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Extension agents grossly inadequate to deliver services to farmers

Othman

Executive Director, National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), Professor Mohammed Khalid Othman, told
GBENGA AKINFENWA the challenges facing agricultural extension service delivery, what the government needs to do to bridge the farm families’ ratio gap, and the importance of adopting ICT by all Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs) in order to reduce physical visit to farmers and cost of extension service.

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Agricultural extension services in the country are near moribund, just how did we get here?
In the early 1970s, Agricultural Development Project (ADP) was introduced in the country, with the support of the World Bank. As a platform for effective extension of delivery services, using the Training and Visit (T&V) model, the ADP project recorded resounding success as extension personnel were recruited, trained and retrained with the bank’s support.

The success of the ADP system made all state governments, as well as, the Federal Government to adopt it all over the country. Today, there are 37 ADPs in the 36 states and Abuja.

After the World Bank’s support (counterpart funding) elapsed in the late 1980s, state governments became the major source of funding for the ADPs. Over the years many staff left the services of the ADPs as a result of retirement, resignation and deaths. Even though the state governments were also recruiting new staff, the ADP system with time became moribund, and with very serious consequences for productivity, and income to smallholder farmers, who constitute the over 80 per cent of the farming population.

What is the total number of extension agents and farmers in the country?
It is very difficult to give the exact number of farmers and extension agents in the country. From the result of 2018 Agricultural Performance Survey (APS) conducted by NAERLS, which was publicly presented by the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, during the World Food Day celebration on October 16, 2018, many states failed to provide data on their farmers and extension agents.

However, among the states that provided information on farm families in 2018 were Kano State, which recorded the highest number of farm families, with 1, 620, 000, followed by Bauchi State, which has 987,925; Katsina State has 965, 536; Niger State reported 816, 575 farm families, and Akwa Ibom State had 685, 095 farm families, while Bayelsa State had the least number of farm families with a paltry 95,465.
In the same 2018 APS report, Kano State recorded the highest number of Village Extension Agents (VEA) of 1,118; Plateau State recorded 467 VEAs; Ebonyi State posted 103 VEAs, while Benue and Lagos States recorded 27 and six VEAs respectively. The number of VEAs is grossly inadequate to deliver extension services to farmers, even as most states have not conducted agricultural resources survey in the last 20 years.

Agricultural resource survey such as village listing, agricultural diagnostic survey, livestock census, farm families’ census, cultivated land areas, arable areas, and others are very important to the nation, but state governments over the years have failed to carry out such surveys.

With this number, the average farm families’ ratio in the country stands at 1:5,000, against FAO’s recommended 1:800. What is the problem?
The number of extension agent to farm families is a measure of ADPs’ ability to effectively reach out to all farm families. In Nigeria, the effort is to achieve a ratio of one extension agent to 1,000 farmers. As you are aware, EAs/farmers’ ratio is dependent on a number of extension agents that are working in states.

From the same 2018 APS report, the record showed that the desire to achieve a ratio of one EA to 1,000 farmers is very far from being a reality, as reports from all the states indicated very high EAs/farmers ratio.
Rivers State recorded the highest ratio of one EA to 18, 429 farmers, while Ondo State recorded the lowest ratio of one EA to 6, 600 farmers.

No doubt, funding appears to be one of the major challenges plaguing extension service delivery, but are there policies in place that mandate states to adequately fund the ADPs?
To the best of my knowledge, no state in the country has a policy or law that compels the state government to fund ADPs. Some years back, Bauchi State government was using part of local councils’ statutory allocation to fund extension activities of the state ADP, which I think is no longer happening. There is a strong desire by concerned Nigerians that funding of extension activities should be deducted from states/LGAs statutory monthly allocation, in order to revamp agricultural activities nationwide.

This is possible if states and the Federal Government discuss the issue on the platform of the National Council of States of which all state governors are members. Once, they agree, agriculture will get a boost and Nigeria can achieve food security sooner than later.
However, the political will of all leaders in this country is needed to realise this feat.

