Fast tracking dairy sector development in Nigeria through public – private sector extension
One of the most critical components of any sustainable agricultural development plan is the maintenance of an effective extension services system – a branch of agriculture that ensures the systematic transfer of knowledge and technical advice to farmers in order to improve production and post-harvest practices, boost productivity and improve livelihoods. The focus of these extension services, in the context of dairy farming, would entail the provision of adequate information, technical and advisory support by extension agents to pastoral, who lack immediate access to information and technology.
According to the World Bank, the ideal ratio of extension officers to farmers for effective extension services is 1:800 – one extension worker to 800 farmer/farm families. In the Nigerian context, the 2013 National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) report, stated the officer to farmer ratio at 1:3,100, a ratio according to experts, that has taken a tumble for the worst since then. The implication of this low ratio is that many dairy farmers do not have access to essential extension services, negatively impacting their productivity and general livelihoods. In addition to inadequate number of extension agents, Nigeria’s extension services system is also bedeviled by poor logistics support for field staff, funding and the limited training for the personnel.
The public agencies engaged with extension support in Nigeria include the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Federal and State Ministries of Agriculture and the Agricultural Development Programmes. They depend primarily on the government to fund their extension activities and hence almost always must operate on a very limited budgets, which places a major constraint on their reach and effectiveness. These public agencies also receive occasional support from international organisations and NGOs, which provide a temporary boost to extension services.
There are also – public-private partnerships and the private sector driven models emerging in Nigeria – which will reduce the financial burden on the government and ideally improve the reach and efficiency of the extension services rendered. For instance, the Nigerian Dairy Development Program (NDDP), implemented by Sahel Consulting engaged both government and private Extension Agents (EAs) to deliver practical training on improved dairy farming practices to smallholder dairy farmers in Kano and Oyo states. Leveraging a ratio of 1:160, the EAs were trained monthly on various topics, which they were expected to eventually cascade this new knowledge and insights to the dairy farmers. To ensure efficient training delivery by the EAs, they were provided with training equipment, including projectors, mobile phones and access to the internet and they received stipends to maintain their motivation. Sahel took into consideration the communities’ custom of not allowing male EAs to train female dairy farmers and thus prioritized the engagement of female EAs, which in turn facilitated widespread acceptance of the extension program. As a result, NDDP was able to train about 6,000 dairy farmers on 9 key topics and at the end of the project, over 70% of the dairy farmers adopted the improved farming practices, which led to an increase in the quality of milk produced by the dairy farmers.
Read also: As Lagos empowers youth through agriculture
Taking a cue from the NDDP, dairy processors in Nigeria could partner with dairy farmers associations to identify local pastoralists and provide extension services such as technical training, advisory support and financial literacy trainings with the aim of improving the dairy farmers’ milk quality, efficiency and productivity. In return, the dairy farmers will provide regular supply of high-quality milk to the processors. Not only will this arrangement contribute to local community development, it will also result in tangible economic benefits for the private processors. Additionally, these processors could also partner with development organisations, looking to contribute to the dairy sector development in Nigeria, to increase their capacity as well as the reach of their extension services programs. Additionally, the government can also contribute to the success of the models by providing social infrastructure such as good access roads to farms, solar-powered boreholes and ADP support for the farmers.
Without a doubt, the provision of extension services is an integral component of any meaningful agricultural development strategy and the present government-led efforts for the provision of this critical service may be inadequate to drive the level of development required in the dairy sector. A private-public sector-driven approach to the provision of extension services for dairy farmers holds great promise for enhanced effectiveness and productivity.
Mr. Joshua Uzu