IBADAN, Nigeria, July 24 (Xinhua) -- The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) celebrated its 50th anniversary in Ibadan, capital of southwest Nigeria's Oyo State on Monday, highlighting sustained commitment in agricultural investment.
Nigeria's acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (Rtd) and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, led a throng of dignitaries in celebrating the Institute's past successes and reflect on it future role in its efforts to transform agriculture in the next 50 years.
Established in 1967 through a partnership of the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Foundation of the United States, IITA has helped in raising the productivity of Africa's key crops -- cassava, banana/plantain, maize, cowpea, yam, and soybean using the power of innovative science and technology.
Kwesi Atta-Krah, Chair of the IITA 50 Organizing Committee, said the celebration of the 50th year of IITA in Africa transcends past achievements.
"It is also an opportunity for us to begin to look at the future of agriculture and the role IITA will be playing especially as it relates to emerging challenges of climate change, pests and diseases, and rising youth unemployment," he added.
On his part, Nteranya Sanginga, IITA Director General, told the gathering that the organization has evolved into a strategic partner for research-for-development in sub-Saharan Africa with over 200 scientists working in over 18 countries.
"This event is therefore an opportunity for us to celebrate our past successes with all our partners, friends, and beneficiaries and reflect on our future role in our efforts to transform agriculture in the next 50 years," Sanginga said.
Osinbajo, represented by Nigeria's Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh thanked the host community and management of IITA who has helped in nurturing this institute to greatness.
Ogbeh said the country had over time neglected agriculture, noting that the industry has the potential to employ more youths and improve foreign exchange.
The minister told Xinhua that the government is more committed to investing more in research, especially at the university level.
"One of the things we have done is to ensure that the three universities of agriculture in Nigeria are moved under the Ministry of Agriculture, instead of Education for proper monitoring," Ogbeh added.
Other speakers at the event lauded the critical role of IITA, Africa's biggest international agricultural research institute in the transformation of Africa's agriculture.
The event showcased the strides made by IITA researchers in collaboration with a range of partners and their impact on agriculture in the region and improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers.
These include adoption of almost 400 varieties of cassava with increased yields and better resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses; developing nearly 200 improved soybeans and 78 improved yam varieties.
Over 70 percent of the over 300 maize varieties with IITA germplasm and drought-tolerant maize developed in partnership with CIMMYT has been adopted in 13 countries with projected economic gains of 907 million U.S. dollars.
Impact has also been felt in improving nutrition through promoting legumes such as cowpea and soybean, developing biofortified yellow cassava with enhanced vitamin A and the effective and safe biocontrol solution, Aflasafe, to control aflatoxins in maize and groundnut that is being rolled out in 11 countries.