The dwindling number of Agricultural Extension Workers in several states of the federation has become a source of worry for stakeholders and farmers in the country. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE (Abuja) ACHOR ABIMAJE (Jos) GEORGE OKOJIE (Lagos) report
For Igoche Adole, a local farmer in Olago village in Okpokwu local government area of Benue State who has been a farmer all his life, the word ‘Agric Extension’ is strange and new to his lexicons of farming.
He has never seen any person visiting his community from the government to provide farmers with vital information that will help their activities.
Adole said in response to the question if he has ever been in contact with an extension worker: “Are you referring to missionaries or health workers, am surprised that people can go around teaching people how to farm. I have never seen any of such person all my life.”
Adole’s farmlands are located about 7km away from the Otukpo-Enugu highway, a situation that cut the local farmer off from the outside world, let alone coming in contact with an agric extension worker.
The local farmer and his colleagues only practice what was handed down to them from generations by their parents and grandparents.
The consequences of lack of basic information on agricultural practices are evident all over the village especially in the area of post-harvest losses. Adole admitted to LEADERSHIP Weekend that storage is a major challenge for him as he still relies on the old method he knew and could barely save a few of his harvest. “We are forced to sell at cheap prices to avoid too much losses,” he said.
Not only Adole and his rural farming community are in doldrums over ineffective communication system in the agricultural sector across Nigeria.
The role of agricultural extension services encompasses all aspects of agriculture. It include the provision of timely information, the linking of farmers with sources of farm inputs and credit facilities and most importantly, the provision of education services to farmers.
The dearth of agricultural extension workers in Nigeria in recent times has come with consequences that has gravely contributed to low agricultural performance especially among subsistence farmers who form the bulk of the agriculture sector in Nigeria.
The World Bank standard ratio of an extension worker to farmers is put at 1:800 (one extension worker to 800 farmers) but reports by experts and groups on the rate in Nigeria varies.
According to Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Nigeria, an arm of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank global group on Green political movement, the ratio in Nigeria stands at 1:3,500 (one extension worker to three thousand five hundred farmers).
The Heinrich Böll Foundation is part of the global Green political movement that has developed since the 1980s. It describes itself as an agency for green visions and projects, a think tank for policy reforms, and an international network.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), an organ of the United Nations Organisation recommended that one extension agent should serve a maximum of one thousand (1000) farm families in developing countries.
But a report by the National Agricultural Extension Research Liaison Services (NAERGLS), Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in 2013, put on the average and across Nigeria, extension workers at a ratio of 1: 3,011 between the years 2008 and 2012.
At a recent event on Feed Nigeria Summit 2018 held in Abuja that assembled stakeholders in the agricultural sector on consolidating the growth in the sector in recent time, an expert in agricultural extension services and don at the Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, Prof Emmanuel Ikani raised the alarm that Nigeria’s situation is getting worse with more agricultural extension workers disappearing from the field.
He said the ratio of extension workers to farmers or farm families is 1:10,000 (one extension worker to ten thousand farmers).
He lamented that since the World Bank funded Training and visit programme ended in Nigeria, the woes of agric extension compounded with most Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) in the various states failing to recruit new hands because of lack of funding.
“The message is not just about the figure, the key message here is that extension is moribund,” the university don said.
“Extension is key and between generating technology and going to the user. It is the vehicle the farmers need to improve their work. All over the world, you can’t do modern agriculture without information.”
He noted that extension services has gone beyond government standing as the driver, saying it should be market driven, led by the private sector or in partnership with government and not government alone.
He said Nigeria has not succeeded in agriculture because farmers are unable to get the right information at the right time to improve farming.
He said farmers don’t have the right information needed to improve their outputs even as technology they needed are in the shelves without being deployed. He stated that lack of information has reduced maize production which is at 2 to 5 metric tons per hectare compared to other climes that produce about 30 MT per hectare.
The situation he added has contributed to the poor milk production per cow per day which is just 1.5 liters per day compared to 30 liters in some other countries.
“Modern agriculture cannot be done by an uninformed man, but by people who have the knowledge,” he said. “It is not done by the crowd but by people with the right knowledge. In the USA, only about five per cent of the population feed the whole country and Nigeria is still talking about 65 to 70 per cent of its population into agriculture, it is an indictment on the nation.
“Government must begin to gather all agricultural graduates in the country into a programme like what it successfully did in the N-Power Programme to aggressively take vital information to farmers to improve food production for the nation.”
Plateau moves to bridge the gap
Meanwhile, following the shortage of agricultural extension workers in Plateau State, Governor Simon Lalong, has directed the recruitment of 400 agric extension workers in the state.
Recently, Mr Luka Kefas, director of Technical Services, Plateau Agricultural and Development Programme (PADP) raised the alarm about the paucity of agricultural extension workers in the state.
Receiving Mrs Ngizan Chahul, national president, Nigerian Association of Women in Agriculture (NAWIA), who visited him in Jos, Kefas said that the shortage of agricultural extension workers is a major challenge to the fulfilment of agricultural programmes in the state.
