It has been adjudged globally that, agriculture is not the only sector that demands for the use of land. In many developing nations of the world, without exempting Nigeria, if industries were to be established, the procedure would certainly involve clearing of land before siting the proposed industries. But in advanced countries, such as the United States of America, where there exist strict policies, there are certain restrictions put in place against taking over prime agricultural lands for the purposes of establishing industries.
A Former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) and a Don in the Department of Soil Science and Land Management (SSLM), College of Plant Science and Crop Production (COLPLANT) of the University, Professor Felix Salako, made this known while showcasing his research breakthrough. According to him, “The basis of anything that we do should be ensuring that our natural resources are used judiciously. Soil, vegetation and water are found in the environment; how you handle them would determine how healthy and wealthy you are going to be”. Professor Salako had described Soil Conservation as the prevention of the soil from being degraded, adding that it meant maintaining the quality of the soil, as well as improving on it with superior soil management practices. He said that erosion was one of the major ways in which the soil could be degraded, noting that it could equally be degraded by compacting agricultural soils with heavy machinery; a practice that he added, might be okay for engineers, but not for agronomists.
“If you do not conserve your natural resources, you will always regret it in the future. The Bible even made reference to nature conservation where it says, ‘multiply and replenish the earth’. Replenish, there means; to have a mind of conservation. It means you take something out and you give something back to safeguard the future”. According to him, one of the issues about soil erosion by water and environment is that in the process, runoff can carry pollutants, which may end up in surface water bodies that people drink, particularly, in the rural areas and this can compromise the health of such individuals.
Professor Salako, whose major research interest is focused on ‘Soil Physics and Soil Conservation’, stated that conservation of the environment should be a source of concern to everybody, saying that “Now, Nigeria has a population, getting close to 200 million people, how much of suitable land do we have to support this increasing population for agricultural production? He said: “If you can conserve your soil, you can embark on what we call agricultural intensification. It means that you can be on one site and keep cultivating for a longer period than its inherent capability”.
Professor Salako has been an advocate of Conservation Agriculture, as highlighted in his Inaugural Lecture, which was delivered two years ago. He began his research activities at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), where he bagged his B.Agric and M.Agric degrees. The Don gave credit to the late Professor Joe Mbagwu, who supervised a study (B.Agric Project) on the estimation of soil erosion risk at the University of Nigeria Farm and ensured its eventual publication in 1985 with Professor Salako as co-author and that Professor Mbagwu kept mentoring him. Professor Salako added that he had followed up on this study to cover south-eastern Nigeria and very recently, the whole of Nigeria, saying his research works had always been targeted at community and national development. “I could have stopped at the level of UNN Farm but I moved up to the whole of south-east Nigeria; beyond UNN Farm and later to Nigeria, as a country”. The various models and iso-erodent maps for estimating erosion risks in Nigeria featured in Professor Salako’s publications between 2006 and 2010. He stated further that solutions or conservation measures can follow after understanding the processes and the problems, as many of the solutions needed can be found in his research works on soil management.
On the needed precautionary moves against the degradation of soil, the former DVC (Development) said that “I have particularly worked with about 20 leguminous cover crops in relation to soil management, particularly, in the savannah areas of Nigeria, moving from Ibadan towards northern Nigeria (Mokwa, Zaria and Bauchi, among others). Specifically, such works were to provide cover for the soil, improve soil structure and provide nutrients. I have worked in the area of selecting cover crops that would be efficient enough to provide soil cover and improve the quality of the soil”. Furthermore, Professor Salako said he had worked in the area of agroforestry for soil management in these Savannah areas, as well as in the rain-forest zones such as Onne, near Port-Harcourt, Rivers State. He added that trees were characterised by their litter production and soil improvement and were planted or managed fallows to determine if the traditional fallow length of about one and a half decade could be reduced, saying six years of fallowing, whether planted or natural, proved to be enough for severely degraded soils, to be put back to productive and profitable cropping.
