(Dr Oluwakemi Fapojuwo – Front on the right during an IDIAR field trip)
Soil erosion, exploiting forests and excessive slash-and-burn agriculture practices are wreaking havoc in Nigeria, causing land degradation and increasing poverty, hunger and food insecurity. It’s not a situation that makes Dr Oluwakemi Fapojuwo comfortable and she’s determined to make a positive difference by fast tracking climate-smart farming practises among smallholder maize farmers in her home country.
“Climate smart farming systems and agricultural strategies informed by research are going a long way to securing sustainable food security in Nigeria,” says Dr Oluwakemi, a renowned Professor and Head of Department in Agricultural Administration, Federal University of Agriculture. “It’s also supporting Nigeria to play its part in achieving international Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks to end hunger in all its forms by 2030.”
In her quest to promote climate-smart agriculture, Dr Oluwakemi is more than aware of the challenges and the ripple effects of those challenges. “We’ve seen vegetation deliberately removed to make way for agriculture and human developments, which pre-disposes soil to erosion. We’ve seen wetland ecosystems affected through poor practices and land desertification,” says Dr Oluwakemi. “The short and long-term implications can’t be ignored.”
Dr Oluwakemi completed a short course in Increasing the Development Impact of Agricultural Research delivered by the University of Sydney in 2016, under Australia Awards. She learned valuable new research skills and established networks with other participants and experts she still taps into today.
“I learned how to set research priorities and manage stakeholder participation to build understanding of, and gain support for, new sustainable climate-smart practices,” says Dr Oluwakemi. “We’re making progress on helping smallholder farmers improve how they govern rural land, adapt to climate change and practice innovative agricultural development. It all adds up to improved livelihoods for the them, their families, communities and, ultimately, the country as a whole.”
Using her Australian knowledge and skills, Dr Oluwakemi designed and conducted a major research study on climate-smart practices. The study covered more than 1,500 smallholder maize farmers in nine states of Nigeria—Ekiti, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Osun and Oyo. “We made sure that at least 30 per cent of participants were women, which was important in determining the gender differences and gaps in adopting climate smart practices,” says Dr Oluwakemi.
Collaboration was key and Dr Oluwakemi spent a great deal of time collecting data and working with dozens of organisations in all nine study states. This included representatives of Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and National Cereal Research Institute. Dr Oluwakemi collaborated with members of local government and state agricultural development programs. The private sector was also involved, including agricultural firms and, of course, the smallholder farmers and farmers groups.
Building awareness among stakeholders of the many benefits of climate-smart farming practises was as important as gathering reliable, up-to-date data. Dr Oluwakemi also trained 150 extension agents on climate-smart agriculture and advised on gender-related issues, on the project.
Not surprising for Dr Oluwakemi, the study found low levels of adopting climate smart practices. It uncovered many reasons for this, including poor understanding of how the traditional slash and burn farming system was damaging the environment and just how weak agricultural extension and farm input delivery systems were across Nigeria.
Study findings revealed how decisions on climate smart farming practices were interdependent and influenced by socio-cultural and economic factors. Findings uncovered how female plot managers were more likely to adopt green manure and agroforestry while their male counterparts were more likely to use crop rotation and crop remains which are left to decompose on the field.
Dr Oluwakemi’s research has provided much-needed evidence in the sector and is already making great gains. It’s being used, for example, to help many stakeholders, including representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, researchers and postgraduate students, to change agricultural strategies.
Reflecting on the study overall, Dr Oluwakemi attributes her achievements to her Australian education and the links she established while on her Australia Award. “I’m proud that the research has enlightened smallholder farmers, especially the female farmers trapped in a vicious cycle of poverty. They didn’t have access to resources or financial services, had to face gender-based discrimination and had to deal with poor rural land governance,” says Dr Oluwakemi. “Things are now turning around.”
Although challenges remain, Dr Oluwakemi is optimistic that Nigeria, in adopting good agricultural practices, will generate better incomes, help build community resilience to climate change and deliver food security.
Picture Credit: Dr Oluwakemi Fapojuwo