By Ikechukwu Odu
NSUKKA– Bothered by the rising national hunger index, agricultural students in South Eastern geopolitical zone, under the auspices of National Association of Agricultural Students, NAAS, weekend mulled on measures to ensure food security for in the region in particular and Nigeria as a country.Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Prof. Charles Onugu (8th left), and the South East Regional Co-coordinator of NAAS, Frank Iregbu (middle), being flanked by the students during a three-day convention of NAAS at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium, UNN.
Dwelling on the theme, “Pathway to Sustainable Agriculture and Food Security,” at the Princess Alexandra Auditorium, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, UNN, the students said part of the reasons for embarking on the three-day convention was also to guarantee job security for the graduates of agricultural disciplines being churned out by universities and polytechnics within the region and the nation at large.
While educating the students on ‘Commercial Agriculture, Value Chain and Agric Graduate Empowerment’, the Dean, Faculty of Agriculture, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka and Consultant, Microfinance, Agriculture and Rural Development, Prof. Charles Onugu, said the nation needs the students of agriculture now than ever before to cushion the effects of underproduction of food items occasioned by the herders/farmers onslaught in the country, urging the students to venture into the branch of the agriculture they are passionate about.
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Prof. Onugu, who commended the students’ association for forming co-operative society which will enable them to access loans from banks without collateral, said that Bank of Agriculture, microfinance banks and other financial institutions designated by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, would always oblige requests from co-operative societies in accessing loans for commercial agriculture.
“In the agric value chain, there are a lot of options, choose areas you have prowess at; if it is seed supply, fertilizer supply, piggery, food processing, production…; just take a particular area and specialize in it. You don’t need to be Dangote or to have fat bank accounts before you could venture into agriculture. The most important thing is the passion and the determination to succeed.
“One of the things they have done so well is forming co-operative society. Through this society, access to credit is easier and they would not require collateral. With this, they are protected, they can have individual loans through the platform of co-operatives and most banks would grant them loans…,” the don said.
Also speaking to Southeast Voice, a lecturer in the Department of Animal Science, UNN, Dave Chinonso Emmanuel, said the essence of the convention is to guarantee food security for the nation, adding that Nigeria which was found on the foundation of robust agricultural productions should not abandon the practice because of oil boom.
He said Nigeria’s rising hunger index is a worrisome development which should not be allowed to subsist owing to the prestigious position of Nigeria as the giant of Africa and the most populous black nation, urging the students to embark on projects and share the proceeds amongst themselves to ensure food security for the country. He further advised some of the students who are beneficiaries of Npower programme by the federal government to utilize the knowledge gotten from the convention in investing the stipend gradually in establishing their private farms.
The regional co-coordinator of NAAS, Frank Iregbu, who expressed worry over nonchalant attitude of most Nigerian graduates of Agriculture to venture into practice, stated that this convention would rejuvenate their spirits to take their pride of place as the only discipline with the ability to feed the nation by practicing what they have learnt over the years from their respective institutions.
He called on the federal government to initiate a scheme geared towards carrying Nigerian graduates of Agriculture along, stressing that they are bothered by the fact that government’s attention is mostly on the illiterate farmers with no prerequisite knowledge of agricultural practices.
Some of the students who spoke to South East Voice expressed optimism and assured that they would not rest on their oars in ensuring that there is enough food for the nation at large. Miracle Chiamaka, and Ukegbu Clinton, from the Departments of Soil Science and Agricultural Extension respectively, UNN, said the convention would help them to make known to concerned authorities, the needs of students in that discipline, adding that it had also exposed their minds to job opportunities and areas of investments on their discipline.
The convention, which is the first for the region drew students from UNN, Ebonyi State University, EBSU, Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka among other universities in the South Eastern Region of Nigeria.