Agricultural innovations are still relevant in transforming livelihoods in Africa , a stakeholder lecture on “Food and Culture” has heard.
Using a case study of the cassava revolution in Africa, researchers estimate that resource-poor farmers in Nigeria, alone, traded improved cassava stems—a part that is often neglected for having commercial value—worth more than US$1 million (about N150m) in five years.
Professor Lateef Sanni, IITA Scientist, said that this increase in incomes of farmers came between 2003 and 2008.
Organized by the Public Affairs Section of the United States Consulate General, Lagos and IITA in Ibadan ; the “Food and Culture” lecture brought together experts in the food and agricultural sector including a guest lecturer from Tufts University .
Stakeholders reviewed the US agricultural experience and brainstormed on areas that Africa could tap into. In his presentation titled: “Roots and Tubers: Food Security Crops in Nigeria ,”
Sanni said cassava was a food security crop in Nigeria and a major provider of employment and income. He said the crop appeals to farmers because of its affordability, ease of cultivation, and high return on investment. Apart from the stems, cassava roots and leaves are now offering additional income streams to farmers.
Despite cassava’s role in the food web, Sanni said more attention by way of support to research was needed. More importantly, cutting down postharvest losses through investment in processing technologies and the creation of an appropriate policy framework were necessary to sustain cassava’s role in ensuring food security in the future.
Prof. William Masters of Tufts University said that the US government was reviewing its commitment to African agriculture with plans to increase funding for the sector and to achieve productivity growth which IITA has stood for in the last more than four decades.
Masters, an agricultural economist, shared his thoughts on “How Americans are rethinking what they eat and what is in their food, how they grow, market and distribute them.”
He explained that consumers in wealthy societies no longer need higher farm productivity for their own prosperity, but instead are seeking foods that embody their cultural values. Giving a scenario of killing the ‘golden goose that laid the golden eggs,’ Masters expressed fears that consumer preferences for organic, local and traditional foods in the US might limit their support for the kind of agricultural innovations that are needed in Africa .
According to him, the agricultural revolution in America and Europe whichsustained industrialization was a product of technological improvement in agriculture and that campaigning against new advances that hold the key to cutting down hunger and poverty in Africa was synonymous to killing the golden goose that laid the golden eggs of new crop genetics and agronomic methods.
African experts at the session agreed that taking Africa ’s agricultural sector out of the woods would require the adoption of new technological tools.
For Paul Ilona, IITA Senior Cassava Trials Manager, farmers needed improved seeds, fertilizer and other farm inputs such as pesticides to boost productivity. He said anything to the contrary was a disservice to farmers in Africa.
Earlier, IITA’s Director-General, Dr. Peter Hartmann , who was represented by Dr Mbaye Yade, said the Institute was delighted to share its knowledge and experience in the area of agriculture with partners. He said the fight against poverty and hunger in Africa required collaborative efforts among the many stakeholders working for Africa ’s development.