Restructuring agricultural extension services to boost farmers’ businesses
The Federal Government, under President Goodluck Jonathan’s Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA), has put in place several policies designed to improve farmers’ productivity. However, a fundamental gap between these policies and their implementation continue to frustrate their success. This gap affects many areas of agricultural life including access to information, credit, markets, land and security. This gap is the absence of a functioning and responsive agricultural extension services.
This agricultural extension services have been identified as an important part of the intended transformation of the agricultural sector. The ATA is aimed at making agriculture work for Nigerians especially rural farmers such that it becomes not just a development programme but also an income generating commercial activity. But for that to be achieved, extension services to farmers must be restructured to be efficient and effective.
Available data have shown that over 80 percent of Nigeria’s food is produced by farmers in the villages, 60-70 percent of whom are women. These farmers work on small plots of land and rely on rainfall for irrigation. If adequately empowered, smallholder farmers have the capacity to feed the nation.
Farmers’ inability to access vital information that is beneficial to them and the ineffective dissemination of information by extension agents cause poor feedbacks between farmers, research institutes and policy makers in the agricultural sector. Extension services in the country have been known for a long time to depend on the use of mass media and extension agents in information dissemination and getting feedbacks.
Sule Abdul, a tomato farmer in Alabata, Odeda, Ogun State, says, “Any time the extension agents come, they pick selected farmers for training so that those farmers can come back and teach us what they have learnt but most of the farmers when they come back cannot explain anything to us.”
He adds, “Most of the extension agents cannot come to us because of bad roads to our community. The extension agents are also very few compared to the number of farmers they have to train in the community.”
Abdul also says he normally listens to radio stations for information but he does not really understand what they are saying most times. “This also affects output because when improved varieties that will improve production comes we get to know about it very late,” he adds.
Abdul’s case is similar to thousands of other farmers across the country. Further investigation shows that the extension service system has been marred with a lot of challenges especially in the area of feedbacks.
This is because the majority of farmers depend on radio stations for their source of information without necessarily being able to express their concerns and share their experiences or opinions about an issue that concerns them. On their part, the extension agents with whom these farmers would have found solace are faced with a lot of challenges which include inadequate funding and poor access roads.
The supervisory authorities are not able to get clear feedback on the quality of extension services being delivered in the villages. This is due to the absence of channels through which farmers can appraise the agents.
Another dimension to this problem is narrated by Sule Usman, a yam farmer in Wukari, Taraba State. “I needed to get a loan for the next farming season but I didn’t even know where to go. I went to a micro-finance bank on the recommendation of a friend and I was asked for collateral which I couldn’t provide and the loan was not given to me,” Usman explains.
Farmers’ inability to access low-interest loans is further complicated by illiteracy. Many of the farmers cannot read and write, and so it is hard for them to get timely information. They need information on how to link up across the value chain and how to transport their produce to the market.
Usman adds: “I still farm with the farming methods my father taught me before he died and that was roughly 50 years ago. I really want to use modern technologies but I don’t even know where to get them from and how to operate them. The extension service agent that is supposed to teach us modern technology hardly visits my farm.”
Adewumi Olusegun, another farmer in Oyo State, shared his experience which suggested that urgent steps must be taken to revamp extension services in Nigeria. “My farmland is very far from the town as I spend N5, 000 on transportation every time I go to town to get fertilisers for my crop. So it will be difficult for the extension agents to come to our farmlands because the roads are bad and it is very far from town.
Low government funding for extension services has led to the unavailability of input materials needed to support farmers such as 4WD vehicles, farmer’s skills acquisition centres, demonstration centres, demonstration kits and low morale exhibited by the extension workers.”
Olusegun further says that “any time an improved seed variety comes out; it takes months or a year before we get the information and when we get it we still don’t know what to do. I am a cassava farmer, I heard that the government is talking about increasing cassava production, but I don’t know how the government wants to achieve it and if they have technology that will help us improve our farm produce.”
“There exists a wide extension agent-to-farm ratio in Nigeria where it is estimated that there is one extension agent to 2,500 to 10,000 farm families depending on the state,” according to The Extension Transformation Group (TETG).
According to a study conducted by Lucia Omobolanle Ogunsunmi in 2008, her findings showed that “74.44 percent of the farmers surveyed had no contact with extension services for three years while only 4.8 percent were visited within a year. Only 27.4 percent were visited or had contact with extension services for 1-4 times a year.”
The challenges identified by Ogunsunmi should have been addressed by now because food consumption in Nigeria presents massive investment opportunities to everyone.
In 2009/2010, the total food consumed in the country amounted to N9.6trn of which N1.3bn – or 14 percent, was imported. The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) stated in its report entitled “the consumption pattern in Nigeria” that 64.7 percent of total household income was spent on food, with 35.3 percent spent on non-food items.
However, the federal government is not resting on its oars. “No agricultural sector can work unless the farm input sector is functional and efficient,” Akinwumi Adesina, minister of agriculture and rural development.
According to the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperative (CTA), more than 80 percent of Brazil’s 4.5 million family farmers have improved their output and income as a result of Brazil’s Zero Hunger Campaign, known locally as Fome Zero, together with an effective and efficient extension programme that focuses on family farmers, have been the key to their success story.
Nigeria can replicate this with the ATA and a well restructured, efficient and effective agricultural extension services so that farmers can improve their output and income.
Until this is done, Nigeria may not become one of the 20 largest economies in the world by 2020, suggesting that pragmatic efforts have to be made in boosting farming businesses via the adoption of efficient agricultural extension services because of the importance of extension services to food production.
Agriculture can be a great source of employment because the sector has a lot of derivative values, to propel the nation’s ambitious economic transformation and industrial revolution. The agricultural sector is full of potentials, which have to be unlocked, to diversify the economy, reduce dependency on food imports, revive rural economies and reduce rural-urban drift.
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