Prior to the display of the agrarian interest of the current government in 2015, a lecturer from agricultural engineering department, Federal University of Technology, Owerri(FUTO), told me that only about 8-11 persons willingly apply for admission into agricultural engineering yearly. The rest of the 100-120 students in the programme are push overs who didn’t land their dream course from Joint Admission and Matriculation Board(JAMB). To think that was how I found myself an agricultural engineer today! That is not all of it though; a good percentage of the willing applicants resorted to agricultural engineering only after several trials to get their dream course proved futile. Of course, the story is similar in all departments of agricultural science in Nigeria. But that is not even the end of the ugly story.
Yearly, their students (agricultural engineering department) who make the minimum CGPA required for transfer to a different department make applications for change of course. The only reason I graduated an agricultural engineer was that in the year of my admission, the departmental board made a law:
Right now, I am worried about how agricultural engineering lecturers emerged from FUTO, prior to this law. Well FUTO, is just one school. Thanks to Prof. Nwadikom, my, then, Head of Department for that law. That saved me a career misguide. For, though I graduated the best student of agricultural science 2013 at Queen of the Rosary Secondary School, Nsukka, I didn’t want to have anything to do with agriculture. Mehn, I cannot be so good and end up studying agriculture! I think that was the sentiment then; as though, some courses are for less bright students. Guy, the entire educational system in Nigeria needs rebranding. But let’s go back to the production cycle of agricultural engineers.
Had the problem of agricultural engineering students ended with the fact that they didn’t even have passion for the course they were fated to study by JAMB, the story would have been cut short. But their challenge also, permeated their lecture halls. I hope you know that at first year and second year engineering studies, general courses are offered and classrooms are interdisciplinary? Some agricultural engineering students didn’t have the capacity to share class with their engineering colleagues. Remember, thanks to disorientation; popularly, engineering is for bright students but, for the dent of agriculture, little to no bright student wants to study agricultural engineering.
Our problem began with the picture of that old man with a hoe on his shoulder shown to us as a farmer in primary school, portraying agriculture as a dirty, labour intensive, hunch back-inducing profession of the poor. I hope teachers have changed picture.
When they asked questions it appeared they were drawing the class back and so it was, most times; that, without delay, agricultural engineering students gained the reputation of the likely sect to disrupt a smooth going class with irrelevant questions. That was not to say that such questions didn’t emanate from other departments, but whenever an agricultural engineering student stood to ask a question, the entire class would be waiting for it to be stupid. If it eventually comes off stupid, they would show their reaction of no-surprise. In due time, inferiority complex set in. It is a pity just few persons did that but this rubbed off on both the good and the bad students. Agricultural engineering felt inferior to other engineering disciplines. A virus that created a cycle.
The eventual Departmental Brain Drain of agricultural engineers and the obvious insufficiency of agricultural field engineers
In a simple sentence, after the first degree, most agricultural engineers furthered in the related engineering fields: mechanical, civil etc.; probably, to dust off the agricultural stigma. Those who furthered in agricultural engineering did so to lecture, seeing the obvious vacancy. Hardly, do you see an agricultural engineer in Nigeria, self-sustaining through practice in the field; the most practical, in micro scale, engineering course. One way to look at this is that because of the low interest in agriculture, there are no employment opportunities but I rather think it is because a deficient system cannot deliver an efficient output; like the Latin Nemo dat quod non habet. You can now imagine what is recycled as human capacity in agricultural engineering and sector.
This lack of field agricultural engineers, thus, inhibits the synergetic exchange between engineering theory and practice. As a result; the curriculum is archaic as no practical input with envisaged developmental impact is made on it. There is so little agroengineering application nationwide.
It is then no surprise that despite the budgetary allocations and the huge investment in agriculture by the Nigerian government, there is little offset in unemployment. Agriculture is the only field of study that is capable of employing all fields of study because of the series of stages involved in the agricultural value chain.
However, the commercialization of agriculture as a talent sink comes with a demand for technical knowhow and input which must be domestically available. Investment in agriculture as a viable labour sink or economic option will remain futile without simultaneous investment in agricultural engineering development because agriculture will remain subsistent in this country till the day agricultural technology becomes modern, which can only be facilitated by passionate, zealous agricultural engineers.
On the bright side; not all agricultural engineers are in this web of misunderstanding and misalignment. A lot are doing well with recognizable output. However, they feel a great pressure and have to work harder to prove themselves because of the nationwide misunderstanding of agriculture and agricultural engineering. The story is similar with agricultural students. The only difference being that theirs (agricultural student)is a faculty of homogenous candidates.
If you feel you know what you are doing but have to work harder that your engineering colleagues because of the misbranding of agriculture and agricultural engineering, then that is why we are here: because of the lack of technical advancement in Nigerian agriculture; because agricultural engineering students are denied industrial training placement; because their employers don’t know what agricultural engineering is; because we want stakeholders’ involvement in matters concerning agricultural engineering; because we can optimize the agropotential of Nigeria and Africa as a whole through effective engineering. Gone through that production cycle of agricultural engineers? Then, you probably already know why we are rebranding agriculture. Now is the time to challenge the status quo. That is why we launched Rebrand Agricultural Engineering Project, RAEP
Uja, Chigozie Joy is an agricultural engineer and a writer. She is passionate about optimizing Africa’s agropotential and blogs about it on Agroven website and RAEP facebook group.