Relevant bodies and individuals across agricultural value chains in Nigeria met Tuesday and Wednesday in Kano to discuss ways to address food inflation and strengthen Nigeria’s extension systems in order to upscale resilience in food systems in the country.
The experts spoke at the annual stakeholders review workshop themed: “Building Resilient Food Systems in the Face of Rising Demands and Climate Change” organised by the Country Office of Sasakawa Africa Association (SAA).
In his remarks, Nigeria’s SAA Country Director, Godwin Atser, explained that the workshop presented the organisation with an excellent opportunity to meet on a round-table with strategic partners in the agricultural development sector to review program activities in the outgone year and unveil implementation plans for the new year.
He explained that the Association’s landslide achievements were based on the three main pillars of Regenerative Agriculture (RA), Nutrition Sensitive Agriculture (NSA), Market Oriented Agriculture (MOA) with cross cutting component.
“One thing is for our farmers to understand that there is a problem. The good thing is that the problem is evident to every farmer and that is manifesting in several forms, either as drought or floods which has happened in Nigeria recently,” Mr Atser told PREMIUM TIMES on the sideline of the event.
He said there is an existing problem of food inflation and low productivity as opposed to what farmers used to get before and that these are largely driven by the devastating impacts of climate change.
According to the African Seed Access Index (TASAI) 2020, Nigeria has the lowest ratio of agricultural extension workers to farmers in Africa.
The Report ranked Rwanda as the country with the highest ratio of extension workers to farmers, followed by Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso, Zambia and Mali. However, Nigeria is at the bottom of the index, alongside Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya. Nigeria’s performance in 2019, the study year, was still worse than two years earlier.
Over the past decade, Nigeria has struggled to reform its agricultural sector to reduce dependence on crude oil and gas.
In March 2021, the government announced it will hire 75,000 additional extension service workers as part of efforts to increase food production.
The Ministry of Agriculture said there were 14,000 extension officers as of 2019, of which 6,000 were in the public sector and the remaining 8,000 were privately employed.
The government said the country’s agricultural extension system has declined over the years as a result of decreased funding, policy changes, reduced man-power and lack of interest of young people in agricultural entrepreneurship.
In most states where SAA are currently operating, Mr Atser said it was discovered that there is no recruitment of extension workers and they lack capacity building without any form of motivation.
“The extension system in Nigeria and several other African countries is on a downward spiral. The fortunes are dwindling and this is because of lack of motivation,” he said.
During his presentation, Principal investigator at the Innovation Lab for Policy Leadership in Agriculture and Food Security ( PiLAF) at the University of Ibadan, Adegbenga Adekoya, noted that Agricultural Extension has been severally recognised as a veritable tool for working with the grassroot and represent the pathway to reaching rural communities and dwellers.
He said a shock was experienced when the World Bank, the initiator of the Agriculture Development Program (ADP), withdrew their funding across the country.
“Till today, many state ADPs have not been able function as expected,” he said.
Mr Adekoya emphasised that agricultural extension provides the key to achieving food and nutrition security for the country and that it bridges technical and communication gaps between farmers and research while also guiding research to address prevailing problems in agriculture and the value chains.
The professor of Agricultural Extension posited that working with farmers will yield the best result when agricultural extension professionals are engaged, because they have the communication skill, understand famers and their milieu and are experts of the right methods.
“A virile extension system provides the pedestal for healthy growth of the sector,” he added.
On her part, Amina Mustapha, from the Center for Dryland Agriculture at the Bayero University, Kano (BUK), noted that the provision of quality agricultural extension services in Nigeria is constrained by unfavourable staff-to-farmer extension ratio and the poor link between research and extension-farmers.
Mrs Mustapha explained that other factors affecting the delivery of extension services also include; Large area of coverage, lack of implementation of agricultural extension policy, conflicts and insecurity.
The BUK professor of Agriculture Economics and Extension, said the agricultural sector has become riskier because of climate change and emergent outbreaks of disease (COVID 19).
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“It can be inferred from these difficulties that, over the years, the net result has been the failure of the extension service to reach its intended clientele effectively,” she said.
To restore agricultural extension to its expected capacity and performance, the experts spoke on the need to strengthen the extension-farmers link.
On her part, Mrs Mustapha said Nigeria needs to explore digital agriculture extension services.
With this, she explained that credible and beneficial information can be reached to farmers wherever they are.
“Of course there are challenges but these challenges can actually be overcome,” she told PREMIUM TIMES in an interview.
“It is through extension deliveries that farmers would be aware of recent technologies in agriculture which they can adopt and improve their output which would in the long run improve food security in Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, participants expressed grave concern over the extension-farmer ratio (1:10,000) and urged governments to resuscitate the state ADPs towards higher functionality. In addition, they called for a pluralistic extension model involving private-advisory service providers.
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