Agriculture and Infrastructure: Which is more important?

What looks like a rhetorical question came from the sixth Vice-Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Ogun State, Prof. Kolawole Salako, while featuring on FUNAAB Radio 89.5FM special programme to commemorate the World Soil Science Day 2021 with the theme, “Halt Soil Salinisation, Boost Soil Productivity”. According to the Vice-Chancellor, who is a Professor of Soil Physics in the Department of Soil Science and Land Management, College of Plant Science and Crop Production (COLPLANT) of the University, one is saddled with the task of finding out, which one is more important, between agricultural and infrastructural development. The Don had attempted to define and explain the nature of soil. For him, everybody knows soil and in English grammar, you can define soil, but soil is not the same thing as perceived by soil scientists.

This is because soil scientists pay more attention to soil as something sacred, dynamic, and something that should be conserved for the benefit of mankind. On the theme of the discourse, he informed that the issue of soil salinisation was a major problem in many parts of the world because salt affects the productivity of soil and hence, why the World Soil Day should focus on it. Under these conditions, “The issue of productivity comes in because the land available for cultivation is shrinking and this calls for worry in the sense that agriculture usually loses out when it comes to land development, as everybody wants to build skyscrapers and they think that the money that will come out is far more advantageous than having food”, Prof. Salako added, who is Fellow of both the Soil Science Society of Nigeria (FSSSN) and the Agricultural Society of Nigeria (FASN). On what to do about shrinking soil, the Vice-Chancellor revealed that the option is that for the little land that we have, we need to make it productive.

Going down the memory lane, the radio guest said that in the 1970s and 1980s, quite a number of irrigation projects were established in Northern Nigeria, but for those projects, the planning was such that the supply of water to the irrigated land was controlled by people building dams at the upper region and that led to quite a lot of salinisation by limiting water and this was associated with those projects pertaining to soil survey and land evolution. What do we have on the long run? The Don responded by saying, “Most of those things are no more productive for when you go in-between Zaria and Kano, you would find them and they are no more productive because its management is poor. You leech to the point that the crop can grow, but when you do not have effective planning, you get the kind of loses you are talking about”. The Vice-Chancellor, a former Director, Agricultural Media Resources and Extension Centre (AMREC) and Pioneer Director, Community-Based Farming Scheme (COBFAS) of the University, shared from his wealth of experience having visited Israel; where the country has quite a lot of land, but with very little rainfall and doing well agriculturally, and the vegetables being grown in the country are salt-loving and this practice is also happening in some European countries, as he suggested that Nigeria should pay more attention to natural resources management.

The Vice-Chancellor believes that an irrigation system should be practiced in such a way there is adequate provision for the washing-out of the salt and drainage while cattle management should be made to contribute to soil fertility and productivity. He cautioned that to ensure food security, there is need to make more land available for agricultural production amid a lot of competition, especially from the construction industry. In addition, the Professor said we need to upgrade our soil database in Nigeria because the existing data sources that we rely on are haphazard. He expressed his optimism that with the existence the Institute of Soil Science for the institute is being led by dynamic people, who are really getting it right in terms of convincing the government on the importance of soil.

In balancing agricultural and infrastructural development, Prof. Salako, a two-term Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) of FUNAAB, concluded his intervention by enjoining “Everybody to always see soil as their support life and we should not destroy it. Everybody should try, as much as possible, to ensure that we prevent soil degradation. I normally tell people where I live that when you want to clear grasses or whatever, make sure you don’t make the soil bare; leave the roots so that when there is rain, there won’t be erosion. When you make the soil bare, you have exposed it in such a way that you are going to degrade it in the long run and that applies, not only to agricultural soil, it applies to your environment, as many of our roads are not tarred and we should try, as much as possible, to avoid a situation where there will be so much erosion that our vehicle will not be able to pass … Always conserve the soil”.

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