AfricaLive: What in your view does it mean to be an African higher education institution in this day and age, and how can such an institution maintain its relevance today?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: When we talk of higher education institutions, most of the time we speak of tertiary institutions like the polytechnics, colleges of agriculture and colleges of education; we rarely mention universities. Universities all over the world have a triple mandate which involves; teaching, research and community engagement. An African university today needs to focus on these three objectives and do an excellent job at equipping the younger generation in order to maintain relevance.
AfricaLive: What is the role of Landmark University when it comes to creating the next generation of leaders and professionals that Nigeria needs to prosper?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: It is essential to highlight that our institution is the only private agricultural higher learning institution in the country.
We do have federal universities that feature agricultural training, but they only exist in three regions of the country. Landmark University was established in 2011, and our vision is to become a leading world-class school that inspires minds. Aiming to become a globally recognised university is one thing, becoming one is another. We, therefore, saw it wise to cut a niche for ourselves in agriculture.
We aim to spearhead an agrarian revolution in this part of the continent and help diversify this country’s economy. Our main objectives are to carry out teaching, research and community uplifting; which we have been doing as we fast approach our tenth birthday.
We are founded on strong core values that we have dubbed ‘SIMCARDS’. S is for spirituality, I for Immunity, M for mentality, CA for capacity building, R for responsibility, D for diligence, and S for sacrifice. As a university, we use these core values to form the foundation of our agenda, which 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. The university is very clear on its triple mandate, which is teaching, research and community development. This Covid-19 pandemic has tested our ability to solve problems, and we are passing that with flying colours. There is no wastage of time because we have managed to form secure lines of communication with students to ensure classes are going on virtually.
AfricaLive: The Covid-19 pandemic is testing everyone at the moment as you rightly put it. Research is a big part of combating the pandemic, what is your institution’s research agenda, and what flagship projects are you looking at?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: We may be big advocates for research and development, but we also emphasise on research and deployment. It is one thing to do research and development on the surface level and another to deploy it to the community.
You have to start implementation in your immediate community as we have here in the North Central part of Nigeria. Our research work is done at a directorate institution known as LUCRID, which is the Landmark University Centre for Research Innovation and Discovery. Tabulation research is done there to formulate processes that guide our research.
Through the institution, we have been able to come up with a sensor device that enables students to wash their hands at the sinks without touching the faucet. The device senses the hand, and then dispenses the soap and the water from the faucet after that. We have also been able to come up with face masks for everyone at the university. When it comes to our core business which is agriculture, we have to be very careful as a country. We have to find a way to be productive during this pandemic time or else more significant problems will arise next year. You have to take into account that 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 infection, we will have to deal with acute food shortages in 2021. As a university of agriculture, we have set up two funds; a teaching and research fund and a commercial fund. We are now engaged in crop and animal production on a decent scale. Our institution is growing rice, soy beans, maize, cassava and vegetables. We are making proactive efforts to ensure that we can feed our students when they come back after the lock downs are eased or lifted. We are not just in the business of growing these food items but also processing them to ensure they are consumption ready. We have cassava, rice and palm oil processing plants within our institution.
Animal production is also part of our agenda. We have a thirty thousand capacity hen layer plant that can ensure we produce thousands of eggs in a day. There is a broiler section that provides chicken for meat, as well as a fish pond set up to supplement our meat needs. Being an agricultural institution does not mean we are constrained to the farms only. We have a college of agricultural sciences because agriculture is a science, a college of engineering that produces agrarian innovations, and a college of business studies to help with the commercial part. I am happy to report that we have started our postgraduate programmes that are turning out publications. 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’ though, because we observe what they do and do more. Our sister university is a conventional school while we are a specialised one; we have many things to learn from each other.
AfricaLive: You spoke about spurring an Agrarian revolution. What would that look like for Africa, and how can universities use the dominant technologies of the day to help improve the welfare of farmers?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: Revolutions are known as events that trigger a change in how things are done. It is a departure from the status quo, to a new state of being. We want to change the way we practise agriculture. As a developing country, we have been taking care of our food needs through mostly 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. Mechanization, therefore, has to be part of our agenda. 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 mechanization will see us rapidly increase the acreage of our food production. Agrarian revolution for us means value addition, be it in crop or animal production. It’s all about how can get production done 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.
AfricaLive: What you’re doing is very similar to what the University of Mauritius is doing with their Agritech Park in terms of involving community and industry. What in your opinion should be the future of relations between academia and the private sector?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: I will tackle that question by looking at the research and innovation angle. It takes funding to carry out research. Research breeds new knowledge, and that brings forth innovation. Innovation, in the end, will earn you money. To break this down further, industries fund researchers, researchers come up with the knowledge that spurs innovation and boosts industry profit. It is a cycle of value that has to be well understood. We also have to localise research and ensure that it is demand-driven. Madagascar, a tiny island off the coast of East Africa, claims it has come up with a solution for Covid-19 that is now being tested by African nations. The Madagascar solution was developed because research is going on at local level. Some international body, for instance, may 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 bringing a solution that people don’t take to. It is, therefore, imperative to carry out local research to ensure solutions are demand-driven.
AfricaLive: African Universities have for a long time had better collaborative partnerships with European institutions than they’ve had with fellow institutions on the continent. What efforts are being made by Landmark University to boost intra-African university partnerships?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju Being a university of agriculture, one thing going for us is that we have a national council and other schools of agriculture in the country that we work with. We also have a memorandum of understanding with the National Centre for Agricultural Mechanization, and positive relations with the Federal Institute for Industrial Research. 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. Apart from our work with these institutions, we are doing community work by getting local farmers to work our lands and training them on cereal farming.
AfricaLive: What does your institution have planned for the future, what will be different in two to five years?
Prof Adeniyi Olayanju: In five years, we will be the leaders when it comes to the Sustainable Development Goals (S.D.Gs). We have put in place an S.D.G exhibition centre that pushes us to achieve our goals. Our agricultural focus will have a great deal of research to help keep hunger and starvation at bay in the country. Landmark University is also looking to produce significant publications that will get us a higher ranking in the next two to three years. Our vision for the next five years is not to just rank in the Times Higher Education ranking, but to rank well. We want to be competing with prestigious institutions all over the world. Our ultimate vision is to feed the world, but that has to start with feeding our campus, community, our state, and then the country. In summary, we want to ensure that our agrarian agenda is well developed, and we want to rank well globally in five years.