IMPRESSED by the research feats of the National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, Umuahia in Abia State, members of the House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture have recommended that sustained adequate funding and support be given to the agency.
The committee, led by its Chairman, Mr. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, was at the institute on oversight function to assess the extent of its utilisation of funds statutorily appropriated to it in the 2011 federal budget and to know its strength, constraints and needs.
Monguno, during the visit, said agriculture is still the mainstay of the nation’s economy despite oil, stressing that the sector accounts for 45 per cent Gross Domestic Product and 60 per cent employment of Nigerians.
He pointed out that such an important sector cannot be relegated or neglected but rather, must be given all necessary support.
Commenting on what his members saw on ground and was told by Dr. Tom Ezulike, the NRCRI acting Executive Director, Monguno said all hands must be on deck to ensure that the agriculture sector is given all the support that it deserves. .
“It is, therefore, incumbent on us to give NRCRI and others all the necessary support that you need to discharge your statutory mandate. We are highly impressed with your achievements, you deserve a pat on the back”, Monguno said. .
Ezulike told the committee members that NRCRI started as a small provincial farm in 1923 and grew to a complex regional agricultural research and training station between 1955 and 1972 with a College of Agriculture established in 1955 before being taken over by the Federal Government in 1972.
Ezulike said that NRCRI has as its statutory mandate, the genetic improvement of root and tuber crops, namely: cassava, yam, potato, sweet potato, cocoyam and ginger, including the processing, utilisation, marketing, storage of the products, as well as training of middle level manpower in agriculture .
The Acting Executive Director listed many NRCRI own direct achievements and some it did in collaboration with International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan which, by so doing, it has and is still contributing substantially to the national food security and sufficiency through research and extension activities on root and tuber crops. .
These achievements are: ranking Nigeria first in world production of cassava, yam and cocoyam, with a total annual production of 34, 27, and four million metric tones respectively; increasing Irish Potato production from 52,000 metric tones in 1975 to over 500,000 in 2003; developing Yam Minisett and Mini tuber techniques and Minisett Dust for seed-yam production, which have the potential to end their age-long scarcity and cost within the past 10 .
The achievements also include developing and releasing to farmers 17 varieties of cassava, two of which yield 35 per cent more than the local varieties and are resistant to major cassava diseases and pests. And the institute, between 2001 and 2003, in collaboration with the IITA, Ibadan, developed and released to farmers seven first-ever yam hybrids, two of which yield twice the existing yam land races and are resistant to major yam diseases and pests.
According to Ezulike, the zero allocation of capital funds in 2002 and 2003 adversely affected research and production activities and resulted in extensive decay of existing infrastructure in the agency.
He urged the visiting lawmakers to ensure that capital funds for 2005 are released to enable the institute tackle the problem of infrastructural decay, as well as fund research and production activities.
By Gordi Udeajah, Umuahia