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The missing link

My last article on this column titled ‘Open Grazing: A failure of imagination’ generated many interesting comments.

My last article on this column titled ‘Open Grazing: A failure of imagination’ generated many interesting comments.

While majority of my commenters agreed with my opinion and provided further valuable insights, others saw it as ‘riding the wave’ of anti-Fulani sentiment.

One of them went as far as equating my opinion and advocacy for the discontinuation of open grazing and declaring nomadic pastoralism unimaginative as an insult to my Fulani ancestry.

Whereas these people are in the minority, I felt the need to respond here in the hope that they would understand that this debate pitching innovation against tradition is irrelevant, insincere and out of tune with reason. All over the world, every generation receives a legacy of knowledge from its predecessors that can be harnessed for progress.

My argument is that we should blend the new and the old and thereby chart our own development path within a broad technological trajectory. If we are to learn anything from the success of industrialised countries it is that the ability to learn how to improve performance in a variety of fields like agriculture, institutional development, technological adaptation, trade, organisation, and the use of natural resources is what brings progress, not an adamant fixation on primitive, time-wasting and conflict-prone practices. Also, it is indeed perfectly normal, even convenient for me to be modern and universal, on the one hand, and adhere to my identities as a Muslim, Fulani and Nigerian on another. If Nigeria and particularly the North is to excel we must put a premium on learning and improving problem-solving skills as well as embody the understanding that reason, innovation, faith and tradition are not mutually exclusive.

Most of our expert opinion on innovation, technology and agriculture are not born out of the sheer academic study of these fields or a whimsical desire to appear learned. Some are time-tested ideas and notions that are suggested in a bid to answer the hard questions around our collective prosperity. It is against this backdrop that I say again today that it is not enough for the federal government to simply reduce the cost of doing business or for the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to directly administer agricultural finance. The missing link in fostering agricultural transformation in Nigeria is the inadequacy of the Nigerian government’s function as an active facilitator of technological learning and application.

Government actions will need to reflect the entrepreneurial qualities of innovation, sustainability and prosperity that characterise successful agriculture. The government must become entrepreneurial in its agility, discipline and leadership. Imagine if the CBN, with all its  agricultural programmes had a mission-oriented approach, setting key targets and providing support to farmers to help them meet quantifiable goals instead of dishing out billions without recourse to a granular strategy and often sidelining key scientific stakeholders like the National Agricultural Seeds Council or the National Animal Production Research Institute. The truth is, an innovation-driven, entrepreneurial and mission-oriented approach towards agriculture in Nigeria will require greater reliance on diverse ministries, departments and agencies, some of which lack the capacity to deliver the crucial activities. However, we mustn’t altogether relegate them to the background instead of equipping them to be efficient. Besides, if the CBN must marshal Nigeria’s agriculture then perhaps adjustments are needed in its structure and functions to serve the purpose of integrating science, technology and innovation in all sustainable agriculture related areas of its intervention.

In all the tiers of government, systematic advice on science and innovation must be included routinely in policy making. According to Harvard Professor Calistus Juma, “Such advisers must have access to credible scientific or technical information drawing from a diversity of sources including scientific and engineering academies. In fact, the magnitude of the challenge for regions like Africa is so great that a case could be made for new academies dedicated to agricultural science, technology and innovation.”

At the global level, science, technology and engineering diplomacy have become a critical aspect of international relations. As such, the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a responsibility to promote international technology co-operation and forge strategic alliances on issues related to sustainable agriculture. There is much for Nigeria to learn and adopt through mediums like the South-South cooperation, which refers to the technical cooperation among developing countries in the Global South. It is a tool used by the states, international organisations, academics and even the private sector to collaborate and share knowledge, skills and successful initiatives in specific areas such as agricultural development.

It goes without saying, however, that all of this begins with strengthening our internal capability in science and innovation as a government and across multiple sectors of our economy with a huge emphasis on agriculture. The aspects of our culture or tradition that hinder innovation and technology, especially in vital areas like agriculture, medicine, trade and organisation are indeed detrimental to our progress. Those who chose to take sides against an inevitable future are only wasting our time as the world progresses through this zero-sum game.