“My association with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan (IITA), which started in 1985 when I was given a grant to study for my M.Agric, has always been rewarding. It allowed access to excellent experimentation, data collection, analyses and publication. I led a research team there to provide insights into the process of soil erosion under mound tillage, when the land was cropped for yam. Such data were non-existent by the time the study was carried out and published in 2006. Having envisaged that many might not have access to needed equipment to repeat some of the experiments I carried out on soil management, I often ensured the provision of models (equations) to predict or evaluate difficult-to-evaluate soil parameters. Some call these pedo-transfer functions”, he noted.
Professor Salako linked food security to soil conservation and management. He stated that food security implies adequate supply, high quality food, accessibility and “If you are able to conserve the soil and increase your yield, improve the quality of your crop, you have contributed significantly to food security. If food production is increased, if it is accessible and of good quality, then people can have balanced diets, meaning that people can choose the crop that they would plant, depending on the demand”.
On where he would be in the next 10 years, he said that his future was in God’s hands. According to him, “The much I can do is to get it right today and let the future take care of itself”. Recalling that in January 2016, he got involved in the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI), a Bill & Melinda Gates’ sponsored-project, which was given to IITA of which he is the South-West Coordinator. He noted that the concern of the initiative was to increase the yield of cassava roots from about 10 tonnes per hectare, to more than 30 tonnes per hectare, particularly, in high density population areas, where access to land is highly restrictive. “We are looking at improving yields using soil management and agronomic practices like tillage, inter-cropping, use of fertilizer and time for planting cassava. Apart from improving the yield, we are concerned about the quality of cassava yields and supply of quality cassava roots to industries, which use cassava for starch production, and other products”.
He reiterated that cassava was now gradually becoming an industrial crop because, “If a crop like cassava is being used in industries, then the soil must be well-managed and conserved to produce more”. Apart from community development through research, Professor Salako said he had always used his Research Opportunities for Capacity Building and Institutional Development in providing equipment for the SSLM Laboratory and for field work. Currently, ACAI has one Assistant Lecturer in the field of Soil Science that is being trained in Switzerland for the PhD. Others are five postgraduate students, out of which, four are in Department of Soil Science and Land Management (COLPLANT), while one is in the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development (AERD), College of Agricultural Management and Rural Development (COLAMRUD) that were being supported for their Master’s and PhDs.
Professor Salako disclosed that “We are taking care of the future, through capacity building and community development. We are working with more than 300 farmers in different places in Ogun, Oyo and Osun states. Studies have been done minimally in Ondo State. We are encouraging these farmers to adopt agronomic practices that seem to be better than traditional practices, after being involved in the processes of cultivation. While we are doing research, we are also doing ‘extension’ with it. Cassava is not about getting garri or fufu (cassava flour derivatives) alone; it is also about getting starch and getting it processed as high quality flour. The use of cassava is rapidly expanding in the country and we need to expand its production”.
While rating research work generally in Nigeria, the Don said that the truth about Nigeria was that researchers had done a lot, saying that credit should be given to past researchers. According to him, “We need to articulate the results that we got from various researches and translate them for national development. In view of the short-comings in the national system, I had to seek support and collaboration from various international organisations, to get my work done. All these collaborations usually led to getting results for Nigeria and my institution. For instance, I spent a year at the University of Venice, Italy, for a hydrological study, using isotopic technique but later ensured that a PhD student emerged under my supervision and applied the technique to tilled soils in FUNAAB, through a linkage that I facilitated for him to carry out his laboratory analyses in Italy”, while charging the government to assist researchers by providing the enabling environment in which they can be productive.
Commenting on the challenges being encountered in the course of his research, Professor Salako, who is also the 48th Inaugural Lecturer of FUNAAB, said that there would always be problems or challenges. “You don’t run away from challenges. They will always be there. What is important is to set your goals and move to achieve them”, while noting that basic things like electricity and water must be available for meaningful research and development. Research grants must always be used judiciously for transparency and accountability”, he added.
Professor Salako further gave wise counsel to young scientists and researchers, urging them to “Always ensure that you maintain good relationship with your collaborators or donors. Hard work and accountability are watchwords in such relationships”. Noting that over-dependence on foreign interventions may not be helpful on the long run, the Professor of Soil Physics, advised that the government should invest well in basic amenities. He had asked: “what would it cost the government to build standard laboratories and sponsor researches for specific development goals? We all need to know that Nigerians are the people who will make Nigeria great”, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Development) said.