To ensure food security for the rapidly increasing population of Nigeria, it is important to increase food production through the adoption and utilization of indigenous engineering innovation in agriculture. Olawale Olukunle, a Professor of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, stated this while delivering the 140th inaugural lecture of the Federal University of Technology, Akure. The lecture titled Tackling Insecurity and Food Crisis Head-On: Riding on the Wings of Engineering Innovations, held on Tuesday 7th December, at the Obafemi Awolowo Auditorium of the institution.
Olukunle, who has invented and fabricated a number of machines, including Cassava Peeler and water hyacinth harvester said “innovative capabilities are critical, not only for ensuring nutritious food at all times but also for harnessing agriculture and the broader food system as a driver of economic and sustainable development. Engineering Innovations, Applied Science and Technology can be utilized across all dimensions of food security.” He said Nigerian engineers should take up the challenge of developing appropriate technologies for increased agricultural production. He said to accomplish this, there should be far greater focus on the food value chain, from concept to commercialization and such an approach requires the coordination of harvesting and processing using appropriate and adaptable local technology and inventions.
According to Professor Olukunle food security is currently a fundamental issue in Nigeria as the country faces a serious challenge in meeting the food needs of its growing population despite its great potentials in the agricultural sector. Olukunle said the country has a large expanse of arable land, favourable climatic conditions, yet the nation has not been able to translate these to increased food production. Quoting a renowned Professor of Agriculture, Francis Idachaba, the don said, “a country is food-secured when a majority of its population has access to food of adequate quantity and quality consistent with decent livelihood at all times.” He added that food security therefore entails producing food that will go round every citizen both in quantity and quality.
The don who highlighted causes of food insecurity to include conflict, climate variability and extremes of weather, and economic slowdowns and downturns said the way forward is to permit engineering innovations to provide the ride through development, adoption, utilization, and maintenance of appropriate and emerging engineering innovation systems for the survival of man.
On the perceived causes of inadequate food production in Nigeria, he said “agriculture in Nigeria is highly subsistence, rudimentary, and mainly rain-dependent. The country has been unable to produce sufficient food to feed its teeming population, thereby resorting to food imports to cushion the food gaps.” He thus recommended a multi sector-specific approach to the issue of food insecurity through creation of enabling environment that will enhance infrastructural development and improve the ease of doing business for the private sector to enhance its employment generating capacities.
Olukunle, who is the currently the Director of FUTA’s Centre for Renewable Energy Technology (CRET) called on relevant government agencies and the international community to develop effective strategies and policies for food security. He said “when food security is ensured, many other issues will be addressed directly or indirectly including insecurity of lives and properties. Food insecurity increases the gap between the rich and the poor, promotes inequalities, and causes hatred. “The don also advocated a resuscitation of Grains Board for direct purchase of grains and other crops from farmers. He said this would minimize the problem of middlemen and provide the necessary encouragement for farmers.
Professor Olukunle, FUTA’s Best Inventor in 2019, who led the FUTA Team that won the 2014 National Innovations Exhibition, said “developing indigenous and appropriate technologies for crops that are indigenous, medicinal and delicacies for our people would provide the necessary leap into technological development now available in China, India and Japan. Our quest for the pride of place in the comity of nations would only be made possible if we promote engineering technology innovations.”
He also recommended that networks of innovators and social entrepreneurs should be strengthened and supported adding that more cross-cultural teams and relationships should be formed and funded, to promote knowledge sharing across global cultures. He said more inventions and innovations need to be directed to waste management, clean air, and water solutions, as well as development and spreading of renewable energy technologies worldwide.
Olukunle also recommended education reform through replacement of conventional learning with a focus on initiatives to stimulate creativity, entrepreneurship, sustainability, interdisciplinary research, hands-on learning, ethics, values, and original thinking. He said “entrepreneurship, particularly in the Ivory Towers must not be about the low-level skills where less privileged poor are striving to make a living, but rather should encourage high-tech innovative capacities similar to what is obtainable in Silicon Valley.”
The don called for all-round investment in innovations calling for a direction of corporate social responsibilities of companies towards engineering innovations, particularly in poor communities. He also advocated intellectual property reforms saying, “new models of intellectual property protection that stimulate creativity as well as technology and healthcare product diffusion to all areas need to be devised.” He thus called on patent offices in the United States of America, Europe and Japan to reduce fees for inventors and entrepreneurs in developing nations who are creating products that promote sustainable development.
The Vice Chancellor, Professor Joseph Fuwape, who chaired the event, described Olukunle as an erudite scholar and a great inventor who has invested a lot into the academic in his area of study. He said Olukunle is a great alumnus and ambassador of the university who is a model to upcoming academic.