“One of the greatest challenges facing agricultural activities on the Plateau is the inadequacy of extention workers,” Kefas said. “Agricultural activities cannot thrive without the input of this category of experts because they are the engine room of the agricultural sector. They educate farmers in the urban and rural areas on the new trends in agriculture.
“According to the World Bank standard, one extension worker is supposed to handle 800 farmers but in our own case here, it is one extension officer to 7,000 farmers.
“Some of our farmers don’t even interact with an extension worker within the span of four years; a situation which I feel is disastrous. So, in such scenario, how can farmers know the latest innovations and trends in farming? Certainly, they can’t.”
Kefas, however, said that the state government had directed the Ministry of Agriculture to employ 400 ad hoc extension workers, adding that the engagement process was ongoing.
He also said that some extension workers were recently posted to the ministry under the Federal Government’s N-Power programme.
“I strongly believe that with these two interventions, the state’s agriculture sector will soon achieve some positive results,’’ he said.
Speaking on the plan, the former Plateau State commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Lynda Barau, said the extension workers will be posted to the 17 local government areas in the state.
Mr Philip Gonap, programmes manager, Plateau Agricultural Development Programme (PADP) commended the steps taken by the state government. According to him, “with this huge number coming on board, agricultural activities in the state will soon achieve a massive milestone.”
LEADERSHIP Weekend checks among farmers in Lagos State rural areas show that the farmers who plants rice and cassava do not enjoy the services of Agric Extension Workers (AEWs) that could help them increase their yield.
Kunle Adebajo, a farmer in Epe area of the state said, “What we plant mostly in this area is cassava and watermelon. The farming population here is predominately illiterate, the level of enlightenment is low with regards to the requirements for seed selection.
“I think we can do better if we have Agric Extension Workers that can lecture us on the kind of seeds and fertilizers that are good or not good for the kind of soil we have. They can also recommend the kind of herbicide that is not good for our land or crop.’’
The Lagos State commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Oluwatoyin Suarau said the state on request deploys agriculture extension workers in the state’s Ministry of Agriculture to numerous farms in the state to help farmers realise their potential.
He said that the present administration has since inception embarked on agricultural policies and programmes aimed at enhancing food security in the state.
According to him, the state government has made a lot of deliberate efforts to enhance agriculture with the introduction of programmes in vegetable farming, poultry, cassava farming and various forms of agro- processing programmes to the youths.
Suarau said that the commitment of the state government towards the attainment of food security depended largely on cooperation of every resident of the State, stressing that food security and hygienic environment occupies the front burner of the present administration’s plans to facilitate job and wealth creation as well as reduce poverty in the State.
He said a recent village listing survey was carried out in three agricultural zones of the state with results revealing that about 711,736 families now take farming as occupation in the state.
Bauchi to retain retiring 2017/18 agric extension workers
To reduce the ratio of agric extension workers to farmers in the state, the Bauchi State government recently said it will retain some retiring agricultural extension workers, in its efforts to revitalise its agricultural sector.
The state commissioner for Agriculture, Mr Yakubu Kirfi, said this during the presentation of the 2018 agricultural sector budget analysis.
He said that the policy would affect agricultural extension workers who were expected to retire between 2017 and 2018.
Kirfi said that under the arrangement, the services of the extension workers would be extended by two to three years to allow them to train the youths.
“Those billed to retire between 2017 and 2018 will have their service years extended by two to three years to enable them to train young and unemployed graduates of agricultural institutions,” he said.
Kirfi described agricultural extension workers as the backbone of agriculture.
“It will be suicidal to abandon agriculture and these professionals, considering the important role of extension workers in guiding farmers on seed and inputs application for maximum yields, particularly in rural communities,” he said.
Private sector involvement
Recently, some private sector players responded to the federal government Agriculture Promotion Policy 2016-2020 which is anchored on The Green Alternative.”
One of such is Notore Chemical Industries Plc which has invested in the agricultural extension sub sector.
Speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend recently, the head, Commercial Services of Notore, Mr Tijjani St. James, said in the 2017 wet and dry farming seasons, Notore engaged slightly above 1,644,017 smallholder farmers across Nigeria.
Of this number, 900,359 smallholder rice farmers in Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa, Ebonyi, Imo, Anambra, Adamawa, Gombe and Benue States were adequately educated in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation (AECF) on the adoption of the Urea Deep Placement Technique for the rice high yield-boosting Notore Urea Super Granules (USG) brand. Cassava and cowpea best practices were delivered to over 400,000 smallholder farmers via video viewing centers set up in 528 rural farming communities.
“Notore has over 5,300 trained Village Promoter staff supporting the company to expand its agricultural extension services into the deepest rural farming communities. We have always put the smallholder farmers at the heart of our marketing activities because they are responsible for over 90 per cent of Nigeria’s agricultural outputs.
“Very soon, we will be coming to the smallholder farmers with cassava specialty blend fertilizers that will hugely impact cassava yields and harvest. Over time, the smallholder farmers have grown to recognise Notore’s efforts and have in turn been rewarding the company with unflinching loyalty and patronage.”