My first visit to IITA was in 1982. As a young scientist with the Delft Hydraulics Lab in the Netherlands I worked on my first soil science project that also happened to become my last. I had obtained funding for a project on the impact of soil erosion on soil productivity and I was looking for good data. My research led me to IITA soil scientist Rattan Lal who was among the five scientists I had identified across the globe that had the time series data I needed and he agreed to work with me. My funding enabled me to visit all 5 research groups to see their experiments and go over their data. This was my first visit to Nigeria.
… And then we arrived at IITA. Once cleared by security the car started up the long driveway, flanked by rolling hills with bright green grass, cut smooth like a golf course, dotted with picturesque palm trees, painted bright white. The contrast of this oasis of quiet prettiness with the chaotic world outside the barbed wire fence could not be greater. A well-oiled, well-maintained, well-equipped island of advanced research. A small army of well-trained Nigerian staff to support a team of senior researchers that were almost without exception white, male and Anglophone — or indeed, Dutch. Rattan Lal was a fine host, had many years of excellent data, and was a great collaborator for my project (Rijsberman and Wolman, 1985).
Since then, I have visited and worked in Nigeria quite a bit, including a two-year stint as Chief Technical Advisor of a UNDP project to strengthen the Ministry of Water Resources in Abuja in the late 80s. But fast forward to 2012: I rejoined the CGIAR as the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium in May 2012 and started an effort to visit all 15 Centers. In July-August the Consortium Board Chair, Carlos Perez del Castillo, and I visited AfricaRice in Cotonou, Benin and then traveled overland to Ibadan. We were received by the new DG, Nteranya Sanginga, and the new Board Chair, Bruce Coulman and given the grand tour. We met with scientists, discussed the newly reformed CGIAR, enjoyed presentations of the key science groups, saw the laboratories, and hiked the forest.
I was also very impressed by the dynamic presentations and self-confidence of the young graduates in IITA’s Youth Agripreneur program. With unemployment of young Nigerian graduates as high as 60-70%, this program aims to show that there is a future for young Africans in agriculture, that there is viable employment and an attractive career in catfish aquaculture, in soymilk production, yam sucker farms and cassava bread production.
Dr Sanginga, who is the father of this program and naturally very proud of its success, predicts that it can scale up and out, in Nigeria and other African countries —his vision is about a movement to give a future back to millions of African youth through agriculture and the value chains in the agri-food business. The program is just a start and has already attracted attention from IFAD, AfDB, and the Nigerian government. It is a good example of what the CGIAR can do when it focuses on youth—very timely with “gender and youth” identified as a key cross-cutting issue in the new CGIAR strategy.
Written by Frank Rijsberman, CEO CGIAR Consortium
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