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There is no doubt that agriculture is at the heart of President Muhammadu Buhari’s led Federal Government. This is why there are several agricultural intervention programmes like the Anchor Borrowers Programme, Presidential Fertilizer Initiative, Youth Farm Lab, Presidential Economic Diversification Initiative, Food Security Council among many others.
But one important agency that is key to the actualisation of the nation’s quest for food security and other agricultural objectives which has not been given the proper attention it deserves is the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) which before now has been operating below average despite the enormous responsibilities placed before it.
ARCN is a leading research institute that coordinates all agricultural research activities as well as advises the government on policy issues concerning agriculture in the country. It has over 15 Research Institutes and 11 Federal Colleges of Agriculture under it’s supervision and purview.
It’s main vision is to reduce poverty and increase food security by contributing to the establishment of sustainable agricultural growth and development in Nigeria.
Besides it’s vision, the mission is to achieve significant improvements in agricultural productivity, marketing and competitiveness by generating ideas and appropriate technologies and policy options capable of promoting innovation as well as establishing knowledge-based management capacity that will strengthen the nation’s agricultural research system.
There is no gainsaying that ARCN is the fulcrum for food security and sustainability in the country but lack of proper attention especially in the area of funding has always served as a cog in its wheel of progress.
Nonetheless, before the appointment of Professor Garba Sharubutu as the Executive Secretary of the council in 2019, some group of researchers in the agric sector had in 2018 published a 51-page report highlighting the emerging challenges facing the council with inadequate funding, poor working relationship among researchers, poor legal framework and communication gap topping the list.
The researchers further noted that for the nation’s agricultural sector to improve on it’s a contribution to the country’s overall goal of economic diversification and growth, job creation and food security, the sector must be transformed from subsistence agriculture to a commercial and profitable business enterprise.
They also recommended that a national sustainable agricultural development plan must be developed along side the agricultural value chain to promote private sector participation while the budgeting process should be reviewed by the National Assembly and the Budget Office to adequately incorporate the emerging challenges as well as ARCN’s objective of coordinating, supervising and regulating agricultural research, training and extention services in the country.
However, when President Muhammadu Buhari decided to place a square peg in a square hole by appointing a seasoned and erudite scholar with vast experience in bridging gaps between policy aspiration and attainment in the person of Professor Garba Hamidu Sharubutu (mni) as the Executive Secretary of the council in 2019, some vested interests within the system working in collaboration with some opposition elements embarked on campaign of calumny, mischiefs and sponsoring of fake news and fabricated stories in the media believing they would succed in stonewalling the reforms and transformational drives of the erudite professor.
But kudos to the resilient spirit of the Executive Secretary who refused to be distracted but remained focused and commited to the goal of helping Mr. President to add flesh to his dream of achieving food security, job creation and economic diversification agenda of the Federal Government.
Though ARCN is not yet where it ought to be but looking at the impressive performance of Professor Sharubutu in the last one year, one will have every reason to believe that with time and proper funding, Nigeria will not only achieve food security but would be one of the food baskets of the world.
In lieu of the foregoing, this is what the Executive Secretary said about the state of affairs at ARCN in his interview with Daily Trust Newspaper of May 31, 2020: “I met the ARCN at a certain stage of its development that was not pleasant. Capacity was greatly depleted, the ability to perform functions was very low, the National Assembly had denied it funding and the Ministry of Agriculture was barely trying to tolerate us. “We had over 15 headship tussles, but within a short time, we settled all these.”
“When the foundation executive secretary was running the ARCN, it was viable, but because of the depletion in capacity, most of the funding gave way. And unfortunately, the subsequent leadership was not properly positioned to run because a non-technical person was heading it.”
On the secret behind his success, this is what he said: “What I did was to set up various committees, including the Staff Audit Committee, which submitted their report. We are now implementing recommendations of the committee, putting square pegs in the right places. I also set up a Monitoring and Evaluation Committee to monitor, on a regular basis, how we are conducting our affairs, whether it is in line with government’s policy on agriculture.”
“There is an impact of research institutes on neighbouring communities. I formed an Impact Assessment Committee. Also, the issue of extension is within our mandate.”
“Again, there is the issue of radio agriculture, where you need radio to reach the rural areas so that people can access us easily. We wrote to the minister and he said we should work on it. It has been captured in our budget. With our 15 research institutes and 11 colleges of agriculture, any head can come and talk to Nigerians on what they are doing.”
“For Instance, at the Oil Palm Institute in Benin we have nothing less than 3 million seedlings; 2 million date seeds in Jigawa. In Badeggi, Niger State, we have rice etc.”
Despite the successes, there are still challenges as was captured by the Leadership Newspaper in it’s editorial comment of March 22, 2021, titled: “Funding Agricultural Research.” It said, “There is the need to research into new crop and livestock varieties, there is need to develop pest and disease resistant varieties and species, there is need to develop climate resilient crops in view of the effect of climate change, there is also the need to develop high yielding and early maturing varieties.”
“Sadly, in our view, these institutions are grossly under-funded with many of them unable to provide the necessary facilities needed for effective research … In 2018, the total fund released to the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) as capital expenditure was a little above N398 million, in 2019, the figure dropped to N100 million.
However in 2020, perhaps because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the council got N455 million. This amount is to be shared among 55 agricultural institutions and 15 research institutes.”
“Perhaps that is why the Executive Secretary of ARCN, Prof Professor Garba Hamidu Sharubutu at a recent event called for the establishment of a special trust fund for agricultural research, a trust fund akin to the Education Trust Fund. This fund according to him would ensure regular availability of funds for research and check the issues of waiting for government releases which in most times do not come when they are needed.”
The paper concluded by saying: “If we must to achieve food security, then we must invest more in agricultural research.”
The challenge is part of President Buhari’s directive to all stakeholders in the agric sector in his remark at the National Food Security Council Meeting held at the Presidential Villa on September 10, 2020. He said: “We need to pivot our attention and resources to how we can improve yield per hectare. This new shift will be a significant boost in our determination to strengthen our objective in achieving food security.”
“The Coronavirus pandemic has illustrated more than any event in recent history how countries must strive harder to protect food systems. It has also exposed the limits of dependency on other countries.”
Now that the current food inflation is 20.57 percent for January 2021, according to figure released by the National Bureau of Statics in February, it is now time to give the ARCN the necessary funds and supports it needs to ensure national food security.
In this regard, I commend Professor Sharubutu for the recent directive to research institutes to focus their work on early maturing crops instead of crops that takes between 10 to 20 years.
With this new directive, the current food inflation in the country will soon be a thing of the past if all stakeholders embrace it.
Edwin Ekene, A Columnist wrote from Abuja