Spotlight on the international institute for tropical agriculture (IITA) @ 50

Sanginga Nteranya

The International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) is a non-profit institution that generates agricultural innovations to meet Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation. In the last fifty years, IITA has continued to work with various partners across sub-Saharan Africa, to improve livelihoods, enhance food and nutrition security, increase employment, and preserve natural resource integrity.

More importantly, IITA remains an award-winning Institute in agricultural research for development (R4D), enhancing crop quality and productivity, reducing risk to producers and consumers, as well as generating wealth from agriculture as way to address the needs of the poor and the vulnerable across the tropics.
In this Report, stakeholders spoke on their impression about IITA and highlighted the importance and challenges of the Institute in its partnership with the Federal and State Governments in Nigeria, and sundry issues.

How IITA is evolving new technologies to enhance local food production capacity
Fify years in the life of any organisation is no mean achievement, especially when such organisation has made its impacts felt in the area of food security for the human race.

As the foremost Agricultural centre, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), rolls out its drums today, to mark its Golden Jubilee, it has carved for itself a distinct niche in solving Africa’s most pressing challenges of hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and natural resource degradation.
Established on July 24, 1967 as the first centre in the African link international agricultural organisations with headquarters in Ibadan, Oyo State, IITA is one of the 15 member centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global partnership for a food secure future, operating in 18 other research stations/hubs across sub-Saharan Africa.

Research for development is its core business, focusing on three strategic objectives based on CGIAR and the United Nation’s Strategic Development Goals – increasing food security and availability; increasing profitability of foods, feeds, and other agricultural products; and sustainable management of natural resources.

The institute’s research is organised around several core competencies: crop involvement and biotechnology; plant production and health; natural resource management; social science and agribusiness; and nutrition and food technology.

Also, the Institute is working on special initiatives such as youth in agribusiness, commercialisation of technologies in a business incubation platform, empowering women, developing seed systems, and protecting and conserving biodiversity, among many others.

Today’s anniversary creates an opportunity to reflect on the past and to showcase the success and contributions of IITA’s research-for-development work in the continent. It is also an occasion to celebrate its strong collaboration and cooperation with a host of partners, stakeholders, donors, and farmers. 
In Nigeria, the institute has been working with the Federal Government on the Agricultural Transformation Agenda, collaborating with the national agricultural research systems, universities, national agricultural research system partners, and partnership platforms.

According to Kwesi Atta-Krah, IITA@ 50 Organising Committee and Director, Systems and Site Integration, “in the last 50 years, the institute had stood with the people by providing agricultural solutions that address the constraints to Africa’s agricultural development.”

“And because we are truly people-centric, our goal in the last 50 years has always been to make living more fulfilling for even the poorest of the poor farming households. Even now, IITA will not stop.The Institute will continue to join hands with relevant stakeholders to do its best to transform agricultural practices to be able to transform Africa,” Atta-Krah explained.

Its impact on research for development on the smallholder farmers is evident in the development and adoption of almost 400 varieties of cassava with increased yields and better resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

In the 1970s, the challenge for cassava improvement was mostly related to finding ecologically sustainable ways of reducing the effects of major diseases. IITA’s work on bio-control of a pest (greenmite) that had formerly destroyed 30 to 40 per cent of the cassava crop has continued to save the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) region an estimated annual income of US$94million.

The biocontrol programme against the cassava mealbug, which probably saved cassava from extinction, brought several benefits. The impact was valued at between $15.6 and 27.8b in 2004. It resulted in great increases in productivity for farmers.In 1973, it was estimated that Cassava Bacteria Blight (CBB) caused losses worth $77m in Nigeria. CBB epidemics were also reported in a dozen other African countries and most local varieties were also found to be susceptible.

Breeding for resistance to these diseases began at IITA in 1971. This work resulted in several elite genotypes that had resistance to Cassava Mosaic Disease (CMD) and CCB, as well as high, stable yields and good consumer acceptability.

