Stories by Steve Agbota
Nigeria’s lack of sufficient agricultural extension services is not only a national disgrace but a disaster as no nation can attain self-sufficient in food production without their services. This was the view of experts who spoke to Daily Sun recently.
Ideally, agricultural extension also known as agricultural advisory services plays a vital role in promoting agricultural productivity, increasing food security, improving rural livelihoods, and promoting agriculture as the engine of pro-poor economic growth around the world.
In advanced countries, agricultural extension is seen as the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmer education. The field of extension encompasses a wider range of communication and learning activities organised for rural people by educators from different disciplines, including agriculture, agricultural marketing, health, and business studies.
Regrettably, Nigerian government for several years has failed to identified the potential of agricultural extension services to increase incomes as well as the resilience of smallholder farmers and their families by expanding and improving locally-relevant, cost-effective development, as the whole system is sick and gone comatose.
However, extension services are suffering from a number of constraints including underfunding, ageing and dwindling staff arising from low employment rate and retirement of the old staff.
Recently, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who spoke at the Sasakawa Symposium on “Contributing to social security and jobs through agriculture-30 Years of Sasakawa in Africa”, held at the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD VI) in Nairobi, Kenya, said that he regretted the low number of extension workers in Nigeria, standing at a ratio of one extension worker to 8,000 farmers. He said that one of the lessons of the programme was the importance of a virile extension system to enhancing agricultural productivity and competitiveness.
Ironically, what magic wand extension worker can perform to meet the demands of 8,000 farmers is yet to be seen. But many countries, especially in Latin America, have privatised and contracted out advisory services.
Uganda’s National Agricultural Advisory Services (NAADS) has also contracted out extension services to the private sector and NGOs, which was regarded as the best to develop and increase the number of extension workers.
In order to revive the dying extension services in Nigeria as a key to agricultural transformation, agriculturalists said there is need for government to recognise its importance to food production.
They said as Nigeria aspires to become one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020; pragmatic efforts ought to be made to boost farming via the adoption of agricultural extension services.
They maintained that agricultural extension services in Nigeria have been somewhat inactive, but their importance could never be undermined.
Speaking with Daily Sun, an ex-Agric Extension Facilitator with World Cocoa Foundation Osun State and the Managing Director of Greenfield Farms, Alabi Taiwo, said that only few farmers are benefiting from extension services in the country, saying the northerners receiving larger percentage as the beneficiaries while the westerners are behind.
Based on his experience, he said atitude of farmers towards embracing extension services or new innovation was also not encouraging. He added that farmers are not ready for the extension workers talk let alone embracing new innovation brought to them.
He explained: “It was not only government that is fault in this regard, but some farmers cannot give an hour out of 24 hours in a day to learn new methodology that will improve their farm output without considering the extension workers who walk many kilometers away from their offices to their farms or villages. Also, farmers are always after material things like incentives and not the intellectual asset that would be permanent. Many farmers are late adopter, which i experienced most while on field.”
On how to improve the system, he suggested that private firms should be allow to take up the job of extension workers voluntarily. He added that government should employ more extension officers in all local and state government levels to complement the ones on ground, while urging government to equip the extension workers with the right tools needed for the success and there should be timely monitoring, evaluation and assessment of the work done by the extension officers.
He advised that farm centre where farmers can access quality inputs and information should be built and equipped by government in all farm settlements and local areas as this is the only way to go forward.
Speaking on how to educate farmers to see reasons why they should adopt extention services, he said there should be proper campagn on radio, television and print media and organising capacity building such as seminars and conferences.
The owner of Fresh Green Plantation farm, Joseph Ejika, said that government should employ and train more extension workers across the 36 states in the country since it has becomes imperative to improve on extension services in Nigeria as no nation can survive drought of food without working extension systems.
He noted that agricultural extension workers were the bridge between farmers and research institutes, and that they also function as the link between farmers and the government because they play a key role in disseminating information to and from both sides for enhanced agricultural production.
Said he: “It is the responsibility of extension workers to convey information from government and researchers to farmers on how to improve agriculture in Nigeria. Capacity of the extension workers must be built through seminars, workshops and other means, with the hope that they would convey the message to farmers.
They are to teach the farmers how and when to cultivate their farms; how to use improved seeds; when and how to apply fertiliser; when and how to harvest, connect them with banks where they could obtain loans and will also connect them with markets where they can sell their yields at higher profits.”