By Dipo Olowookere
Federal Government has commenced the African Soil Information Service (AFSIS) pilot project in order to address the lack of quality information and data on soil and agricultural landscape which would help boost sustainable agricultural productivity across the Nigerian agro-ecologies.
The project which is being funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation builds technology innovations and services to fill one of the major gaps in spatial Information in African soil that is widely acknowledged to be hampering scientific progress in agri-economic development.
It is for this reason that Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation and Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa initiated AFSIS projects in 5 countries namely Tanzania, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria.
Already, many international partners such as Icraf, CiAT are supporting the initiative intended to last four years.
The Project will take off in Ebonyi and Kebbi State; while the new techniques/ technologies will be used to build capacity through training of staff in Abuja, Kaduna and Ibadan over the next one week.
Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Dr Bukar Hassan, during his meeting with members of the Ministerial Steering Committee on the African Soil Information Service (AFSIS) and formal launching of the AfSIS pilot project in the Ministry said he was impressed with the work AFSIS is doing to build technology innovations and services to drive the future of African Agriculture, particularly Nigeria and expressed hope that the technology would assist governments, farmers and relevant stakeholders in agriculture to pay more attention to soil development in moving the agricultural sector forward.
Represented by the Director, Plantation in the Department Of Agriculture, Mr Quadri Olalekan, he declared that, “Our farmers will no longer continue to shoot in the dark, the project is important and we will be able to maximize the duration of the project and get the best out of it.”
Earlier, the Director, Lands and Climate Change, Engr. Sunday Edibo, has explained that the AfSIS project which is being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is aimed at “rapidly expanding the use of world class information technology and data science to ensure that Africa’s soil and landscape resources are described, understood and used effectively to increase agricultural productivity and lower the ecological footprints of agriculture as a means of raising the prosperity of Africa’s communities and nations.”
He explained further that the African Soil Information Service project (AfSIS) is in collaboration with the Nigeria Soil Information System (NiSIS) and the Ministry to update soil and landscape information for Nigeria using modern measurement and mapping techniques.
Engineer Edibo said the area of work covered so far include; fairly detailed soil and fertilizer response survey of the central maize producing area of Nigeria; training of soil and plant laboratory for NiSIS and IITA staff in spectral methods for soil prediction; compilation and updating of relevant remote sensing data for soil and landscape mapping and spectral and spatial prediction model development to generate new soil maps and landscape information products.
He stated that the team would commence the training of staff of the ministry on soil/crop standard operating procedures (SOP) and the information gathered would be used in soil maps and assist farmers in crop production, particularly in supporting the development of grasses in ranches.
Chairman of the AfSIS-NiSIS Ministerial Steering Committee and a University don in the Department of Soil Science, Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Prof Ishaku Amapu, in his presentation, said the AfSIS–NiSIS pilot project on Nutrient assessment of Nigeria crop lands is starting with Kebbi and Ebonyi states with 582 locations and 208 locations respectively with focus on soil development.
Professor Amapu said the pilot project would among other things provide spatially explicit observations, measurements and predictions of nutrients level and the information would be used for ranches to provide grasses needed for healthy growth of animals.
He appealed to the Federal Government to expedite action on the complete survey of the remaining part of the country.
The AfSIS Senior Adviser, World Agro Forestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya, Dr Bruce Scott, remarked that presently, the Agriculture sector is not innovative and proactive for it is not using the best technology and science available; stating that, “In human sector, there has been tremendous innovation but not so in Agriculture, because we have refused to innovate in terms of leveraging on new science and technology.”
Dr Scott who promised that AfSIS would continue to be a good partner, urged the Federal Government to transform its agriculture sector to make it more productive for farmers and the people of Nigeria.
It would be recalled that the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Audu Ogbeh, who was worried by dearth of relevant soil information in Nigeria inaugurated a Ministerial Steering Committee on the African Soil Information Service (AFSIS) in the Ministry last year.
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