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Dying extension services threatening food security

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
30 December 2018   |   4:29 am
Over the years, the agricultural sector has not only played a critical role in ensuring food security, but has also contributed significantly...

• Average Extension Agent To Farmer Ratio Stands At 1:5, 000
• Absence Of Policy, Funding, Gender Imbalance, Others Pose Challenges
• Nigeria Can Achieve 1:20 Farm Families-Ojo

Over the years, the agricultural sector has not only played a critical role in ensuring food security, but has also contributed significantly to the country’s economy as the largest employer of labour, accounting for over 20 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

As a country, Nigeria is one of those endowed with great potential, and with the right environment to attain self-sufficiency in food, production of agricultural raw materials, integrated agricultural and rural development, as well as, the ability to combat environmental threats to food security.

Unfortunately, the country has over the years threatened the growth of the agricultural sector with her over-reliance on the oil and gas sector. But in the wake of falling oil prices, and weakening value of the naira, agriculture is again taking the centre stage and gradually becoming a priority area for national development.

All these notwithstanding, the country is still yet to reach her full potential due to several challenges that have hamstrung it.

Currently, Nigeria is one of those in sub-Sahara Africa with food-deficit, mainly due to her exploding population, which is in the region of 180 million people.

In Africa, where population is expected to double by the year 2050, the prospect of food insecurity is of great concern and looms larger by the day, while in Nigeria, the population is projected to reach around 400 million by 2050 despite the lingering food crisis.

Already, thousands of refugees displaced by Boko Haram insurgents in the North are vulnerable to starvation, as confirmed by the reported number of deaths.

However, despite the Federal Government’s much-hyped diversification of the economy, in which agriculture is expected to play a critical role, the sector is still plagued by a series of challenges, chief of which is the dearth of extension workers/agents.

Agricultural extension is a service or system, which offers technical advice on agriculture to farmers, and also supplies them with necessary inputs and services, thereby increasing their production efficiency, income and bettering their livelihoods, as well as, uplifting standards of rural life.

The extension system has been known for a long time as the link between farmers, policy makers and particularly research institutions.

In fact, government’s agricultural programmes during and after the pre-colonial days had elements of agriculture extension service delivery, some of which included the Special Commodity Services; Farm Settlement Scheme; River Basin Development Authorities; the National Accelerated Food Production Programme, and Operation Feed the Nation.

But these programmes were, to a large extent, unable to adequately promote and transfer improved technology adoption by farms, the introduction of Training and Visit (T&V) Extension System in 1986 notwithstanding.

Currently, agriculture extension services in the country are being delivered mainly through Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs), which are state institutions saddled with the mandate of raising agricultural production and improving rural livelihoods through extension services. Effectively, ADPs serve as extension arms of state ministries of agriculture.

Some of the functions of the ADPs include, supply of farm inputs through farm services centres; supply and improvement of extension staff and farmers’ training; introduction of new credit and marketing services; provision of improved seeds, and provision of rural infrastructure, like rural roads, construction of dams and boreholes for water supply.

According to the World Bank, the ADP concept was designed in response to a fall in agricultural productivity, hence a concern to sustain domestic food supplies, as labour had moved out of agriculture into more remunerative activities that were benefiting from the oil boom.

The ADPs were initially funded and supported by the World Bank, and its adoption put the smallholder sector at the centre of agricultural development strategy, and marked a clear shift away from capital-intensive investment projects for selected areas of high agricultural potential.

In the light of the foregoing, for the sector to contribute its fair share to the country’s economic development, extension agents have major roles to play, as developing agriculture rapidly requires large numbers of agents, who would in turn improve the farmers’ capacity to understand and solve niggling production problems.

But the moribund state of the extension services in the country has become a big challenge to farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, who have been lamenting endlessly, the absence of extension agents to assist them with new technologies and trainings on ways of boosting productivity.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommendations, one extension agent should serve a maximum of 800 farm families, that is a ratio of 1:800 in developing countries.

