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May 09, 2007

Obasanjo organic agriculture development center launched in Nigeria

by Chido Makunike

Nigeria is poised to make its entry into the world of organic agriculture with the launch of a research center named in honor of the country's out-going president. The Olusegun Obasanjo Center for Organic Research and Development (OOCORD), the result of two years of preparation, was officially presented to President Obasanjo on April 18 at his formal residence in capital city Abuja. The center is named after Obasanjo "for his exemplary contributions to food security and agricultural development in Nigeria and Africa as a whole," said Mosobolaje Davis, the driver of the initiative and vice president of the new body's governing council.

OOCORD's mission is to is to develop research and knowledge exchange on sustainable, organic agricultural systems to address the dual needs of food security and incomes in Africa. Collaborating in the initiative are Nigeria's National Institute for Horticultural Research (NIHORT); the Henry Doubleday Research Association and Coventry University, both in the UK, and the African Leadership and Development Center, also based in the UK.

OOCORD will be based in the city of Ibadan, the location of many other agricultural institutions including NIHORT and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Collaboration and information exchange with these and other institutions is expected to strengthen OOCORD's functions. The recently appointed executive director of OOCORD, plant pathologist Professor Jonathan Babatola, is the immediate past head of NIHORT. Scattered research in organics has been taking place in several of Nigeria's many universities and agricultural institutions, but the setting up of a dedicated organics institution is expected to give the development of organic agriculture in the country an added boost.

The country's farming systems, like those in much of Africa, are a combination of mainly smallholder traditional systems and medium to large scale conventional farms. The interest in formal organic agriculture is fairly recent, and faces both big challenges as well as huge opportunities. The country's relatively late entry into organics gives it the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other African countries where it is more established. Nigeria's wealth, vast landmass, conducive climate and large population of 140 million also makes potentially possible production economies of scale that few other countries could match. It also means apart from competing for the export market, it has a large potential local market that can be developed.

Speaking at the OOCORD presentation ceremony, President Obasanjo said, "We will strive to take our own share of the world's 30 billion dollars organic agriculture market." He pointed out that Nigeria is blessed with a wide variety of vegetation zones from which a large number of crops could be produced. While noting that special centres were being established to process the organic agricultural produce, he said his administration was also encouraging the development of bio-pesticides, organic fertilizers, packaging and handling materials.

He expressed confidence that in the near future organic agriculture would snowball into small, medium, and large scale industries from these activities, thus creating more jobs and economic empowerment while enhancing food security. A veteran large-scale farmer in his own right, Obasanjo pledged, "in or out of office, I shall continue to pursue the objectives of food and nutrition security, job creation, economic empowerment, and environmental safety for all Nigerians and the peoples of Africa." The official opening of OOCORD by President Obasanjo is expected to take place before he hands over power to his recently-elected successor onMay 29.

The center is located on a sprawling complex in Ibadan previously occupied by the country's national cereals institution, which relocated to a new site some years ago. It has been a hive of activity in the last several weeks as buildings were being renovated, equipment installed and staff hired.

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