Dr Oluyemi Akande is the Chairman, National Heads of Colleges of Agriculture and Related Disciplines (NACHCARD), in this interview with DAVID AGBA, he speaks on how the institutions have performed so far, their challenges and prospects.
What were Colleges of Agriculture originally established to achieve?
Colleges of Agriculture were established primarily to contribute to the overall development of Agriculture through the training and capacity building of skill level manpower across various Agricultural specialties. The sole aim was to enhance the production and maximization of agricultural production in the country to meet the Industrial needs of the colonial master. This saw the emergence of the College of Agriculture Moore Plantation Ibadan and Samaru College of Agriculture almost a century ago. These two pioneer colleges of agriculture were operated to cater for the agricultural crops in their regions of location. The College at Moore Plantation is for the Southern and Samaru College of Agriculture is to cater for the Northern regions of Nigeria. Before independence, these colleges performed creditably well in promoting agricultural development in the regions of the country and beyond through a rich extension programme despite the limited staff on the programme then. This resulted in the sustained maximization of production of export crops like cotton, groundnuts and beni-seed, among others in the northern region as well as cocoa, rubber, palm produce and timber in the southern regions of Nigeria.
Would you say they’ve achieved or not?
Agreeably yes; they have achieved immensely considering the circumstances under which the Colleges have operated over the years relative to their contributions to man-power development within the context of their mandates. The extension activities of the products of these colleges of agriculture did not only earn Nigeria abundant foreign exchange but also provided adequate food security for the teeming populace of Nigeria. This was in addition to supporting the emergence of some of the processing industries at the time that complemented the employment of the peasant farmers who formed the bulk of agricultural producers with the industrial employment during the period and after independence. In effect, the products of our Colleges of Agriculture have always been very pivotal to the development of the Nigeria economy before the nation became a mono economy with the advent of crude oil and even now with the much talked about diversification of the Nigerian economy and green alternative policy.
How long have you been in the system?
A total of 31 years in various capacities and still counting.
What does your association intend to achieve?
The association is a creation of necessity and as such, it’s sole objective is to ensure that the Colleges and Association contribute their quota to the Agricultural sector and Nigeria at large. Today, there are over 57 Colleges of Agriculture and Related Disciplines in Nigeria comprising both State and Federal government owned running programmes in various fields of agriculture under the Association. The Association is to assist the government to produce skill level manpower to meet the high demand for personnel to drive the agricultural sector. However, with modernization and introduction of Agribusiness, the Association introduced courses that will make agriculture more meaningful. These include such courses as Dairy Production, Science Laboratory Technology, Computer Science Technology and Statistics, Surveying & Geo-informatics, Horticulture & Landscaping, Soil Science Technology, Cooperative Economic & Management, Agricultural Extension & Management, Fish Production, Agricultural Technology and Hides and Skin Technology. All these courses are studied at both National Diploma and Higher National Diploma levels. Through these efforts, our Colleges provide a substitute for persons seeking advanced knowledge in many areas and those graduates of our Institutions are good materials for self-employment and wealth creation.
What are the challenges the association is faced with?
Having its own voice, building synergies, funding and bureaucracy amongst others. It is important to bring to the notice of the public that the exclusion of the Colleges of Agriculture & Related Disciplines from the TETFund intervention since 2011 has brought about some very negative effects to the developments of the Colleges to the extent that they now look like ghosts of tertiary institutions of similar mandate in developing and developed countries. The situation is further exacerbated with the withdrawal of the meagre funding erstwhile tickling in from the then Education Trust Fund as the agency metamorphosed into the Tertiary Education Trust Fund. One wonders the wisdom of the exclusion of this class of institutions from this fund that has become the nerve center of educational financing in recent times. Is it that they are not tertiary institutions, which obviously they are or is it that they are not witnessing a decay in their infrastructural facilities which obviously they are as they are as underfunded unlike other educational institutions in Nigeria.
In addition to the above, other negative effects of the neglect and exclusion from Tetfund intervention are:
• Depletion of Competent staff that move to the newly established Universities where sponsorship for research exists through the TETFUND. Our investigation has shown that most of the newly established and even the older Universities draw their staff from our Colleges due to our inability to sponsor research and post graduate studies for our staff.
• Highly skilled personnel who managed to stay and sponsor themselves are attracted to and eventually move to the Universities or Polytechnics.
• Loss of accreditation due to inadequate staff, ill-equipped laboratories and lack of modern facilities for new Agricultural programmes for value chain courses.
• Poor library and e-learning facilities.
• Reduced carrying capacity due to infrastructural decay.
• Many programmes are denied accreditation
• Many states Colleges have started to answer Polytechnics of Agriculture in order to benefit from TETFUND intervention.
In view of the above, some State Houses of Assembly have enacted laws to change some Colleges of Agriculture to polytechnics and if this trend continues, we will eventually not have institutions to train skill level manpower in agriculture. It is our belief that the these Colleges of Agriculture & Related Disciplines have suffered serious neglect in terms of funding to expand and improve on their infrastructural base.
What is the relationship between your Association and the Federal Ministry of
Good will be the sure answer, although the Association comprises colleges that are federal and states-owned and slightly governed differently. Yet, we all are regulated by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE), Kaduna which is a body under the supervision of Federal Ministry of Education which made our relationship to be cordial. However, the Federal Ministry of Education and NBTE does not see the Colleges of Agriculture as its own. Major decisions affecting the progress of the Colleges of Agriculture are arrived at without the input of the Ministry of Agriculture or the Colleges. In order to facilitate the proper regulation of the Universities and Polytechnics and Colleges of Education, the Ministry of Education proposed the Establishment of National Universities Commission, the National Board for Technical Education and the National Commission for Colleges of Education. Unfortunately, Colleges of Agriculture had to be regulated by the NBTE which by virtue of the supervising Ministry treats the Colleges of Agriculture as a parasitic body. Decisions on staff matters, students and even funding are based on agreements arrived at in the Ministry of Education without the input from the Ministry of Agriculture. To this effect, we have been advocating for the following:
(i) Amendment of Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN) Act or establishment of Agricultural Development Tax Fund to take care of the financial challenges ravaging Colleges of Agriculture & Related Disciplines in Nigeria.
(ii) Requesting, as a matter of urgency, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and National Assembly to establish a body – National Commission for Colleges of Agriculture and Related Disciplines (NCCA) as a regulatory body that will effectively oversee the programmes/courses run by the Colleges of Agriculture & Related Disciplines.
Why were Colleges of Agriculture left out of TETFund?
There were misrepresentations relative to the Act establishing the Fund at some point leading to the erroneous removal or exclusion as beneficiary of the fund.
Upon our dialogue, the issue of Colleges of Agriculture being a specialised institution and categorised as Monotechnics was advanced by the Fund.
In reality, the Colleges of Agriculture are not Monotechnics in operation and the abrogation of dichotomy between B.Sc. & HND which the Colleges of Agriculture award our students has elevated the training mandate of the Colleges beyond middle level manpower development.