Prof Felix Salako

Vice-Chancellor | Federal University Of Agriculture, Abeokuta

AfricaLive: If you only have two minutes to describe the identity of your institution to someone, what would be the key points to communicate?

Prof Felix Salako: Our institution was established in 1988 at a time when the federal government of Nigeria wanted to establish specialised universities of agriculture. There are four such institutions today which have been progressively established from the 1980s all the way up to now. The most recent one was completed in 2020. 

Our vision is to be a center of excellence when it comes to knowledge generation and to foster an environment of sustainability. We are very particular when it comes to our overall goal of sufficiently supporting the agriculture sector in Nigeria. We want to produce new knowledge in agriculture and contribute immensely to sustainable development. 

We have grown in leaps and bounds and have 52 departments today. Just last year, we got approval to start offering a Bachelor of Science and Geology program. This is a big leap towards our strategic plan and it does not divert attention away from our focus on agriculture. 

AfricaLive: Building on the identity above, what approach do you take to working with industry and understanding the needs of the private sector?

Prof Felix Salako: At the university, we have some academic support centers. We have the Institute of Food Security and Agriculture Research and The Agricultural Media Resources and Extension Center. These two are spearheading our agricultural agenda. Over the years, we have had collaborations in terms of support from some industry leaders such as Nestle. 

The company has helped us conduct extension activities and capacity building among women and youth. Individual academics from our institution have also conducted research in collaboration with companies both locally and abroad.

As a result, we have built relationships with organisations such as The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, The Natural Resources Institute in the UK, and many others. With the help of donors, we have been able to promote cassava farming to a high level which also includes the development of farming equipment. 

We have formulated a strategic agenda that will cover the period between 2021 and 2025. The plan incorporates training our students to a level that satisfies the private sector. This entails developing students that are not only industry-ready but also able to identify opportunities and exploit them.

We also want to engage in product and service creation in a way that is economically viable. The private sector is about producing services and products that will turn a profit. We have to align with their goals if we are going to do this right.

AfricaLive: As you go forward with these plans, what opportunities exist for private sector collaboration, investment, or funding?

Prof Felix Salako: Yes. On Monday this week, we had a meeting with the Abeokuta Chamber of Commerce. The institution has many insightful and resourceful people that we can engage with for mutual benefit. The idea is to link up with them to see to it that we start commercialising products from our local environment in Abeokuta. 

We also have organisations like Nestle and others bidding to work with us on the same issue. Some organisations have approached us because they want to support the farmers within the university. Deals that will see them get their products directly from our student farmers are in the pipeline.

AfricaLive: What opportunities exist for international academic partnerships?

Prof Felix Salako: We are no strangers to the concept of internationalisation. Our institution has built strong relationships with the International Insitute of Tropical Agriculture, The Natural Resources Institute in the UK, The International Centre for Theoretical Physics, and other institutions that our lecturers associate with in the US and Canada. 

Internationalisation is well covered in our strategic plan. We want to improve in this area by offering international programs and building more partnerships. We received special recognition from the World Bank and got resources to establish a centre called The Centre for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment. The centre is training students from all over West Africa. We have students from Liberia, Togo, Benin Republic, and Cameroon. 

This shows that we are doing quite a bit to become a truly international institution. In addition, we want to roll out student exchange programs as well as sustainable academic and research collaborations. 

AfricaLive: We have noticed you writing and speaking passionately about the importance of soil health and fighting climate change.

Commercial agriculture is facing a sustainability crisis – do colleges and universities of agriculture need to accept some of the blame for the unsustainable practices undertaken globally in the agriculture sector?

Prof Felix Salako: I am a soil scientist, and aside from working on soil, I have also worked on climate issues. The challenges when it comes to sustainability should not be blamed on universities in my opinion. I don’t think universities are failing to do their work, it’s a matter of people not applying the knowledge we have made available.

If you look at our cassava project which is part of our work alongside the International Insitute of Tropical Agriculture, for instance, the idea is to impart sustainable practice knowledge. 

We can only blame ourselves if we fail to communicate properly with the farmers on a project such as this. We are getting ahead of such a possibility by sourcing communication experts that can reach our people properly. Cinematographers come in handy when it comes to reaching people.

This is why we hire some on a temporary basis. If we do our work well, the responsibility then rests on individual farmers’ shoulders. Some of them are stubborn because no matter what you tell them, they go back to their old ways. 

AfricaLive: Do you then believe that the university has a role to play when it comes to working with farmers and local communities by extension?

Prof Felix Salako: We have a huge role to play here. Since 1992, the vision of our founders was to include community development. This is why The Agricultural Media Resources and Extension Center was established. Later, we established The Institute of Food Security and Agriculture Research and the Centre for Agricultural Development and Sustainable Environment. 

These three are working together to deliver acceptable technologies that can positively impact productivity for our farmers while taking care of environmental concerns. We want our people to be aware of new sustainable strategies that can increase their yields while minding the environment. 

AfricaLive: AfricaLive reporting acts as a virtual roundtable discussion between Africa’s academic leaders. We would like your input on some recent points from the interviews.

 Prof Olayanju, Landmark University

“As a developing country, Nigeria has been catering to its food needs mostly through subsistence farming. 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.”

Do you agree with the need for a Nigerian agrarian revolution and investment in value addition?

If so, how would your university take part in this?

Prof Felix Salako: I agree with him because these ideas are not new to us. I mentioned that we have a relationship with The Natural Resources Insititute in the UK. Our work with them was about value addition in our cassava. 

To be precise, it’s about processing Garri (a by-product of cassava popular in Nigerian households) and making it a quality industrial product like Cassava flour. The project also involved improving the shelf lives of our cassava products.

We also want to add value to palm wine (a popular Nigerian drink) into a standardised product that can be economically viable. We have done some work on honey as well and plans are there to create bread products using honey. All this work is being done by our Food Science and Technology department.

AfricaLive: The next quote is from Prof Tawana Kupe of the University of Pretoria. We discussed issues to do with climate change and he provided this quote. 

” In developing markets we can’t treat the environment as a secondary concern to development. 

This line of thinking shows a lack of understanding of what’s at stake. People must understand that the issues they would rather prioritize are connected to the sustainability question. To create proper infrastructure and create a thriving economy, developing countries must embrace sustainability”. 

What is your opinion on the balance between sustainability and development?

Prof Felix Salako: I agree with the sentiment that you cannot treat the environment as a secondary concern. Unfortunately, the environment gets ignored by most politicians and land developers. My specific area of interest has been soil erosion. We have a tendency to destroy vegetation in many African countries. 

We must embrace sustainability because it is one of the SDGs identified by the UN. If humanity, in general, does not grow a consciousness when it comes to the environment, we will all be done for.

Interfering with nature is causing environmental degradation and water pollution. There has to be a compromise between industrialisation and taking care of the environment because some industrialists only think about money.

AfricaLive: What are your main goals for 2022?

Prof Felix Salako: As I mentioned before, we have developed a strategic plan from 2021 to 2025. We intend to collaborate with more industries and have trainees from our university actively involved. We are going to focus more on community development through research. Challenges related to security exist, but we are determined to hit our goals. 

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