The executive director, National Agricultural Extension and Research Liason Services, a university based institute, under the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Prof Mohammed Khalid Othman, in this exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Friday Editor, Ruth Tene Natsa, has stressed the need for states government to adopt and employ the N-Power Volunteers to promote agricultural development.
Would you say our extension services are working?
No, our extension service in Nigeria is not working. Be aware that that the extension service we are operating in Nigeria is called, Training and Retraining and visits extension system, a system that requires an extension agent to visit farmers on their field, advise them, take field problems to research centers. It worked alright when it was initiated in the 70s under the support of the World Bank when the Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) in Funtua and Gombe kicked off as pilot states. At that time, extension agents were seen everywhere and at that time, all states government adopted that system. Today, we have 37 ADPs, including the FCT and they all have extension agents, but the agents they have are retired, and there have been no recruitments, many have died and as a result, the farm family extension ratio is very high. You find that an extension agent has to cater for as many as 5000-10000 farm families, which is practically impossible
What would you say are the reasons for this failure?
Low investment in agriculture by the states government and if you look at the investment generally in terms of budget by both states and federal government, you will find out that agriculture is receiving less than five per cent and that low investment is even more pronounced at the state level. Most of the state ADPs are in shambles, moribund, because most of the states government just pay them salaries, without funding them to work. As extension agents, they require mobility (vehicles or motorcycles), consistent training to establish trials and demonstration plots for farmers and so on, so all these require lots of funds, without which one cannot get the required training expected to function. Also, mobility will be hampered.
Also, the issue of recruitment continues to be a key challenge to the development of extension agents, there is need for government, especially at state levels, to recruit more extension agents and there is also need to ensure that extension agents are well trained, especially considering the issue of ICT on ground. Government can take advantage on the issue of ICT and provide training to ensure they are effective.
In your capacity as the executive director, have you presented some of these challenges to the present administration?
Yes I have, considering the present administration, at the federal level, you will find that government is trying far better than the states. I want to tell you that, the recruitment of N-Power agro has really helped a lot. It is the NAERLS that trained them, in 2017, 33,000 were recruited and this year, more would be recruited as reported by the media. They were trained and sent to all the 36 states and the FCT and many of them have become extension agents, replacing the old extension agents and also equipped with tablets and linked to our websites. So, at the federal level, there is that concerted effort, which has made a lot of change. But at the state level, that is where the problems are because the extension agents are under the employment of the states government and the states government have not been doing very well. The issue now is that after the two years of the N-Power agro, the question is, will the state governments employ the N-Power volunteers directly, having seen the benefits the farmers are enjoying? If they can do that, that would be very good.
So, what particular efforts iS NAERLS putting in place to address some of the current challenges faced by Nigerian farmers?
NAERLS has devised several means now, there are two means for us to reach out to the farmers directly, the first is through the establishment of adopted villages, these are communities adopted by the NAERLs, where we then push out our technology and take feedback. We are currently working with over 200 communities comprised of over 20,000 farmers spread across the nation. We deal with the farmers directly as we realised that working with the ADP is not so effective as they are incapable of reaching out to the farmers as a result of the challenges earlier mentioned. As it is, we receive application monthly from communities, asking us to adopt them. They are spread across the nation because NAERLS has a national mandate. We have six zonal offices, one in each of the geo political zones, Ibadan, Umudike, Badegi, Kano and Maiduguri and all of them have adopted villages, but more are concentrated in the headquarters, Zaria, because we are also challenged by limited funds.
The other aspect of directly linking to the farmers is the use of national farmers’ helpline centre. This is a platform where a farmer can directly call NAERLS on any problem of agriculture and ask questions and the call agent will receive and advise him accordingly. So, that centre was launched in January and has already started though the functions are limited, but hopefully, as soon as funds are released for the 2018 Capital, the few things which are less than one per cent of the facilities needed, will be made available and the centre will be working at least minimum of 8-10 hours daily. And we envisage that we would be receiving between 2000-3000 calls daily. What needs to be done is to sensitise farmers on the existence of this helpline.
Where does Nigeria stand in the place of agricultural research?
Nigeria’s academics are equal to the task and can compare to global standards. However, in Nigeria, like many other developing countries, research is not being given priority. Research requires equipment, it takes time and you don’t see the results directly. Similarly, there are several research results that have emanated from the works of the academics. In Nigeria, we have 18 research centres in addition to the faculties of agricultures who are also in research. Similarly, in the polytechnics, where we have agricultural engineering, you cannot graduate as a degree or HND holder without doing a research project (research is doing something which has not been done to address a problem). So, there are several agricultural research results on shelf which are not being utilised because there is no commercialisation. A researcher will bring out a prototype and show it is working and can solve a problem, but it is not his work to mass produce it. So, industries do not come and take our research results, instead, some foreign companies come to take our research results, produce the results and bring back to Nigeria or other countries to sell, so this is one of the many challenges we have. And research requires a lot of effort, but after getting it, it does not become of much use to the nation.
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