Professor Peter Okuneye, a renowned researcher and scholar in the field of Agricultural and Environmental Economics in the University, has debunked allegations that the nation's cocoa has lost its value and does not meet international standards. Rather, the Don noted that the quality of cocoa being produced in the country remains one of the best in the world. Professor Okuneye made a case for reliance on cocoa and other tree crops, which were a major foreign exchange earner for Nigeria in the 1960s and 1970s. He disclosed further that in a research he conducted, which bordered on the environmental impact of tree crops under the Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) and which was sponsored by the United Nations Empowerment Programme (UNEP), he studied the trade policies, level of production and the environmental effects to ascertain if farmers should continue to adopt the use of chemicals and what would be the effect on the level of production, soil and people to get excellent results. According to him, “we found out that what the international organisations were saying, that Nigerian cocoa had been so polluted because of some chemicals, is not true. We were lucky that during that period, the International Cocoa Organisation wanted to put a ban on Nigerian cocoa to the tune of about 600,000 metrics tonnes not to be sold but that study, which we presented to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), opened the eyes of the International Cocoa Organisation to the fact that it is not our own production that has led to increase in the chemicals that they used in London, where they stored the cocoa, so Nigerian Cocoa was therefore accepted right on the shore, rather than after storage by the International Cocoa Organisation in London, and that assisted us to increase the level of production and the level of marketable surplus of cocoa, not only nationwide, but worldwide".
Speaking on another research activity which has been of economic relevance to the country, the University don stated that “in a research, which was also funded by UNEP on rubber production, we found out that rubber production was affected because farmers were enticed by the high prices arising from SAP. So, they were then tapping the rubber even up to the stems and almost to the leaves. So, the people from Delta, Edo and Cross Rivers States tapped the rubber to the extent that the rubber trees started to collapse and dry up, meaning that extension works needed to be stepped up for them to know the limit of tapping on the rubber, as there was no increased level of rubber production because of the international market available. So, I am happy to say that governments in Delta, Edo and Cross River States adopted our findings and with this, they have increased their levels of rubber production. In the case of fisheries, people were using various types of chemicals to kill the fish in some fish ponds by some farmers without their knowledge, thereby discouraging some people towards building concrete ponds or river ponds and with that, when we called their attention to that, what they needed to do was to fortify their surroundings to protect their various fish ponds, that really assisted them and further encouraged them towards increasing their level of fish production”. He also disclosed that many states in the country had benefited from his research breakthroughs.
Professor Okuneye added that his research work led to the intensification of the Agricultural Youth Empowerment Scheme in Epe Area of Lagos State, whereby the would-be farmers, who could be holders of the National Certificate in Education (NCE), National Diploma (ND), Higher National Diploma (HND), Bachelor of Science (B.Sc) or Masters’ Degree holders from any field, could apply and they were carefully selected and trained for six months in various areas of agriculture such as poultry, fishery, piggery and crop production. They were then given land to practice. Professor Okuneye added that he also played a vital role in the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), where he was able to impact on the Delta State government on the need to put in place a cassava-based production system involving women, men, community and starting from the level of production to processing and establishing some mill producing the cassava flour, cassava pallet and cassava chips. “This, we did between 2007 and 2010 and it is still in place. We assisted them in managing the programme for three years and they have been benefiting from it over the years”, he said.
Other contributions of Professor Okuneye include breaking the constraints to agricultural productivity in developing countries; strategies for the empowerment of small and medium scale farmers to achieve commercial agriculture through research; extension and farmer linkages, using agriculture to reduce poverty and achieve food security in sub-Saharan African nations; establishing a road map for the diversification of developing economy through agro-allied activities; analyzing the impacts of other sectors on agricultural development; assessing the impacts of socioeconomic activities on the environment; programming agricultural production, processing, storage and marketing for value addition, food security and exports as well as meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); and building models on economic instruments to combat environmental degradation in different nations.
Professor Okuneye, of the Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management, College of Agricultural Management and Rural Development (COLAMRUD), has about 40 years experience in teaching and research, taught over 10,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students and has written over 150 articles published in learned journals, books, monographs, referred proceedings and conferences.