Nigeria’s agricultural extension service is proving to be the weak link in the country’s plan of revolutionising the sector.
Nigerian smallholder farmers have continued to lag behind their peers, owing to their inability to raise productivity due to the collapse of the country’s agric extension service delivery.
The inability of farmers to access vital information that is beneficial to them and inadequate dissemination of information by extension agents have reduced agricultural productivity in the country for decades.
Agricultural extension service is the application of scientific research and new knowledge to agricultural practices through farmers’ education.
The extension agents function as the link between farmers, research institutes and the government.
‘Since I started farming more than 10 years ago, extension agents have only visited my farmland twice,’ Samuel Sanondo, a farmer who farms 15 hectare of maize and yam in Donga local government area in Taraba State said.
“I still farm with the farming methods I learned from my father. The extension agent that is supposed to teach me new techniques has only visited my farm once,” Sanondo said.
Sanondo’s case is similar to what smallholder farmers across the country experience with the delivery of extension services in Nigeria.
This agricultural extension services have been identified as an important part of the intended transformation of the agricultural sector.
Experts say that the country’s agricultural sector will only become income-generating commercial activity when extension services to farmers are restructured to be efficient and effective.
They have noted that lack of farmers’ education is the major challenge confronting Nigerian smallholder farmers, saying that farmers are yet to increase their yield per hectare because they lack the information on good farming practices.
The experts called on the government to revive Nigeria’s agricultural extension service, saying it is the major way information is being disseminated to farmers mostly in the rural areas.
“We need to revive our farm extension services to educate farmers on good agric practices,” said AfricanFarmer Mogaji, head-agribusiness group, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI).
Currently, farm extension service delivery in Nigeria is currently marred with lots of challenges ranging from poor funding, road infrastructures and aging agents as well as policy flip flop.
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.
According to experts, 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 in the country.
For more than a decade, there has been no recruitment of extension agents in most states of the federation and this has reduced the number of extension agents; with many approaching retirement age.
“The issue of manpower is a very big problem. There has been no recruitment of extension agents in some states since the World Bank grant was exhausted in the 80’s,” Mohammed Khalid Othman, former director, National Agricultural Extension Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) told BusinessDay.
“We have a situation where some states have one agent serving 2,000 farming families,” Othman said.
Othman noted that the country cannot improve farmers’ productivity when the ratio of extension agents given to farmers is as high as what we have currently in the country especially at a time where the government wants to diversify the economy through agriculture.
In trying to address the issue of limited extension agents, some states have resulted in picking cooperatives and association heads and educating them on the latest technologies and information necessary for the farmers in their communities who in turn are expected to pass the information to them under their cooperatives and associations.
But this initiative has failed as most of the heads of such associations who attend such training can hardly translate what was learned to other farmers upon return.
Meanwhile, research institutes in Nigeria have blamed the government for the gap that exists between the farmers, research institutes and extension service.
The government needs to address the problem with the delivery of extension services in other to boost farmers’ productivity, they say, calling for the government to make provision for bridging the gap between the lab and the farms.
“When we come up with new technologies which should improve farmers’ productivity, it never gets to the farmers because the extension agents fail to transfer these technologies to them,” Celestine Ikuenobe, director of research, Nigerian Institute for Oil Palm Research (NIFOR) said in a telephone interview with BusinessDay.
“And this is the case because the extension workers are not just there. The issue is because of the failed system and the gap created by the government,” he said.
Ikuenobe stated that the agents are not adequately funded and lack motivation. He stressed the need for the government to address these issues of extension service delivery if the economy will be diversified through agriculture.
In view of this shortfall, experts underscore the need for private-sector participation in the funding and delivery of agricultural extension services so as to meet the needs of the farmers.
They argue that agricultural extension services have been dominated by the Agricultural Development Programme in Nigeria for a long time.
The experts insist that the traditional extension services, linked with production objectives and blanket recommendations, can no longer meet farmers’ expectations.