Africa’s 1.3 billion population is expected to double by 2050. In 30 years, the continent could be home to a quarter of the world’s population. While the rapid population growth rate raises concerns about Africa’s socio-economic growth and stability prospects, it also presents transformative opportunities.
Africa has a comparative advantage in agriculture: over 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa are smallholder farmers, the climate is largely favourable, labour costs are relatively low, there is access to water, and there are vibrant markets. Importantly, the continent accounts for about 60% of the world’s arable land and thus has the potential to become a significant food exporter. However, it currently only accounts for about 4% of total global output. Based on current trends, Africa may only be able to produce 13% of its food needs by 2050.
Empowering smallholder farmers and fostering innovation is vital for African food security
There is vast room for improvement in sustainable agricultural production; a key means of bridging that gap is through high quality research, education and training for farmers as well as for Africa’s burgeoning youth population, consisting of 77% of the continent’s population. Leaders of countries including Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, recognise this, as they have sought to strengthen higher agricultural education. One university in Nigeria is ahead of the curve.
Setting the Pace
Landmark University is the only private agricultural higher learning institution in Nigeria, and is primed to drive the agrarian revolution in the country and broader West Africa region. Founded in 2011, it is located in the north-central state of Kwara.
In an interview with AfricaLive.net, the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Adeniyi Olayanju, said, “Universities all over the world have a triple mandate: teaching, research and community engagement. African universities need to focus on these three objectives and do an excellent job at equipping the younger generation in order to maintain relevance. We aim to spearhead an agrarian revolution in this part of the continent and help diversify Nigeria’s economy.”
“Landmark University is founded on strong core values that we have dubbed ‘SIMCARDS’, which stands for spirituality, immunity, mentality, capacity building, responsibility, diligence, and sacrifice,” Prof. Olayanju adds.
“Our mission is to create the next generation of problem solvers. We don’t want our students to just sit in class taking lectures; we want them to learn and go out there and provide value.”
Spurring an Agrarian Revolution
Smallholder farmers produce about 80% of the food produced in Sub-Saharan Africa, yet, constraints around planting, harvesting, and commercialisation continue to hamper yield and supply chains. Some solutions can be found by harnessing the transformational technologies of the fourth industrial revolution spreading across the continent. “Mechanisation has to be part of our agenda,” says Prof. Olayanju.
Mechanisation of African agribusiness is key to the continent’s agrarian revolution
“As a developing country, Nigeria has been catering to its food needs mostly through subsistence farming. The use of rudimentary tools to plough the land has been the norm. We are confronted with the question of how much acreage of land can one plough with these tools to produce enough for the country. We have to make the transition from H.T.T (How to Technology) to E.P.T (Engine Powered Technology). The adoption of technology and mechanisation will see us rapidly increase the acreage of our food production.”
He adds, “Agrarian revolution for us means value addition, be it in crop or animal production. It’s all about how we can produce faster and at a larger scale. We have done a great job at sensitising local farmers about value addition with the help of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
Research also plays a significant role in driving agricultural innovation. “Research generates new knowledge, and that brings forth innovation. It is imperative to carry out local research to ensure solutions are demand-driven. An international body may, for example, observe women in remote villages walking long distances to the stream to fetch water and see a problem that needs to be solved. Though their intentions may be good, what they might miss is that those women don’t just walk to fetch water; they socialise and have fun while at it. So in an attempt to solve the ‘problem’, they might end up proposing a solution that people don’t respond to.”
Along with mechanisation and research to drive agricultural productivity and competitiveness, linkages should be established with other sectors of the economy (industrial, financial, transport, energy and communications). This would help ensure agricultural inputs such as machinery and fertilisers are accessible, storage and logistic options are viable, adequate financing is available, and infrastructure is sufficiently developed.
Spotlight on the Centre for Research, Innovation and Discovery
The fundamental structural transformation Africa’s agricultural sector must undergo to tap into its enormous capacity is even more urgent given the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has deepened food insecurity for many already fragile economies. Sub-Saharan Africa is on the verge of experiencing its first recession in 25 years.
“When it comes to Nigeria’s core business of agriculture, we have to be very careful as a country. We have to find a way to be productive during the pandemic or more significant problems will arise next year. Most developing countries are currently consuming food supplies that were produced last year. If we don’t create ways to stay productive as we battle this infectious disease, we will have to grapple with acute food shortages in 2021,” says Prof. Olayanju.
Landmark University places a heavy focus on research, development and deployment, as led by its Centre for Research, Innovation and Discovery (LUCRID). Prof Olayanju explains, “Through the centre, we have been able to design with a sensor device that enables students to wash their hands at the sinks without touching the faucet. The device senses the hand, then dispenses the soap and the water from the faucet after that. We have also been able to produce face masks for everyone at the university.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested our ability to solve problems, and we are passing that with flying colours. We acted swiftly to establish secure lines of communication with students and proceeded with virtual classes.”
The university has also set up two funds: a teaching and research fund, and a commercial fund. The commercial fund extends to crop and animal production. “Our institution grows rice, soya beans, maise, cassava and vegetables, then processes them in our plants to ensure they are consumption ready. We are making proactive efforts to ensure that we are able to feed our students when they return after the lockdowns are eased or lifted.”
“We also have a 30,000 capacity hen layer plant that sees to the production of thousands of eggs daily. There is a broiler section that provides chicken for consumption, as well as a fish pond to supplement our dietary requirements,” says Prof. Olayanju.
Local Research, Global Outlook
Landmark University caters to both undergraduates and postgraduates. It has three colleges: Agricultural Sciences, Science and Engineering, and Business and Social Studies. As such, it is able to train students with industry knowledge and enhance employability, conduct cutting-edge research, support industrial development in a knowledge-driven economy, and generate industrial expertise.
The University has a unit coordinating publications, grants, and intellectual property. University research has been published in high impact journals, including those indexed in Scopus, the Institute of Scientific Information, Web of Science, and Clarivate Analytics.
“As much as we believe in localising our research, we also have a globalisation outlook. Our model of research has been likened to that of our sister institution, Covenant University. Our model has been dubbed ‘Covenant Plus,’ because we adapt what they do. Covenant University is a conventional institution, while we are a specialised one,” Prof. Olayanju says.
Building Academic Partnerships
In its pursuit to drive the agrarian revolution and help to “stave off hunger and starvation in West Africa”, the university recognises the importance of establishing and maintaining partnerships with local and international organisations and believes there is scope for greater collaboration.
Landmark University works with a national council and other agricultural institutions in Nigeria. Additionally, the university has: “a memorandum of understanding with the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanisation, and positive relations with the Federal Institute for Industrial Research,” says Prof Olayanju.
“Our production agenda is supported by the National Cereal Research Institute situated in Badeggi, Niger State, as well as the Nigeria Institute of Oil Palm Research in Benin, Edo State. We have done well to ensure that we have not only global partnerships, but also local ones. Other than our work with these institutions, we are engaging the community by employing local farmers to work our lands and training them on cereal farming.”
The university has ties with Fayetteville State University in South Carolina (USA), the London South Bank University (UK), the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel), the Addis Ababa Institute of Technology (Ethiopia), and the Institute for Global Climate Change and Energy (Republic of Korea)—amongst others.
In sharing ambitions for the future, Vice-Chancellor Prof. Olayanju says, “Our ultimate vision is to feed the world, but that has to start with feeding our campus, community, state, country, then region. In five years, Landmark University will be a leader in proactive engagement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our agrarian agenda will be well developed, and we will be competing with prestigious global institutions.”