On 7 July, Dr Charles ‘Diji’ Akinola, Head, Office of Economic Development and Partnerships (OEDP) and Coordinator Osun Rural Enterprise and Agricultural Program (O-REAP), led a seven- member team of representatives from O-REAP, OEDP, Osun Ministry of Agriculture, and the Office of the Surveyor General to Ibadan. The visit was to begin the process of formalizing an agreement on the use of the 200 ha at Agba Ogun –one of the areas of high agricultural production allocated by the Osun State Government to IITA for the next 49 years.
The Osun State Government had allocated the land to IITA as part of efforts to ensure that the majority of Osun youth and farming families in the neighboring communities and farm settlements will be able to maximize crop yields and increase the productivity of their farms through certified seeds of high yielding improved varieties, best-bet agronomy, and crop protection practices. The farmland will be supervised partly by O-REAP which is energetically seeking to ensure mass production of food in the State.
Dr Akinola said that it was also part of Government’s attempt to reduce dependence on crude oil and to shift to agriculture with the target of capturing 10% of the total food bill from neighboring Lagos State, currently estimated at USD 23 billion. “The State of Osun relies on IITA with over 45 years of award winning research to achieve this feat” Dr Akinola said. He added “In the next couple of years, we expect to have a site in Osun where IITA can visibly show the practical impact of its research…We are also looking at a situation where IITA can have a positive impact on the lives of small-scale farmers occupying about 30,000 ha in 28 communities around the allocated site through research that will provide them with opportunities. We also expect IITA to develop creative ways of integrating agroforestry into the farming systems. We expect approaches that work in the State of Osun will be successful across southern Nigeria, especially focusing on crops such as cocoa, oil palm, plantain, maize, and cassava.”
Dr Kenton Dashiell, DDG Partnerships and Capacity Development, disclosed that IITA intends to conduct research directly relevant to address the needs of the farmers in the area whilst ensuring the long-term sustainability of the land. Specifically, IITA plans to deploy scientists to conduct research in the area and the IITA Youth Agripreneurs will start a project to multiply high quality and clean planting materials of plantain and cassava for surrounding communities in the next three years.
“One of the things fundamental to our work as a research institute is the long-term sustainability of the land,” said Dr Dashiell. “We want to do our work in the State of Osun 100 times even better than we did in Ibadan, therefore we will focus on preventing soil degradation …we also do see a great need to work with established youth groups in Osun.”
He added, “IITA sees this proposed innovative partnership as a big win for the people and the Osun State Government and believes that over the years it will grow into a very productive relationship for all concerned. It may become a model for how State Governments in Nigeria and all over Africa can partner with research organizations to make sure the research conducted is relevant and that the results are taken to the farmers as fast as possible.”
Dr Robert Asiedu, IITA Director West Africa, emphasized that IITA was committed to invest in the work planned in Osun to ensure top quality results, particularly in land use planning. “We hope to demonstrate that land can be used in a very sustainable fashion on this site over a long period,” he said.
To push the agreement into real action, Dr Stefan Hauser, Root and Tuber Systems Agronomist at IITA, and Ms Sylvia Oyinlola, IITA Regional Administrator, will deploy the GIS team from IITA to map the entire area and open access roads along the boundaries. This will give IITA immediate access to set up trials, demonstrations, and multiplication fields to serve the farming community so they can start benefiting from IITA’s expertise without delay, pending the signing of an MoU formalizing this partnership.