Even though establishing the current number of extension agents in the country is arduous owing to inaccurate data, Nigeria’s farm families’ ratio falls short of FAO’s recommendation. In fact, it is as high as one extension agent to over 10, 000 farm families.

Olumide Ojo, one of the two project managers of Oxfam’s Pro-Resilience Action (PROACT), which is aimed at improving food security, nutrition and resilience of vulnerable people in Kebbi and Adamawa states, told The Guardian that, “several researches, reports and statistics have established that the average extension ratio of EAs to farmers in the country stands at one extension worker to 5, 000 farmers, that is 1:5, 000). This shows that the country is in dire need of EAs, which presently is grossly inadequate.”

In 2013, the National Agricultural Extension Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), and the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) conducted a research, which analysed five years of ADPs and agricultural field situations, especially extension agents’ ratio to farm families across the states.

The research showed that in 2008, Anambra, Ebonyi and Kwara states had the lowest EAs, with farmers’ ratio of 1:6, 048, 1:6, 046, and 1:4, 025, while Ekiti, Oyo, Enugu and Delta states had the highest ratio of 1:42, 1:500, 1:746 and 1:800 respectively.

In 2009, the survey identified Sokoto, Kwara, Anambra, and Benue as states with the largest farm families per EA with 1:4, 013, 1:3, 843, 1:3, 799, and 1:3, 640, while Oyo, Federal Capital Territory and Delta proved to have the lowest farm families per EA of 1:42, 1:170, and 1:800.

The 2010 survey showed that Anambra, Rivers, Enugu, Cross River, Sokoto and Kwara had 1:9, 409, 1:6, 748, 1:6, 013, 1:4, 458, 1:4, 050 and 1:4, 000 EAs to farm families ratio, while Adamawa and Yobe had 1:1, 000 each.

In 2011, the survey indicated that Anambra, Enugu, and Rivers had the highest EAs per farmers’ ratio with 1:9,407, 1:6,848, 1:4,721 and 1:1,000, respectively, while Oyo, Kano and Kogi had 1:800, 1:844 and 1:1, 000, respectively.

In 2012, it was revealed that Bayelsa, Anambra, Cross River, and Benue States had the highest EA to farmers’ ratio with 1:10, 568, 1:9, 409, 1:4, 721 and 1:4, 000. Oyo State had the lowest of 1:800, while Kogi and Imo states had 1:1,000 each.

Based on the survey, averagely, the EA per farmers’ ratio oscillated between 1:1, 700, 1:2, 132, 1:3, 385, 1:2, 950 and 1:3 ,011 across the country, within the five-year period.

However, The Guardian learnt that between then and now, the population of EAs has further diminished, a development that has further rubbed off on whatever gains the sector made over the years.

For instance, in Kaduna State, an extension officer attends to over 150 villages, and as such finds it difficult to perform his/her duty diligently. With that figure, if each of the villages have at least 40 farmers, it means the EA will be responsible to about 6, 000 farmers.

The state Chairman of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Alhaji Nuhu Aminu said the reality of the situation is that there are no extension agents in the state, adding that government has been feeding the public with lies regarding the availability of extension workers in the state.

Currently, reports claim that Cross River State only boasts 94 EAs attending to over 8, 000 farm families, with the deficit of 200 more to cater for the farmers. With this, the ratio is one agent to 1, 152, (1:5,152) farm families.

The State Programme Manager of ADP, Dr. Chris Ngaji, disclosed to The Guardian that the sector needs about 200 more extension agents in order to reduce the workload on the ones on ground.

The ADP in the erstwhile Plateau State now Plateau/Nasarawa states, had agents spread across all zones of the state, that is Northern Zone, Central Zone and Southern Zone. It had offices with sufficient tractors, adequate manpower and harvesters in the zonal offices in Mangu for the Central Zone; Shendam for the Southern Zone, while the headquarters of the ADP, which remained in Jos, addressed in addition, the interest of the Northern Zone.

