The Laboratory for Geoecology and Sustainable Food Systems (GeoLab) of the Federal University of Technology Akure ,FUTA in conjunction with Biospheric Nigeria Limited recently gave practical expression to University –Industry collaboration by securing over N50 million Naira loan from the Federal Government of Nigeria /Central Bank of Nigeria /The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending- FGN CBN/NIRSAL- Anchor/Borrowers program for cocoa farmers in Akure South and North Local Governments of Ondo State . This is the first time that cocoa farmers will be benefiting from the programme since its establishment in 2015.
GeoLab is one of the new interventions by FUTA to mitigate the effects of global warming and its impact on Agriculture in Nigeria using scientific paradigm according to its coordinator and lead Researcher, Professor Ahmed Balogun. He said Since the launch of the Programme by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, farmers, especially those who specialize in cocoa farming in the South West had face a lot of difficulty in their quest to benefit from the initiative. Aware of the difficulty, GeoLab developed a value chain model that actually implements government policies. With its collaboration with Biospheric the value chain players were brought together to implement and test the efficacy of the policies and access to loan from the Anchor/Borrowers Programme. The methods were critically analyzed to make the policies sustainable starting from credit and ending in marketing of the products. Every variable was covered from credit to aggregation, training, inputs, production, processing and then market. And when the presentation was made to the managers of the loan portfolio, it sailed through.
To ensure the credibility of the process the technical experts from FUTA built in an efficient value chain system and therefore funds that come from banks and cash does not change hands physically. The funds come in the form of critical services and inputs that ensure that farmers do not have access to the cash and spend indiscriminately thus enabling its sustainability. Throughout the duration of the programme for the beneficiaries FUTA with the collaboration of Biospheric will sustain its training of the farmers on this model and modern farming technique that will highly boost their yield up to more than 100 pods of cocoa per tree annually. FUTA will also supervise and ensure that the farmers see agriculture as an enterprise and business. The beneficiaries have been funded to the tune of 4 Hectares. Balogun says the team of experts’ focus is to provide local solutions to local problems. Currently the team of experts from FUTA and Biospheric is managing 700 hectares of cocoa across Ondo state.
GeoLab is a laboratory in FUTA’s Department of Metrology and Climate Science, School of Earth and Mineral Science. According to Professor Balogun, FUTA Geolab lead Researcher, It is a weather-based index assurance for crops and other agricultural products. Balogun says the major drive behind the establishment of the Geoecology lab is to understand the relationship between the environment and agriculture which is only possible by acquiring real data and information from farmers. According to him, “The lab demonstrates the implications and effects of climate change on animal and crop yield and to find sustainable solutions to farmers’ problems. Irrigation is one of the most important aspects of a sustainable solution to crop farmers and this has been proven and has been demonstrated to farmers through its community service initiative.” It is a facility that provides short courses for farmers and extension workers to learn how to provide services. It is also structured to provide ICT support and innovations for farmers.
The Vice Chancellor, Professor Joseph Fuwape, has charged Balogun and his team to expose students in the School of Agriculture to the activities of GeoLab. He said since the lab is run in partnership with competent outfits it will achieve critical academic and industry synergy. Fuwape said the integration of its training into the module of training for Students in the school of Agriculture and Agricultural technology will serve the country well in the area of food security as students will learn value addition and how the weather and climate change adaptation affect their respective courses of study.
-Adegbenro Adebanjo, a journalist, Public Relations expert, writes from Akure, Ondo State