EBSU Holds 21st Inaugural Lecture, Tackles Hunger Through Plant Breeding

By Moses Peter

Ebonyi State University (EBSU) has held her 21st Inaugural Lecture at the Information and Communication Technology, ICT complex at the institution’s main campus, Abakaliki.

The inaugural lecture on the topic, “Tackling Hunger Through Plant Breeding: The Serendipity Journey of a Relentless Woman,” was delivered by Professor Happiness Ogba Oselebe, the Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Crop Production and Landscape Management, Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources in EBSU.

Prof Happiness Ogba Oselebe who is also the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Administration) of the EBSU, disclosed the United Nations forecast on the global population which according to her, has increased “and may reach 9.7 billion by 2050.”

She observed that the population forecast had begun to bring life-threatening challenges, especially in the absence of adequate food production and supply and integrated programmes to simultaneously address community needs for food and reproductive health, and the impact of climate variability and change.

The University Don further revealed that the rapid national population growth has induced and intensified major environmental changes in response to climate change and variability leading to the emergence of novel pests and diseases, loss of crop genetic diversity and a decline in resources such as water.

She said, even though the current global food production rate is at the highest level, it still fails to match demand, and however, noted that based on the predicted population increase, food production would need to double by between 50 per cent and 90 per cent in the year 2050 to meet the demand.

She also lamented that the incidental increasing number of mouths (people/consumers) to feed does not match with the corresponding increase in the number of farmers who can produce the food, resulting in hunger, malnutrition, famines, many endemic diseases, and desertification among others.

She recalled the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in 2010 estimated that about 795 million people, of the current 7.3 billion population, suffered chronic malnourishment between 2014 and 2018 and that majority of these people lived in developing countries.

She also recalled the Global Hunger Index according to Grebmer et al 2019 had shown that multiple countries have higher levels now than in 2010 and appropriately 45 countries in current reality would not be able to achieve lower levels of hunger by 2030.

Prof Oselebe noted that “hunger happens when people do not have enough food to eat or do not have access to food, especially nutritious food.”

“A major challenge facing mankind, therefore, is food security, that’s how to increase access to adequate food for the teaming population, without depleting non-renewable natural resources and causing environmental damage,” she added.

“On food and nutrition security, the Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Crop Production and Landscape, while citing the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in 2010, said: “Food exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

She said everybody at all times by implication, needs equitable and stable food distribution, “but it is increasingly recognised that it also covers the need for inter-generational equity, and therefore, sustainability in food production.”

Emphasizing the need for massive food production, she said that productivity improvement critically depends on the developments of new technologies including new crop varieties, precision agriculture, and their dissemination to smallholder farmers.

She also observed that a dietary shift in food consumption to include orphan crops might increase the resilience of local communities, especially in the face of climate change, and described the development as the main crux of the inaugural lecture while emphasising the need for plant breeding otherwise known as crop improvement.

The female University Don who has been committed to programmes towards the conquest of hunger recommended that the significant stakeholders should join hands to tackle hunger through capacity building of next-gen scientists, plant breeders and agripreneuers.

The Inaugural Lecturer who has over 200 beneficiaries from her agro-based development programmes also recommended that the relevant stakeholders should sponsor and give scholarships to students who opt to read agriculture as a discipline, to make Agriculture the centre stage for the availability of food and the good of everyone.

Earlier, the Vice Chancellor of the EBSU, Professor Chigozie Ogbu advised the Inaugural Lecturer to make good use of the opportunity to deliver the lecture, saying the benefit would be most appreciated by her, the University community and the entire society.

Also, the Dean Faculty of Management Sciences of the institution, Professor Ike-Elechi Ogba commended Prof Happiness Ogba Oselebe for making her family, the University community and the entire society proud, especially in investing in humanity with her academic feats.

He advised those in the academic class not be perceiving their academic trophies as a windfall to use in defrauding society but to be utilizing them to invest in humanity progressively.

The event was attended by Ebonyi State government functionaries led by the Deputy Governor – Dr Eric Kelechi Igwe represented by Elder Stephen Orogwu -the former Chairman of Ikwo Local Government Area, the Vice Chancellors from different Universities, other personalities and guests from academic, business, political and religious classes.

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