Unfortunately, Plateau State currently has only 100 EAs to cater for its 325, 082 farm families, according to a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), with the support of TrustAfrica.

It was reliably learnt that the service, which was responsible for massive production of food in the state in the past, is completely a mirage now, as if it had never existed before.

In Sokoto State, the total number of extension agents and their current ratio to farm families is not readily available. The same goes for Kebbi and Adamawa states, as both don’t have any data on existing EAs operating there.

Interestingly, the recruitment of additional extension agents is becoming imperative because of the growing number of farmers that would benefit from improved agricultural extension services in these states.

The Programme Manager of Sokoto Agricultural Development Project (SADP), Alhaji Abubakar Malami, who admitted the challenge, told The Guardian that the state has completed plans to recruit 300 agricultural extension agents before the end of this year.

The state, which boasts approximately 432, 000 farming households, according to NANTS research, has only 41 extension agents. This translates to one extension agent to 10, 000 (that is 1:10,000) farm families.

Niger State now has about 236 extension agents, which are serving 816, 575 farm families at the ratio of 1:3, 400. The situation in Taraba State is poor as 72 extension agents are serving 288,000 farm families. The ratio there is 1:4, 000.

Katsina and Nasarawa states have 43 and 170 extension agents respectively, but the number of farmers there cannot be authenticated.

To say that extension service delivery in the country is moribund and remains a major impediment to government’s renewed drive to inflate the ailing economy is stating the obvious.

According to experts, some of the negative effects of the dearth of extension agents are, unavailability of early maturing seeds; lack of access to farm implements and machinery; lack of access to inputs; inadequate information on planting; cultivation and processing techniques, and unimproved farming processes due to lack of innovation, among others.

These factors have assumed a daunting dimension, the reason why especially smallholder farmers are complaining bitterly about lack of assistance in the area of technologies and trainings for improved productivity.

Jeftha Bulus, a large scale farmer from Plateau State told The Guardian that he has never set eyes on an extension worker, or received any government assistance in form of tractors, harversters, fertilizer, or insecticide in the past 15 years that he has been actively involved in farming

Abdulrahman Ali Musa, another farmer from Kaduna State, re-echoed Bulus’ position saying he has not come across an extension agent, or received any assistance from government since he took to large-scale farming nine years ago.

HOWEVER, in shedding light on the dwindling number of extension workers, Secretariat President of NANTS, Ken Ukaoha, said one of the major challenges is the absence of agriculture extension service delivery policy at the states’ level. It is these service delivery guidelines that are expected to provide direction and guidelines on the way to achieve an improved extension service.

This, Ukoha said, “has impacted negatively on the way extension management, administration and activities are being implemented.”

He listed others to include, inadequate funding; lack of training and re-training; inadequate staffing; gender imbalance; poor conditions of service; poor staff motivation; poor use and patronage of ICT in extension service delivery; lack of mobility; low level of adoption of technology by farmers; insecurity and crises in rural communities and villages, and lack of inputs/agricultural equipment.

From his point of view, Ojo identifies ageing EAs that are not replaced by young ones; lack of budgetary allocation to replace aged workers; lack of training and retraining of the extension workforce; and unavailability of working tools for those in active service, as challenges facing the system.

Ojo, a chieftain of Oxfam’s PROACT added: “Training and retraining of the EAs is a major debacle in the system. It is sad that the last time the present crop of EAs got any training was about 15 to 20 years ago. Many of them are using their educational knowledge to practise, no wonder the system is in crisis.

“Yesterday’s knowledge cannot take care of today’s problem in agriculture. There is no specifically designed capacity building programme to keep them abreast of new knowledge and innovations. Extension services ought to be delivered at the community level, where there are rural farmers and not at the state level,” he said.

Persistent funding challenge also appears to be a major encumbrance that is bogging down the system, as most of the ADPs are confronted with inadequate funding.

The Guardian understands that this is so because the World Bank’s grant in the form of external credit ceased in 1995, leading to the current paucity of funds experienced in states, which ultimately make it difficult to support the ADPs.

