ABU Convocation Series: Technological Impacts and Opportunities III: Breakthrough with Professor MK Othman
As reported in the second part of this article (read: ABU Convocation Series: Technological Impacts and Opportunities II), NAPRI successfully bred an indigenous chicken of Layers and meat-type called Shika-Brown. The chicken is known for its versatility and high adaptability to the Nigerian tropical environment. Shikabrown® is duly patented after passing all kinds of performance measurements with flying colors. The chicken is hardy and resistant to many diseases hence less investment in drug is required and it was tested to give a very good performance in all the ecological zones of the country.
One Shikabrown® can lay an average of 278 eggs in 52 weeks of egg laying after 20 weeks of brooding. Egg production can reach 50 % at the age of 24 weeks, which means within four weeks of starting of egg lying, the chickens can feed themselves from the proceeds of eggs selling.
Another area of great importance to Nigeria, which NAPRI pursued vigorously for over two decades, is the Artificial Insemination (AI) of cattle. AI is a sound strategy for addressing the low animal productivity in form of beef and milk, which still comes from the traditional sector. First, NAPRI through series of studies identified the major production constraints of the indigenouslivestock system and brought AI as a sustainable solution for increased animal productivity through cross breeding. Artificial insemination is the most important single technique ever devised for the genetic improvement of animals. It is a technique of depositing semen into the cows’ reproductive tract with an inseminating rod.
AI is a powerful biotechnological tool that involves semen collection, evaluation, processing and preservation for future use. The preserved semen can then be introduced into the genitalia of estrus females by use of special equipment to get such females pregnant without having any physical contact with the males. It is the most important and practicable single technique ever devised for the rapid genetic improvement of livestock. A few highly selected males produce enough spermatozoa that can be used to inseminate millions of females. The technology allows maximizing the use of genetically proven sires. The AI technology has been developed for ruminants, dogs, pigs and avian particularly turkey.
NAPRI is reputed to be the first government agency, which enthusiastically researched and promoted AI in the whole of the West African sub-region. Historically, the first trial of AI in Nigeria was carried out in the National Veterinary Research Institute (NVRI), Vom, in 1943 using chilled locally processed semen and imported semen from UK.
In 1950, semen was imported from UK for AI in Kano State for crossbreeding of Bunaji cattle. In 1976, NAPRI established the AI Unit, with the sole responsibility of co-ordination of AI activities on a nationwide basis. Since then, many states, organizations and individuals have been showing keen interest in crossbreeding activities. The advantages of AI for livestock improvement are numerous. There is rapid genetic improvement or upgrading of indigenous cows through crossbreeding with exotic breeds for greater milk and meat production. This can change the gene pool of the national herds with more meat and more milk in multiple folds. Another advantage: a collection of a single ejaculation from a male can be extended or diluted to inseminate thousands of females with each having 99% probability of one or multiple births of calves.
With AI, a farmer needs not to keep sires (male-cows) as the semen can be collected and preserved for use to other females over a long period, which reduces management cost such as feeding, housing and labor. Money saved from the reduced management cost and sales of male cows can be used to buy extra cows. There is effective control of transmissible diseases (venereal diseases) through AI program. In addition to these advantages, the crossbreeding of indigenous and exotic breeds is a significant one that can be achieved using AI. To date, NAPRI has successfully trained over 1,450 inseminators nationwide and over 20,000 inseminations were similarly conducted.
The Third Institute
The third Institute under the purview of ABU is the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS). NAERLS was initially named “Research Liaison Services” and then became“Extension Research Liaison Section (ERLS)” in 1963 within IAR before it finally became an autonomous institute in 1987.
It was then under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST). Thus, the Institute was given a national mandate, which transformed it to National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) leading to the establishment of five zonal offices with each in the five Agro-ecological zones. This was done in recognition of the then AERLS contribution to the successful extension support services in the Northern States of Nigeria.
Currently, NAERLS is funded by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), while its staff are provided by Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria. This makes NAERLS to be one among few research centres with two supervisory bodies; FMARD and ABU. Surprisingly and pleasantly, similar to other two ABU institutes (IAR and NAPRI), there is no conflict of interests and the two bodies (FMARD and ABU) are synergizing, complementing and achieving their goals through NAERLS’ activities.
While FMARD is strengthening agricultural extension service delivery nationwide, ABU uses both the human resources and infrastructure for teaching, learning and community services. These tasks are accomplished because of the mission and mandates of NAERLS from 1987 to date.
Cataloguing the breakthroughs recorded by NAERLS since inception is beyond the scope of this column. However, few of the significant feats have to be mentioned.
NAERLS engages in print and electronic media productions and distribution of agricultural extension materials. Electronically, NAERLS has produced and aired, as at 31 December 2017, 30,876 radio broadcasts in Hausa, lgbo, Yoruba, English, Pidgin English, Kanuri, Efik and Nupe languages. Similarly, it has produced and aired 11,530 TV broadcasts in Hausa, lgbo, Yoruba, English, Pidgin English languages.
On print media, NAERLS has published 986 Extension publications of different titles as well as distributed 5,185,624 copies to the general public. In 2016 alone, NAERLS produced 14 titles of bulletins and distributed 840,000 copies in all the 36 states and FCT under WAAPP project while in 2017, 33,000 copies of Training Manuals containing 11 modules of titles were distributed to 30,000 trainees of N-Power (Agro) program of the Federal Government. This is in addition to the 3-week rigorous training conducted to the volunteers in all the LGAs in Nigeria.
The most significant achievement of NAERLS in the last two years is the development of National Farmers Helpline Centre (NFHC). NAERLS was able to transform the NFHC from a mere conception of idea to the present reality. The primary objective of NFHC is to provide real-time, relevant and proven information and advisory agricultural extension services to stakeholders in Nigerian agricultural industry.
Such information and services can definitely facilitate decision-making of the agricultural value chain actors with likely outputs of tripling the national productivity of agricultural sector. NFHC is a perfect solution to the dearth of extension personnel nationwide. Today, farmers in Nigeria are faced with gross inadequate extension services because of the comatose situation and dilapidated structure of the current states Agricultural Development Programs (ADPs).
This is a major factor responsible for low agricultural productivity in the country. NFHC was conceived to address this issue and today, thanks to the support from FMARD and ABU, the centre has been successfully completed. The Hon. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh formally launched the operation of NFHC on Friday, 19th January 2018. He also launched the e-conference facilities as one of the units of NAERLS e-Extension Department. The expectations from the centre are high and NAERLS has no option than to deliver.
What is the modus operandi of the centre?
At the centre, the call agents receive calls from farmers, researchers, students and interested individuals on issues or problems in respect of their farming, marketing and, or, processing as the case may be. The call agents look for the answers to the queries received from callers by keying in the appropriate “catchy” words in the knowledge-based software, which promptly prop-ups the relevant answers from the content. The call agents answer the queries or escalate them to the specialists outside the centre for appropriate answers. The content development of the knowledge-based software is a top priority for the smooth operation of the centre. This is an on-going activity and can never be exhaustive.
It is imperative that other relevant stakeholders should come forward to help in the content development to facilitate enrichment of the knowledge-based software for effective extension service delivery in the country.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.