The Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and a segment of its stakeholders gathered at the International Conference Center of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife on Friday the 26th of June 2015 to launch the Innovation platform for Plantain commodity. Dr Latifou Idrissou, the West Africa Action site coordinator of Humidtropics program represented by Mr. David Obisesan gave a brief presentation on the Humidtropics program and the need to generate intermediate development outcomes from the Humidtropics systems research.Convener and facilitator Prof. Adeolu Ayanwale of Obafemi Awolowo University, also gave the objective of the Innovation Platform (IP) launch and its importance to agricultural development in Nigeria. The launch was attended by over fifty stakeholders in plantain production and value chain and the Plantain Innovation Platform was launched by Mr. M.O Oluwole of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The creation of the Plantain Innovation Platform was a direct request of the stakeholders within the Nigeria Action Site of the Humidtropics program after the realization of the huge potentials for income from the commodity. Plantain in the southwestern part of Nigeria is erstwhile considered as a protective crop in young cocoa plantation mainly grown to provide shade for the young cocoa plants until the trees becomes strong enough to withstand the vagaries of open weather. It sometimes provides supplementary food to households in scarce period and regularly serves as snacks. Recent increase in plantain use followed the increase in egalitarian lifestyle of the populace and has turned the commodity into money spinners rather than a shade crop in cocoa plantation. Nigeria’s plantain output has doubled in the last 20 years and is mainly produced in the Southern part of the country largely in the hands of small scale farmers who, over the years, have integrated it into the various cropping systems.
The way the agricultural innovation platform works ensures that all stakeholders along the plantain commodity value chain, derive good benefit from their various enterprise. FARA developed the innovation platform as a practical framework for implementing the Integrated Agricultural Research for Development (IAR4D) concept and the platform provides opportunities to directly link research to development by bridging the partnership gap and providing attention to complementary processes that will translate research output to development outcome. This often leads to good benefits for all actors as business is fostered and income increases.
Also at the launch of the innovation platform, Dr. ‘Wole Fatunbi a systems agronomist and the Ag: Divisional Manager for Visioning Africa Agricultural Transformation in FARA made the main presentation at launch on the basics for establishing a functional innovation platform for plantain productivity of Nigeria agriculture. He made references to a FARA led Agricultural business incubator in Uganda where 13 industrial commodities are produced from banana in Uganda, even though banana is a major food commodity in that part of Africa. In addition, no part of the banana plant is a waste, even the trunk is a major source of pulp for specialized paper products.
The growth of the plantain commodity for higher income is contingent on stimulating large and small/medium scale industrial process for its use. A staunch member of the innovation platform, and one of the end users of plantain commodities Mr. Arowona of the Honeywell Flour Mills Limited, and a handful of others indicated that bulk supply of the commodity required for standard mill is the major problem. Honeywell mills require huge tonnage of dried high quality plantain chips of consistent quality on daily basis for its machines to run efficient and for the outfit to be in business. The farmer groups in turn lamented the lack of market for bulk supply except local markets and a few cottage industries that produce plantain chips and flour. The need for defined market hence, and more efficient supply is necessary to motivate the expansion of production.
From the research community, Ms Amah Delphine, a plantain researcher from IITA on the platform indicated that the genetic improvement of plantain cannot be carried out with the conventional plant breeding techniques. This is a major limitation to the development of new varieties for the crop; however IITA has overcome the initial challenge of the Black Sigatoka disease by producing a resistant variety few years ago. This elite variety still require continuous modifications from time to time to meet the need of the industry. Dr. SOS Akinyemi, an Agronomist from Nigeria Institute of Horticultural Research (NIHORT), indicated that there is existing solution to all known technological constraint for the commodity in Nigeria and the coast is clear for good expansion and benefits. Following the visit to the field in Ago-Owu community after the launch ceremony, Ms Amah further stressed the need for a change in farmer’s attention to agronomic practices on the plantain farm a little additional care can double the yield level.
The representative of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Agricultural Bank further explained the available financial facilities for value chain development in agriculture in Nigeria that members of the platforms can tap into. Thereafter, outfits showed willingness to continue as members of the platform particularly to leverage financial opportunities to producers in small and medium scale enterprises and to develop the value chain opportunities in plantain commodities. The platform will thus take all these issues on board and work actively to create a win-win situation as well as create an environment for expansion of science intervention and the complementary processes that translate the science into socio-economic benefits.