Former Borlaug LEAP Fellow, Dr. Peter Aikpokpodion, set out on a career path in academia but instead ended up in government helping to lead Nigeria’s cocoa transformation agenda.
Dr. Aikpokpodion says he was “made” during his Borlaug LEAP Fellowship. His research aimed to unravel the extent of genetic diversity in the national cacao genetic resources maintained in genebank collections and farmers’ plantations. The study provided essential information that led to the development of eight hybrids of cocoa (CRIN Tc.1-8) for Nigeria. These varieties are high yielding, resistant to Phytophothora pod rot and of superior cocoa flavor.
“During my fellowship, I was on the farm with the farmers, working hands on,” said Dr. Aikpokpodion during a recent interview. “I’m a plant breeder but my work didn’t stop in the lab. I learnt skills to develop new varieties but I also made contacts across a broad spectrum of the industry and worked with scientists in international stations.”
At the luncheon to officially launch those new varieties, Dr. Aikpokpodion was recruited by the Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, who is spearheading an effort to grow Nigeria’s economy through renewed investment in agriculture and “making agriculture the new oil”. Nigeria’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda has put a new emphasis on agriculture as a business and cocoa is a multi-billion dollar industry in West Africa.
Dr. Aikpokpodion was tapped to be the Team Leader of the Cocoa Value Chain Development Program administered through the Nigerian government’s Ministry of Agriculture. The government distributed 3.6 million hybrid cocoa pods to farmers in an effort to increase production and export. In his position at the Ministry, Dr. Aikpokpodion is responsible for coordinating the training of over 70,000 farmers and providing support to cooperative groups. The aggressive program intends to not only increase cocoa production but to build new generations of cocoa agric business entrepreneurs. As part of his work, Aikpokpodion also facilitates private sector investments and coordinates public-private sector partnerships.
“We are shifting from research and development to research FOR development,” said Dr. Aikpokpodion. “You are not just doing research for its sake. You are doing it to impact on something, to address specific issues in the society, in the economy or industry needs.”
Dr. Aikpokpodion, was awarded the Norman E. Borlaug Leadership Enhancement in Agriculture Program (LEAP) fellowship in Summer 2006. He received his PhD from the University of Ibadan through a collaborative research arrangement with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria. Dr. Aikpokpodion was mentored by Dr. Mark Guiltinan at Pennsylvania State University and Dr. Maria Kolesnikova-Allen at IITA during his Borlaug LEAP Fellowship. Dr. Aikpokdion is also part of the Cocoa Genomics Consortium which a few years ago sequenced the cacao genome.