These feats, according to the institute’s Deputy Director General, Kenton Dashiel, was achieved through various partners across sub-Saharan Africa and has been able to improve livelihoods, enhance food and nutrition security, increase employment and preserve natural resource integrity.

One of the breakthroughs of the institute is the evolving of new technologies to enhance the capacity of local fabricators for processing of garri, developing different varieties of cassava, maize and other staple crops. It has also deployed technologies to address the issue of Aflatoxin, which is majorly responsible for the rejection of the country’s beans for exportation. It has evolved a keep-bagging system to protect beans for, at least, one year. The bag simply closes the air.

Expertise ideas from IITA can help boost agricultural production in Nigeria
– Senator Abdullahi Adamu
Distinguished Senator Abdullahi Adamu, representing Nasarawa West, Chairman, Senate Committee on Agriculture, and one of the major partners of IITA, gave insights about what IITA Golden Jubilee stands for. Excerpts:

What is your impression about the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA)?
Having got involved with the IITA in the last five years (up till now), I will say that from the much I have been exposed to see regarding its activities, coupled with the discussions, the tours that were conducted in which I was privileged to be the leader from the Senate Committee on Agriculture, it appears to me that the IITA has been one of the best kept secrets. 

Sincerely, I have quarreled with it being kept secret and I am not comfortable with what Nigeria has made of the existence of IITA in the country.  For example, how much benefits the research ideas have been translated or the results reaching actual end-users?  I believe that so much has been done and so little has been known about IITA in Nigeria.

The IITA is doing more than what millions Nigerians can ever imagined in promoting agricultural research, particularly tropical agriculture for fifty years. Therefore, this fiftieth anniversary is well deserved.

However, for a long time, IITA has been trying to reach out to Nigerian government, institutions, large scale and small scale farmers, and small holders, to get them to know ways in which IITA can be useful to them. I knew this fact when I was invited to the inaugurated inauguration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo as IITA ambassador between 2012 and 2013

Concerning the World Food Programme and the issue of Zero Hunger, Nigeria needs to urgently key into it and set up the Nigerian version of Zero Hunger. With the opportunity provided by IITA, the institute can provide the platform from where Nigeria will accomplish the objectives in this regard.

Over and above that, there are very little and essential missing links in IITA’s relationship with the Federal Government and State Governments.  Despite the representation of the Federal Government on the IITA Board of Directors through the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, there is still the need for more closeness between the Institute and the federal government. 

Government needs to go a bit closer in helping to solve problems that may be considered peculiar or unique to Nigeria.  The uniqueness may also come from what government is doing to boost food production because there are some missing links.  I believe very strongly that some expertise ideas from IITA may help us in our journey to boosting agricultural production in Nigeria and take care of the current hues and cries about food security. 

The fundamental responsibility of every government to her citizens is the security of life and property, food security is at the centre of it all – there is no life without food.  With the nation’s fast growing population, the first point of call is adequate food production.  We must ensure that we minimize to the barest minimum, many Nigerians who will go to bed in the night hungry. 

We have to produce enough quality food with the necessary nutrition at affordable prices on sustainable basis to ensure that many of our citizens can have what we call three square meals, and bridge the current gap.   

To me, IITA is a necessary partner in this regard. Although, there are gaps that needed to be filled because nature abhors a vacuum our duty is to work on those vacuums, especially in ensuring that the federal government should play a role in helping to solve whatever challenges IITA have. 

But are there plans to key into the breakthroughs made by IITA in the agricultural sector?
Of course, there should be. In spite of some inadequacies, relevant departments of government need to reach out.  For example, as a member of the National Assembly, my role is to make laws and oversee that the laws, once made, are being implemented.   The duty of what to do in the field, how to go about ensuring that there is enough food is that of the executive.  Ours is to ensure here are no loopholes that inhibit investments and local production. If there are any laws that inhibit research, we have a duty to go into making relevant laws that will address those issues.  But the actual implementation, actual steps to be taken to have extension workers and have actual production, equipment and appliances required, the inducement for able young men and women to go into agriculture, rest more squarely on the executive to ensure that they are achieved. 

