A Step Closer to a Reformed Agricultural Research System in Nigeria

Blog contributed by Dr. Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI

IFPRI is supporting ARCN's efforts towards reforming and strengthening the agricultural research system in Nigeria.

IFPRI is supporting ARCN's efforts towards reforming and strengthening the agricultural research system in Nigeria. (c) Elisabeth Douglas

For developing countries, agricultural development depends on the total factor productivity of the sector, given the contributions the sector makes to national income. Knowledge and innovation play a key role in increasing the total factor productivity. Public agricultural research systems play a crucial role in providing new knowledge and know-how to the farmers. Enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the national research systems requires continuous improvements in the way they are placed and function to meet the research needs of the agricultural development strategies.

Nigerian agricultural research system, led by the Agricultural Research Council of Nigeria (ARCN), has undertaken a series of reform measures in the last few years in collaboration with financial support from the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAP) and technical support from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). As part of the reform process, ARCN and IFPRI jointly organized a national validation workshop on 7 March in Abuja, which brought together Directors and Provosts of national research institutes (NRIs) and federal colleges of agriculture (FCAs) for a national level consultation to finalize a reform strategy. The workshop also allowed for the drafting an amended version of the ARCN Act, which would be presented to the country’s national assembly.

Key issues discussed during the national consultation included: the governance and organizational structure for a reformed ARCN; human resources and capacity development; funding opportunities and options; the role of federal colleges in research and extension; the regulatory mandates of ARCN; and the sustainability of reform measures.

Consensus on several points emerged during the workshop. For one, it was agreed that unifying the ARCN Board to address broad strategic priorities for agricultural research at the country level would improve governance of the agricultural sector by minimizing duplication at various levels. Another important point of agreement was that bringing FCAs directly under ARCN’s purview would positively impact on the execution of their research, education, and extension functions. A key challenge with the agricultural research system is how to ensure the FCAs could compete favorably with other institutions, making them attractive both in terms of practical education and enhancing human capacity for the agricultural sector at mid-level. The proposed reforms measures if implemented, would increase the relevance of FCAs by more closely linking them with research and extension. The FCAs would play a more prominent role in village adoption activities. Furthermore, strategic linkages of FCAs and research institutes could contribute to the effective implementation of an innovation system approach to achieve research for development objectives.
There was overwhelming support towards ensuring the effectiveness of policy implementation in Nigeria, which according to the participants needs to go beyond rhetoric. However, it was acknowledged that implementation of policies on the ground remained a serious challenge as effective coordination of research needs and delivery of research outputs to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and stakeholders at the state-level required a well-organized research system. For example, agriculture is expected to absorb the growing number of unemployed youth in the rural areas. Yet leaving this task entirely to agriculture sector with business as usual will not create the needed jobs needed for the youth. There is need for connecting research outcomes to the curriculum and course contents of the FCAs so that the demand for mid-level human capacity in agriculture can be effectively met by training rural youth throughout the country. Thus, ARCN can help engage Nigeria’s rural youth in agricultural development. This requires a demand driven curriculum based on research at the tertiary level.

In order for the reform process to succeed, participants agreed that sustainability of funding for the agricultural research was extremely important. The possibility of establishing a fund specifically for the managing resource allocations and budgetary controls by developing a national agricultural research for development fund was discussed. In addition to these issues, the composition of governing board of ARCN was discussed along with the conditions of service, staff performance, and rewards and incentives. The validation workshop also reviewed the law that currently governs ARCN and the proposed bill that introduces several modifications based on the reform strategy developed by IFPRI working with a team of local consultants. Research institutes of ARCN will have the power through their management committees and the authority to make decisions at their level. In the context of Nigeria, research coordinating councils at the institute level will be the most effective approach to governance of the institutes, although in other countries, different forms such as management councils and finance councils have worked well.

The validation workshop was part of a long process involving several stakeholder consultations at the regional and at the national levels. The development of the strategy and the legal instruments will be followed by the implementation of specific interventions to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the Nigerian agricultural research system. This will require continuous consultations and interaction among the key players and actors of the reform process. Implemented well, the Nigerian effort is likely to be a model of a reform process that could be applied to other African countries and elsewhere in the developing world.

For more information, please contact:

  • Elisabeth Douglas, Communications Specialist, IFPRI Abuja (e.douglas@cgiar.org)
  • Dr Suresh Babu, Senior Research Fellow, IFPRI Washington DC (s.babu@cgiar.org)