obasanjo said varieties from IITA helped save his farm and that of other farmers from the cassava mealybug pandemic in 1979. 'My farm was heavily infested until IITA brought cassava-resistant varieties,' he said.
According to him, at the moment more that 70 percent of improved maize varieties grown in Nigeria today have come from IITA-developed varieties. 'We are lucky to have the largest research institute in our backyard and we should take advantage of it,' he said.
The president of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria, Senator Abdullahi Adamu, called on Nigeria to meet its statutory financial obligation to IITA. 'As a Nigerian I will encourage the government to henceforth begin to meet its financial obligation,' he said. He pledged to initiate laws that would support research activities in Nigeria, stressing that 'research is a component of the value chain that demands attention.'
The Director General of IITA, Dr. Nteranya Sanginga, said rejuvenating the institution would be of benefit to Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. He said the battle of tomorrow will be food and water, explaining that IITA is well positioned to offer technologies that would improve agricultural productivity and create wealth.
Of the 60 percent arable land on the continent, only 33 percent has been cultivated.
Sanginga emphasized that investment in research for development was the only way forward for Africa.