Over the years, the nation has embarked on a series of plans, programmes, and projects to diversify the economy, achieve sustainable development, and attain food security. Unfortunately, not much can be said to have been achieved due to several factors chiefly among is the little attention paid to the enormous opportunities that plant protection offer. What Africa’s most populous country needs to do to realise its huge potentials was recently unfolded in a communiqué issued after the 45th Annual/1st International Conference and Golden Anniversary of the Nigerian Society for Plant Protection (NSPP), held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State.
The three-in-one event had as its theme, “Strengthening the Nexus between Research, Industry and Policy in Plant Protection for Increased Agricultural Production” and was attended by plant protectionists, members of agriculture-related agencies and associations including the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria, Raw Materials Research and Development Council, and All Farmers’ Association of Nigeria, Akwa Ibom State Chapter, among others. The historic opening ceremony was chaired by the Minister of State for Agriculture and Rural Development, Alhaji Mustapha Shehuri; Special Guest of Honour was the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel, represented by his Commissioner for Agriculture and Women Affairs, Dr. (Mrs.) Gloria Edet; while the Guest of Honour was a member, House of Representatives, Hon. Henry Archibong.
Apart from key stakeholders in the agriculture sector that graced the occasion, there were more than 500 scientists, students and over 40 institutions representing universities, research institutes, private and governmental agencies and organisations, which produced a 3-page communiqué, signed by the Chairman, Communiqué Committee, Prof. Samuel Adebitan, a Fellow of NSPP. The communiqué observes that Nigeria, which currently ranks 7th, is predicted to become third in the world’s population by 2050, implying greater concern for sustainable food, income securities and the reality that agricultural productivity in the country is continuously being threatened by climate change and aggravated by a lack of early warning systems for plant pests/diseases and pest detections.
The society decries the indiscriminate importation, marketing, and utilisation of agro-chemicals and planting materials in the nation’s agricultural system, which has caused more damage than providing solutions as sustainable plant health is strategic to feeding the growing global population that is billed to reach 9 billion by 2050 while plant protection remains the main precursor for industrial development by providing the basic materials for processing and enhancing crop plant productivity. The society reiterates that despite the direct role played by plant protectionists in impacting the economy, there is inadequate funding and modern facilities provided by the government for plant protection research tackling the challenges of pest and disease problems and lack of industry-funded plant protection research project linkages between the universities and industries. NSPP stresses the imperative of reducing malnutrition and its attendant negative health effects on children, nursing mothers, people with chronic illnesses and disabilities by engaging inadequate preventive and management measures to ward-off biotic factors, which can largely mitigate against food sufficiency in a cheap and affordable manner on the field, in transit, stores, and warehouses.
The body recommends that Nigerian universities’ crop protection curricula should be sacrosanct in the sense that plant protectionists, who are correctly known as plant doctors, are the equivalent of the medical personnel, as applicable to human and veterinary medicines. The society believes that with venture capital and special government sponsorships of crop protection research, agricultural production would be boosted and there would be better chances of securing funds for collaborative projects of mutual benefits. The plant doctors further call on the government and universities to establish science and technology parks to serve as technology incubators for the transfer of research outputs, innovations, and technology to the industry by having a positive impact on the living standard of the society.
Not only that, linkages between the university, but the government and industry would be strengthened with a view to enrich community life for there is the critical need to increase the capacity of research to the extent that bio-ecological models, based on broad geographical scales, can be developed for important pests and diseases. More importantly, the communiqué makes a case for the urgent establishment of a Nigerian Institute of Plant Protection (NIPP), which would coordinate issues on plant protection, advise the government on related matters, undertake continuous assessment of biological responses to climate change within and among species in the field and at critical life-history stages of pests or overwintering stages of pathogens that are vulnerable to the abiotic and biotic impacts of climate change.
NSPP was founded on May 16, 1970, at the then Department of Agricultural Biology, now Crop Protection and Environmental Biology at the nation’s premier University of Ibadan, Oyo State. The society is made up of professionals in plant protection and allied fields. Membership is spread across the country covering individuals and corporate organisations. It enjoys excellent cooperation of other societies like the Entomology Society of Nigeria, Nigerian Society of Nematologists, Weed Science Society of Nigeria, Mycological Society of Nigeria, and Nigerian Phytopathology Society. The society’s thrust is hinged on extension, research, storage, quarantine, and fostering a synergy between research, industry, and policy in plant protection for increased agricultural production in Nigeria.
The incumbent President is Professor Jonathan Atungwu, Professor of Plant Nematology and an Organic Agriculturist at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State with his major focus and contributions to science and development through the identification of sources, mechanisms, and inheritance of resistance to root-knot nematodes in crops, and the efficacies of organic materials as nematode suppressants. He was Director, Centre for Community-Based Farming Scheme; Editor, Journal of Agricultural Sciences and Environment, a peer review and international journal based in FUNAAB. The Professor was Acting Dean, School of Agriculture, Lagos State University (LASU), where he served as the Pioneer Director, Institute for Organic Agriculture and Green Economy; and member, Biotic Constraints and Food Production Committee of the International Society for Plant Pathology, among others.
The society’s recent interface themed “Strengthening the Nexus between Research, Industry and Policy in Plant Protection for Increased Agricultural Production” and the support of critical stakeholders in the governmental and non-governmental agencies is a clear indication that it is determined to make a big difference if given the needed support. Having been in existence for 50 years, the society’s enormous interventions, chains of experienced members, mutual relationship with related professional bodies, sound and focused leadership with tall credentials, are its strength.
Despite these achievements, there is still a lot of work to be done considering the warning that Nigeria would become the third most populous nation by 2050 with the attendant concerns for agricultural productivity; inadequate funding and the dearth of modern facilities; challenges of pests and diseases; imperative for Nigerian universities’ crop protection curricula to be made sacrosanct; establishment of science and technology parks; according to proper recognition to plant doctors like their counterparts in human and veterinary medicines; and provision of advisory services for government, among others. Certainly, the promising route to diversifying Nigeria’s economy, achieving sustainable development, and attaining food security can truly become a reality with the official birth, full operation, and robust engagement of NIPP.
- Kupoluyi writes from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State
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