The idea for the establishment of the Centre for Agrochemical Technology (CAT) was developed from an initiative taken in 1993 by Professor Ikenna Onyido, Professor of Chemistry and then Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UAM, based on a long-standing scientific collaboration between him and two internationally acclaimed scientists in the Department of Chemistry, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada, namely, Professors Erwin Buncel and Gary W. van Loon. Initial funding of Cdn$800,000.00 for the establishment of CAT, dedicated exclusively to manpower development and provision of critical laboratory equipment, was provided by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CAT is supposed to be a full-fledged independent training, research and outreach facility within UAM which shall network with other Colleges and Centres in the development and propagation of new and appropriate technologies in agriculture in Nigeria.
Modern (scientific) agriculture involves high inputs not only in terms of machinery and financial credit but also in agrochemicals like fertilizers, pesticides, plant-growth regulators, food preservatives, etc. The present scenario is one in which local farmers are actively encouraged to use agrochemicals which, because they are largely imported into the country, are often difficult to procure. Hence, there is the need to explore the sourcing of these inputs locally. There is also the compelling need to be concerned from the onset, with both short-term and long-term effects of the use of these chemicals on the environment. At present, there is no meaningful database against which future changes in the environment resulting from the extensive and intensive use of agrochemicals can be measured. An evident risk, therefore, is that long-term agricultural productivity may be impaired by and mortgaged to short-term gains in the volume of food production, resulting from the pressing need to improve the situation in Nigeria without taking precautions against environmental degradation.
These issues bring into sharp focus the urgent imperative to take immediate steps to ensure evolution of agricultural practices that are sustainable, in the sense that the milieu in which these practices operate remains largely unchanged. This can be achieved, in part, by instituting a mechanism for consistent study and monitoring of existing technologies with a view to determining and documenting their environmental consequences.
Parallel to the above-stated concerns and needs is the issue of environmentally safe and friendly agrochemicals. These concerns provide the impetus for the search for safer pesticides, plant-growth substances, food preservatives, etc from natural sources, and their possible chemical synthesis.
The foregoing constitutes the rationale for the establishment of CAT, which is organised to evolve scientific, technical and instrumental capabilities within UAM to undertake the functions discussed above, which are important components of a modern sustainable agricultural delivery system.
Within the context of its institutional mandate spelt out above, CAT has the following specific objectives:
(a) Development and sustenance of analytical techniques and protocols to monitor the terrestrial, aquatic and atmospheric environments for pesticide and other agrochemical residues as well as other pollutants derived from agricultural and industrial activities.
(b) Development and maintenance of low-level radiochemical facilities for tracer studies necessary for the assay of pesticide and other agrochemical residues in environmental media, as well as in nutritional and metabolic studies that are important in the development and evaluation of diets and food processing technologies.
(c) Manpower development and capacity building: the Centre is to devote considerable and continuous attention to training of manpower not only to run facilities in (a) and (b) above, but to form a core of well-trained specialists that would ensure that CAT remains an effective resource-base for Nigeria and the entire sub-region.
Against this backdrop, CAT has the mandate to:
(a) Undertake research in agrochemicals (fertilizers, pesticides primarily but will include plant-growth hormones, food preservatives, etc.) and their interactions with the natural environment as well as the implications of their use. This should assist in the evolution and evaluation of strategies for anticipating and enhancing the prospects for sustainable agriculture;
(b) Undertake research into the discovery of new materials for pest control, especially from the abundant natural resources with which Nigeria is endowed, with a view to developing safer and environmentally friendly products. In this regard, it is noteworthy that an area of emphasis is the conduct of investigations into effective traditional methods of pest control, with a view to rationalizing and understanding their scientific basis and fully exploiting the same;
(c) Undertake outreach activities, to include training workshops, seminars, radio and television talks and production of simple literature in English and other languages in the immediate catchment area on the proper, timely, and safe use and handling agrochemicals; and
(d) Develop and deliver curricula in environmental science at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and agrochemical technology at the postgraduate levels.