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Agricultural science - a promising future?

Young science graduates are asking for more opportunities and support, in order to make their contribution to solving Africa's problems. (WRENmedia)
Young science graduates are asking for more opportunities and support, in order to make their contribution to solving Africa's problems.
WRENmedia

With perennially poor funding from national governments, agricultural science is rarely seen as the career of choice for school or college leavers in Africa. However, a recent gathering of students, lecturers and researchers at the IITA agricultural research institute in Ibadan, Nigeria was an opportunity for some of West Africa's brightest and best young minds to declare their commitment, and offer their recommendations for meeting the continent's worsening crises of food insecurity and environmental degradation.

Also present at the International Association of Research Scholars and Fellows (IARSAF) first international conference, was a team of West African journalists attending a 'Better Science Reporting' workshop. On behalf of New Agriculturist, the team gathered opinions from the conference participants, and from their host, IITA director general, Peter Hartmann on the prospects for agricultural science in Africa.

Career of choice?

Discovering new things that will help humanity in solving problems and ensuring food security, there is nothing that excites me like that. I want to contribute my quota towards helping humanity's problem: hunger.
Christian Daberechukwu Ani, president, Big Brains of Agriculture Multipurpose Cooperative Society

One thing about agriculture is that it is more sustainable. You can have your own personal farm. You can do training. Even at a very old age you can continue to do your own independent work. You can never be short of food, or manpower, or knowledge, or interaction with your community.
Pamela Okido, National Horticultural Institute, Ibadan

"Food security should be as important as defence: in a country without food you have chaos." Peter Hartmann (WRENmedia)
"Food security should be as important as defence: in a country without food you have chaos." Peter Hartmann
WRENmedia

For graduates interested in research, I would advise them to keep an open mind. Most people don't associate high-tech engineering with agriculture but that's what we do. We have very high-tech programmers and software experts that work in agriculture. We're doing a lot of satellite mapping in agriculture. My message to the young person would be that they are not limited to the traditional sense of agriculture.
Peter Hartmann, director general, IITA, Ibadan

Perceived obstacles

A major challenge is the opportunity of getting a good job after graduation, because most youngsters believe that if you read agriculture, you will probably end up jobless or as a classroom teacher in a secondary school.
Dr Hassan Ibrahim, Nasarawa State University, Keffi

For young graduates, who want to do research, the problem of facilities is there. To do research and get results, they need money, they need inputs, and they need mentors. But these days it is difficult to get mentors because people move around a lot. There are a lot of private universities coming into the country now, and you cannot actually find people around to show you the way.
Dr Lydia Babatola, University of Ibadan, Dept of Agronomy

Agriculture graduates struggle to find facilities and mentors, as well as funding for their continuing studies. (WRENmedia)
Agriculture graduates struggle to find facilities and mentors, as well as funding for their continuing studies.
WRENmedia

One challenge is lack of involvement of the government in encouraging undergraduates in research. For instance, most of our institutions lack the basic facilities to carry out research. And, from what I see, there is going to be a decline in BSc research on agriculture, if the involvement of government is not made stronger.
Israel A Michael, vice-president, Big Brains of Agriculture Multipurpose Cooperative Society

In the national systems, obstacles to fair promotion are something you need to fight. The old people always try to keep the power to themselves, but this is a long-term problem and the national systems really need the media to expose it and suggest ways in which to improve it.
Peter Hartmann, director general, IITA

Attracting the next generation

The bedrock of every nation is agriculture, so wooing the younger generation into agricultural research is a wonderful thing. There is need for policies that will make this area of study interesting and attractive to school leavers. It is all about encouragement. The research institutes should come up with incentives in the form of scholarships.
Mr Imorgey Augustine, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (Nifor), Benin Edo State

The government should build the interest of the younger ones into its curriculum, so that children begin learning about agriculture in primary school. I also think the new initiative in Nigeria, for the attachment of secondary school leavers to research institutes, is a good way forward for them.
Dr Ayodele, Horticultural Research Institute Ibadan, Oyo State

Unfortunately a lot of African universities are still teaching the old stuff, and they're not exciting kids to get into agriculture. So we need a complete change in the curriculum.
Peter Hartmann

What you hear young people say is that the scientists are not rich and they do not want to belong to an association of the poor. To them, we have made a mistake in taking this line. All I do is to let them know that money is not everything. There are some benefits we get which are hard to quantify in monetary terms, like being a known scientist.
Dr Adekola, Agronomy Department, University of Ilorin, Kwara State

Brain drain - curse or blessing?

Studying abroad builds skills and knowledge, but these need to be brought back to help solve problems in Africa. (WRENmedia)
Studying abroad builds skills and knowledge, but these need to be brought back to help solve problems in Africa.
WRENmedia

It is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because these guys that go abroad are products of the Nigerian education system, and some of them do very well, so it is a good image for the country. Then, on the other hand, it is a curse because the institutions these people have left, they have a vacuum there. And some of these have been very difficult to fill. But they are going in search of greener pastures; you can't stop them.
Chris Obudu, Veterinary University of Abuja

I believe that going abroad is not only to read books. You acquire so many experiences, new technologies, attitudes, how to cope with different environments, and these are the types of things that we have to transmit to other people, especially in our country.
Marie Octavie Yomeni, Department of Agronomy, IITA, Ibadan

If you're excited and you come back and do exciting things, then there won't be a brain drain. But a lot of that depends on you and your commitment to the continent. Money is not everything; a sense of satisfaction goes a long way. But the brain drain doesn't worry me too much. Even those who leave Africa, wherever they are, they can still look for ways to help this continent.
Peter Hartmann

The major problem why people wouldn't want to come back here is the financial reward. Secondly, our government is not helping us because the policies that they make, they are not promoting young people. So when you consider coming back here, you think about what you will lose and who will even listen to you when you come back?
Ugochi Amazue, University of Nigeria, Nsukka

Wishing for a better future

My wish is that scientists should be more respected and research should be more funded. Policy makers should know that research costs a lot of money, and so they should be patient before they say, "All these years, what have you come up with?"
Bumi Ebitoye, National Agricultural Research Institute, Ibadan

"For each country I would like to build at least two colleges which have all the facilities necessary to create the best scientists." Lava Kumar, IITA (WRENmedia)
"For each country I would like to build at least two colleges which have all the facilities necessary to create the best scientists." Lava Kumar, IITA
WRENmedia

My wish would be to involve rural farmers, laymen and laywomen, villagers, into the agricultural research. They might have innovations that can't be communicated, but they could do it with their hands and you see it. Not just asking them to do the demonstrations, but let them also be involved in the research.
Christian Daberechukwu Ani

My wish would be for governments to treat agriculture just as they treat national defence systems, and fund it just like they do national defence systems. I think it's equally strategic and vital to a country: in a country with no food, you have chaos.
Peter Hartmann

Date published: May 2009

 

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