The NANTS report equally noted that the World Bank committed $1.2billion for the ADPs to increase farm production and welfare among smallholder farmers in the country, but both the federal and state governments couldn’t sustain the funding adequately in order to ensure that the ADPs deliver on their mandates.

“The challenge of agricultural financing is deepened by the fact that financial institutions are averse to lending to agriculture because of the perceived risk and uncertainties associated with agribusiness,” the report stated.

One other major challenge is the non-availability of mobility and other tools, to hasten workers’ operations. Considering the fact that mobility and work tools are fundamental to effective extension service delivery, the T&V model of extension service delivery, which is predominant in many places require that extension agents are provided with mobility tools.

For instance, based on their modus operandi-visitation and training, on-field demonstration, dissemination of farming information to farmers, and getting opinions and feedback about issues of serious concern to improve methods of farming- the EAs require means of transportation to achieve these objectives effectively.

But the NANTS report again disclosed that there was no record of motorcycles distributed by government to the agents in some states, while it explained that in Niger State, over 150 motorcycles were allocated to extension agents, in addition to tractors and other farming tools.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, who attested to this, reportedly pointed out that mobility is one of the factors limiting the performance of extension agents.

Consequently, the ministry decided to make provision for the movement of ADP workers in states. This commenced with the distribution of over 300 motorcycles, which are seen as the most efficient means of transportation in rural areas to FCT’s ADP.

Religion, The Guardian learnt, also plays a role in worsening the fortunes of extension services, especially in the North, where in some communities, male extension agents are not permitted to speak to female farmers when it is evident that the area is in deficit of female extension agents.

The Federal Government, it is understood, is not folding its arms, but taking some steps towards remedying the situation. One of these steps is the N-Power Programme, where over 100, 000 graduate youths have been hired to be engaged in agriculture extension and the anchor borrowers scheme, launched through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

But stakeholders are quick to point out that the N-Power intervention might not realise the desired result, considering the fact that the graduates are not exactly answerable to the ADP managements because their salaries are paid by the Federal Government, without any form of monitoring process by the ADPs.

Other than government, private organisations like Oxfam are also lending their support to addressing this lingering challenge. The organisation has established about 70 farm field schools in local councils in Kebbi and Adamawa states. The farm field school is an extension mechanism to bring farmers in contact with EAs at the rural/community level.

Ojo, who is in-charge of the Oxfam’s projects in Kebbi State, said it was established to demonstrate to government that it could restructure the extension service system, using low cost, but highly effective method.

Said he: “Some other international organisations are also doing something similar to this. It is something government needs to adopt to address these challenges. It may make it possible for the country to have an EA/farm families’ ratio of 1:20.

“We have graduates who are serving as extension workers. This is a pool that can be revolved year-in, year-out to provide extension services at a very low cost,” Ojo stated, adding that, “agriculture should not be by lip service, but innovative solution. There are innovative approaches that are cheap, but have high impact in addressing the grossly inadequate number of EAs.”

A Professor of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Prof. Olusegun Apantaku, emphasised farmers’ involvement in agricultural research and extension in order to enhance agricultural productivity and national development.

In his submission at the school’s 57th Inaugural Lecture titled: “The Downplayed Majority in AgResExtension: Imperatives for Enhanced Productivity,” he lamented that the contribution of agriculture to the country’s economy was still far below its potential and expectations, stressing that Participatory Agricultural Research and Extension (PARE) will lead to real agricultural and farmers’ development, sustainability of agricultural innovation and technologies transfer and adoption.

He also called for the institutionalisation of Participatory Agricultural Research (PAR) process, Participatory Agricultural Extension (PAE) process, funding of PARE process, and sourcing of funds for extension services locally.

Other recommendations he gave included motivation of researchers, extension agents and farmers, regular training of researchers and extension workers, ban of quacks and pseudos working as agricultural extension officers, concerted efforts on rural development, youth development and motivation of Community Development Associations (CDAs).