Professor Umezuruike Linus Opara, a renowned agricultural engineer and the Director of the UNESCO International Centre for Biotechnology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has stated that establishing a sustainable value chain based on opportunities and linkages in human resources, entrepreneurship, and technology will hasten Nigeria's development.
The Chair of the South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) in Postharvest Technology, and founding Director of the Africa Institute for Postharvest Technology, who delivered the 15th annual guest lecture of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) Founder's Day at the university's auditorium on November 25, 2022, argued that while the relationship between knowledge, research, education, and economic development has been demonstrated over time, what is required now is to harness these opportunities to achieve results for the rapid transformation of the Nigerian and African living conditions.
The Distinguished Professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, and chartered agricultural engineer lauded the Founder of the American University of Nigeria (AUN) and former Nigeria's Vice President, His Excellency Atiku Abubakar, for the excellent vision he has in setting up the university in Yola, Adamawa State.
Professor Opara said that by establishing AUN, HE Atiku Abubakar has shown what is possible by envisioning a Development University that will play a catalytic role in knowledge creation and dissemination for the benefit of the Northeast region, Nigeria and Africa.
"Today, we are seated in a citadel of learning that can compare with the best in the world, with infrastructure, human capital, and bright young minds. The challenge for the next 18 years is to envision what is possible beyond the initial vision of His Excellency Alhaji Atiku Abubakar.
"I spent some time using some software to map the research history of this university and I can see a very clear trajectory, an evolution, a movement from forecasting to decision making to plastic recycling to information systems and so on. What is the niche of AUN in research which can begin to have impact in Yola? What will be about research in AUN that anyone in the northeast will say go to AUN. they are the leaders? This is something to think about because the benefit of that is not only in research and development but also in attracting talent, even among undergraduates".
The Guest lecturer stated that the university's Founder had the idea eighteen years ago to create a learning atmosphere where students could learn to think critically across disciplinary lines. Since then, the number of academic specializations has grown.
"This is happening at this institution; the question is how to put it to use in a way that will have the most significant possible impact on the economy and help small farmers, but I want to think beyond the four walls of this university and look at Jimeta, Hong, Song, and Numan and see what are the economic activities of such areas, how can institutions like this radically change their economic fortunes? A simple app developed here can transform the agriculture of Adamawa state.
"I've done my scientific research at this institution, and I can see the trajectory of research topics by academics published over the years. I can see the change in these topics. Now we are talking about machine learning and artificial intelligence. It is happening here in this institution. How can we effectively deploy this to transform smallholder agriculture for economic development?
Professor Opara argued that most of our people could not participate in an endeavor in which they could not provide for themselves. “We must take action. Technology is something that needs to be considered. What kinds of technological advancements might boost agricultural output? Which technologies have the potential to contribute value at various points throughout the value chain? If we can create a demand for the things that we eat and love, as well as invest in and enhance the post-production side of things, then there may be more incentives for people to improve the production side of things. We need to learn how to bring our underutilized food crops into the mainstream of agriculture worldwide. This involves the construction of commercial farms and employing individuals possessing talents such as they have at AUN, accountants, crop scientists, information technology specialists, marketing specialists, entrepreneurs, and other individuals able to make business plans. We need to rewrite that chapter, and the AUN has a part to play. Agriculture is about much more than merely turning the earth over. People are more inclined to listen to what you have to say if you utilize innovative and research-based methods and technological and technologically advanced company suggestions. I can see that you are succeeding in telecoms and information and communication technology; how can we use that to better our value chains? These are opportunities that are presenting themselves to you right now”.
Professor Opara said that the future of agriculture could not be left in the hands of smallholder farmers. "We are talking about inputs, markets, marketing, regulations, sanitary issues, policy issues, land access, and understanding consumers. Think about it; we need professional hands on deck to drive rural development, and there is also an opportunity for training and capacity building. We have to think beyond farming and think about agribusiness.
"Today, we have world a class institution with world class academia, with world class infrastructure which I have been very fortunate to see in the last three days. What an opportunity, and for the young people who are studying here, what a privilege that you have. Trust me, and (the Interim President of AUN) Prof. Attahir can attest to this, that the various universities we have worked and served in South Pacific, in Europe, in the Middle East, in North America, trust me, you can be very proud that you are in one of the bests academic institutions in the world".
Professor Opara's lecture, titled 'Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development – the Role of a Liberal University in the 21st Century, explained the role of universities in tackling some of the most pressing global developmental challenges, with a focus on Africa and Nigeria. Drawing on decades of experience in research and education in Oceania, Middle and Africa, and worldwide development practice, he highlighted the obstacles liberal arts colleges and universities encounter and the options available to them through human capacity building, thought leadership, and entrepreneurship the role of universities in reforming agriculture and food systems for sustainable development.