Research institutes are proving to be the weak link in Nigeria’s drive to diversify into agriculture and make exponential gains by way of earnings, employment and other spin-offs, experts say.
The institutes are mandated to develop technologies and practices to improve farmers’ yields per hectare and ensure food security in Africa’s most populous nation.
The institutes are however falling grossly short in this direction and lagging behind smaller peer nations, where agriculture is less of a priority.
Experts say the key causes of this are underfunding, obsolete equipment and a failure to upgrade human capacity.
“Less than five percent of the yearly budgetary allocation for agric research institutes goes into core research, while 70 percent goes into salaries and emoluments, with the remaining going into procurements, renovation and overheads,” Baba Yusuf Abubakar, professor of Animal Science, Federal University of Abuja told BusinessDay, in a telephone interview.
“We cannot conduct effective research which such stipends. Research plays a pivotal role in transforming the agricultural sector and that is why we must take it very seriously,” Abubakar said.
Data obtained from the budgetary allocation to the agriculture ministry shows that the research institutions got an average of N28 billion ($70m) yearly, in the last four years.
Nigeria’s annual spend on its agric research institutes compares with India’s $2 billion, Brazil’s $1 billion and China’s $700 million, BusinessDay findings show.
Abubakar, who was also the former executive secretary of the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), said to address the issues with the country agric research institutes, the ARCN, in collaboration with various stakeholders in the sector, drafted a policy document to amend the act, of which ARCN was established, which is yet to be passed into law by the National Assembly.
Rotimi Fashola, senior partner, OIT Fash Consult, said, “without adequate research funding, government talk about boosting revenue through the sector will only be a mirage.
“Today, most of the institutes are mere shadows of themselves,” Fashola added.
A 2015 ActionAid report shows that Nigeria only invests $0.42 into agric research for every $100 of agric output, as compared to $0.94 and $1.40 in Ghana and Uganda respectively.
According to Micheal Oluwole Ajala, professor of Seed Technology, Federal University of Agriculture Abeokuta (FUNAAB) the agric research institutions in the country are underfunded and lack basic facilities needed to conduct research. Ajala stated that most of the equipment’s are obsolete and cannot be used for modern research work.
“Corruption is also a big problem. Most of the money allocated to these institutions in the budget doesn’t get to the institutions. One-third of the total allocations finally get to these institutions. The money gets into private hands instead of the research institutions,” Ajala said.
Nigeria has the highest agricultural research system in Africa, in terms of number of researchers, with over 2,000 researchers engaged in research across the various institutes in the country.
However, poor funding still limits the institutes from reaching their points of critical need, as they have failed to provide technologies that have boosted farmers’ productivity.
Abiodun Olorundenro, chief executive officer, Green Vine Farms, said, “Nigeria still imports most of its seedlings, despite having agricultural research institutes. You cannot go there and get seeds because nothing is happening there.”
“The researchers are just there to collect salaries without contributing anything to boost farmers’ productivity,” Olorundenro said.
The research institutes have blamed their inability to improve farmers output on failed government structures that do not allow effective and efficient translation of what the researchers are doing to the farmers.
Celestine Ikuenobe, director of research, Nigerian Institute of Oil Palm Research (NIFOR), said “despite poor funding, we still provide some technologies for farmers but the government structures have failed to translate the technologies to farmers.”
“The extension agents that are supposed to disseminate the technology and educate the farmers about it are very few and in some cases are not there,” Ikuenobe said.
Stakeholders have also faulted the few researches conducted by the institutes, saying they are too abstract in nature and do not align with boosting agric productivity.
“The Research institutes are doing some research but most of these researches are too abstract in nature, and this is why there is a big gap between the industry and the research output,” Muda Yusuf, director-general, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) told BusinessDay in a telephone response to questions.