Nevertheless, this 8th Assembly has been very supportive of what government is doing in agriculture.  We will continue to do so because it is a very important link for people to feel the presence of government. 

We are talking about recession. If there is enough food at affordable prices, all the hues and cries will be limited.  I remember reading something about the former President of Brazil.  He said, one day he was going to bed, something stroke him.  Suddenly, he developed some kind of fears of how many stomach were going hungry in his country at that particular moment.  According to him, he remembered he was taught from his childhood the philosophy of a hungry man being an angry man.  He said he did not know what those who went to bed hungry would do when they woke up in the morning. Therefore, one of the key things he did to turn-around the economy of Brazil to where it is today was agriculture.  He boosted production in every sphere, doing research as far as resources permitted him. He also made sure that the results of the researches conducted were applied to the needs of developing agriculture in Brazil. In Nigeria, we need to find that page and get into it!

What effort is NASS putting to increase the annual budgetary allocation to agriculture?
Well, we have a problem.  We are unanimous, very unanimous, particularly when our President, Muhammadu Buhari said at his inauguration that one of the major policies he sets out to accomplish was to diversify the Nigerian economy.  And he, without difficulties, identified agriculture as one of the areas that we shall emphasize and encourage.  By doing so, we shall be making monumental contributions to the economic wellbeing of Nigeria. 

Nigeria has been surviving on oil and gas which is a mono-economy.  He believed that when we diversify to agriculture and solid minerals, we will be able to have more comfort in generating more revenue to our economy.  What agriculture does to our capacity to feed ourselves, micro-economy, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment among other numerous advantages, are invaluable. 

President Buhari already identified our major areas of need which is agriculture.  Although, everything we are doing today about agriculture had been done before, but we need to set our shoulders to the plough and see what we can get.  For until and unless we can produce and feed ourselves, the sovereignty of our country will be a mirage. Though, people are moving into agriculture and there a lot of interest in agriculture, no doubt, about that, the country’s budget must be such that can help to propel this desire, this agitation to move agriculture forward. 

The first budget by President Buhari in 2016 was in the region of N47 billion.  But by this year, the budget went from N47 billion to about N92 billion. We believe we can do better than that.  The 2017 budget is over N7 trillion, we believe that agriculture should not get anything less than 10 percent. But even if we get between 5-7 percent, we can achieve more if we have good management and application of the funds to the needs of agriculture. 

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  At the moment, it is less than 2 percent of the over N7 trillion of 2017 budget as there are cries about the dwindling revenue accruing into the government coffers. 

Now over and above that, there is a very high-pitch debate as to what legal backing the Parliament has in the development of the country’s budget. Hitherto, the practice, world-wide, has been, for the Executive to bring budget proposals.  The Executive know more about the problems and the available resources, the capacity to spend and the priority attached to every sector of the economy. We admit all this.

But our constitution which is the grand norm assigns to the National Assembly the responsibility to consider the budget. This does not take away the fact that, the first step of budgeting which is to set up the proposal of what to do is taken away from the Presidency.  And when the president brings it, we take a look at it.  We have an inherent jurisdiction to cross the t’s and dot the i’s as we may find appropriate. This is what we believe. 

No doubts, the President was elected by all the constituencies across the country. We were also elected, and we do know that as a fact that the President is a human being like all of us.  But how many times have he gone to personally know the constituencies we represent here and their peculiar problems?  He is taking reports from those constituencies on trust from his aides who go out to bring for him the information.  Each of them who bring the reports has an interest.  They are human beings.  They have inherent interests. We also have the legal duty and mandate to represent our constituencies, identify their peculiar needs and how to solve them.  Unfortunately, some aides of Mr. President have taken the advantage of his absence to use his name in doing and saying so many things without the president knowing. I do not think they love the President more than many of us in the National Assembly.  I think the best thing for the Executive to do is to seek legal interpretation on the matter from the Supreme Court to rest this reoccurring controversy which is not good for the good governance of our dear country.

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IITASanginga Nteranya
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