Professor Gloria Elemo, Director-General of the Federal Institute of Industrial Research Oshodi (FIIRO), Lagos, speaks with FEMI IBIROGBA, Head, Agro-Economy Desk, on ways to empower women in agriculture, attract youths into the sector and prevent post-harvest losses, among other issues.

Women are estimated to be 70% in the agricultural sector in Nigeria. How can they be empowered for productivity?
Yes. Women form the larger percentage in agriculture and its value chains. So, it is an area that needs empowerment. It means the government should put up programmes to assist women in agriculture to achieve food self-sufficiency and security.

At FIIRO here, we have a number of agric technologies being packaged for empowerment for women. What we do include a lot of training for women, youths and retirees. And we do contract training too. We do this with the federal, state and local government authorities. We encourage them to put women into clusters and we train and empower them to establish businesses. We set up some model factories in some parts of the country. Some are for special funding and some for constituency projects. We encourage cluster businesses among women.
For instance, we have been able to train and empower a large number of women in Minna, Niger State. We have done that in Lagos too. For gari processing, we have simplified the process. We have developed very simple gari processing equipment that can assist women to produce high quality gari that meets international standards.

Are these clusters profitably sustainable?
Yes. They are. For every project, we fabricate the equipment at FIIRO. And these machines do not fail because they are built to the specifications of international standards.

By sustainability, I mean are they profitable considering the cost of power and other inputs?
It depends on where we establish the factories, in terms of sources of power. Most of these machines are adapted to other sources of energy apart from electricity. They use gas and renewable energy. We do feasibility reports that take care of all the factors around power sources.

You listed over 250 technologies that FIIRO has developed. Despite all of these, why have people not taken them up and Nigeria still has high number of the unemployed? 
It is the approach that prevents people from taking these technologies up. Every institution is re-strategising now. There is an Executive Order Five now that emplaces all made-in-Nigeria products.

Can you explain more on this?
The Executive Order Five is clear on various percentages that must be Nigerian. And if this is rightly implemented, we will reduce unemployment in Nigeria. But if we continuously depend on the importation of foreign goods, machines and services, the local industries and services cannot improve. And if we do not have local services, we cannot employ our own people.

Agric universities and other higher learning institutions are turning out graduates, but these hardly take up agribusinesses. How can this be corrected?
If we put up such programmes and have right policies, they will do agribusinesses. What we are doing right now at FIIRO is a television reality show. We are using youth’s interest to catch them up into the industry. We need the support of the mass media in this project.
All the youth are going to be involved. And as they cast their votes for their best house mates, one way or the other, they are also involved in the FIIRO technologies. That is one of the strategies we have adopted.

Climate change is escalating because of forest depletion due to farming activities. How do we farm with minimal damage to the environment?
Food production and environment are symbiotic and synergetic. I do not see how food production could be detrimental to the environment. Food production could replenish the environment, depending on how we practise it. Also we are looking at the general ecosystem; that is, recycling of the gasses in the system. So, the whole system is adaptable to agriculture. I don’t see how agriculture contravenes the environmental order.

I mean to farm successfully, mechanisation is required. Clearing the land for agric mechanisation implies felling the trees. Is that not detrimental to the environment?
But after clearing the land, you are going to plant. What percentage of trees is being depleted? It is even encouraged to use land for agriculture than any other form of degradation to the environment. When we talk of environmental degradation, we do not consider agriculture as a factor.

What do you think is the way forward for agric financing?
Agricultural budgeting needs to be seriously improved. Agricultural ministry also should look in the area of processing, because a large volume of our produce is wasted due to lack of processing, which has resulted in a lot of food wastage. If there is adequate processing, losses would reduce. Tomatoes, for example, are wasted in this country. Close to 40 or 50 per cent of the tomato produce is wasted. Yet, there are periods when tomatoes are scarce. So, there is need for higher budgets for the agricultural sector. However, out of whatever comes to the sector, a large percentage should be devoted to processing.

What is the estimated value of post-harvest losses in Nigeria currently?
I cannot give you a figure now, but it is huge. We have a lot of wastage in Nigeria. In nature, there is really no waste. Any agricultural raw materials we take should be utilised completely.

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