Extension service delivery system played a role in the country’s massive food production in the past. Can we return to this path?
There are many ways Nigeria can return to the glorious path of revamping agriculture. First, all states and local councils must invest in agriculture. The Federal Government’s investment is not enough and the farmers belong to LGAs and states. We have 774 departments of agriculture in the 774 council areas, 36 ministries of agriculture, as well as, 37 ADPs. So, there must be massive investment in these organisations, proper planning, monitoring and evaluation. Nigeria’s investment in agriculture is less than three per cent of the states’ and Federal Government’s budgets.

Secondly, the private sector must be encouraged to participate in investment in agriculture. There must be a change of strategy in extension delivery services. In this regard, NAERLS is leading in the use of ICT to deliver extension services directly to farmers.
We have completed the National Farmers Helpline Centre, a telephone-based platform for reaching out to farmers individually and collectively. Farmers can reach us through our centre’s number, which is +2347034863961 from 8:00am to 4:00pm from Monday to Friday.
We are currently test-running the centre with our adopted villages across the nation, but we also welcome questions from farmers and interested persons. The use of ICT must be adopted by all ADPs in order to reduce physical visit to farmers and thus, reduce cost of extension service.

Thirdly, we must reorient farmers to take farming as a business, which requires careful planning and investment. Farmers have to acquire knowledge to use modern technologies and practices to improve their productivity, increase yield per area, higher income and higher profit margin. Farmers have to be taught to produce according to international standards so that the prices of their produce can attract international prices. This will attract more people into agriculture and thus create wealth massively for the nation, as well as, create employment opportunities.

How can the federal and state governments effectively address the extension agents’ deficit?
While it is desirable to have adequate and quality manpower for effective extension service delivery, the number of personnel required per number of farmers 10 years ago is higher than what is required today because of possible use of an e-Extension model.
We don’t need a high number of extension personnel, but highly qualitative personnel with necessary infrastructure (Internet services, communication gadgets, social media platforms, etc) and the right motivation to be very effective.

Capacity development through training and retraining of farmers, processors, marketers and up-takers is a critical area that state and the Federal Government should focus and properly fund. This way, agricultural productivity will be enhanced without necessarily bridging the gap to achieve the ratio of one EA to 1, 000 farmers.

Over 100, 000 N-Power graduates are to be engaged in rural agriculture extension service, do you think this can make any impact?
I am happy to tell you that NAERLS trained these 100, 000 N-Power (agro volunteers) across the nation. NAERLS is also preparing to train the newly recruited volunteers this year. In 2017, NAERLS provided the extension manuals currently being used by the volunteers. The Federal Government intervention in recruiting the 100, 000 volunteers is a right step in the right direction.

After the training, the volunteers were handed over to the states’ ADPs that assigned them to their respective LGAs. Each volunteer is to spend two years under the Federal Government’s payment. The idea is to make the programme attractive to state governments so that they can retain the volunteers after a two-year volunteering service. Some of the volunteers can become private extension service providers, or engage in farming activities and become employers of labour. It is a laudable programme.

In what areas can the private sector help to reinforce what government is doing?
When we talk of the private sector, it should be clear that farmers are individually and collectively part of the private sector. NAERLS is already working with over 50, 000 farmers in groups of 25-30 members, and we are making them to share the cost of extension services, such as the establishment of demonstration plots, establishment of agricultural research outreach centres and many other things that help to improve farmers’ productivity.

They are voluntarily bearing these costs because of the immense benefits from the services after realising our predicament regarding funding limitation. As of today, we receive applications from various groups requesting NAERLS to join them as one of their adopted villages. In fact, the requests are overstretching our manpower/capacity, but we cannot turn down such requests. We need to face the reality that if farmers can buy fertiliser as input for their production, then, they can as well partly bear the cost of acquiring necessary information and capacity development to enhance their productivity.

Farming is a business; the rule of a good business is that one must invest resources (finance, skills, time, etc) and the income generated from the business should pay for the investment and bring out a large profit margin.

Similarly, the organised private sector can play the role of extension service providers for commodities that they are up-taking for industrial use or export. They can help farmers with improved inputs, production practices and purchase the produce with premium price.
However, government has to come out with a clear regulation to protect farmers, the nation and to encourage private investments in agriculture, as well as, provide rural infrastructure and security.

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