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Agricultural extension;  a way forward in Nigeria

Agricultural extension;  a way forward in Nigeria

By Olaoluwa Omolafe, Tunde Ademigoke, Success Nlemchukwu & Femi Ilesanmi
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Agriculture is the application of indigenous and scientific knowledge in the cultivation and production of food for the use of man.

Nigeria is blessed with a large expanse of land, estimated at 91 million hectares, of which 81 million hectares are arable. Agriculture is the reason for the ‘green’ in the flag, and it has played progressive roles, serving as a major source of livelihood to over 75% of the total population.

Looking back in time when agriculture was the main source of income for the economy, government invested in agriculture, which in-turn yielded successfully. Products were locally produced, sold to the populace and exported at affordable prices.

These successes were hinged on agricultural extension workers disseminating useful information to local and commercial farmers, taking useful implements and input to the farmers for their agricultural production and giving the government feedbacks on what should be done for a better production.

Agricultural extension is the transfer and dissemination of useful information from agro-based industries, research institutes and government to farmers for adoption and continuous utilization for a positive yield in agricultural production.

Unlike in the past, government barely funds agricultural extension programmes, and farmers are now lacking modern equipment, improved agricultural input and chemicals, which has eventually led to low agricultural production. This lack of extension funding has created a wide gap between farmers and extension workers, even between farmers and government.

But this should not be so, as agricultural extension workers serve as a source of linkage between farmers and government, that is, the extension workers meet with farmers in order to know their felt-needs and bring the report back to the government. They also give research information and farm input needed by farmers for production.  Extension workers train farmers on ways to access loans and other government facilities. In short, extension workers are the voice and strength of farmers.

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But nowadays, extension workers are encountering several challenges.  These limit their impact in the economy and also reduce the level at which farmers produce locally. The challenges include: Inadequate funding of the system by government, inadequate supply of enough information from research institutes, nepotism among the sector leaders, lack of a training and visit system needed to teach farmers, just to mention a few.

For any nation to increase in the level of agricultural productivity, the extension services sector must never be neglected, because it is the life wire of farmers.

Reacting to this, an agricultural personnel, Mr. Kola Badmus said, “There is no challenge in extension other than governments are not interested agriculture, and agriculture cannot grow without extension.

“The current farmers in Nigeria are the averagely educated ones who need information for them to grow in agriculture, and this information can only be given to them by agricultural extension agents. That is why we need them a lot.”

In his words, “Agriculture cannot grow without agricultural extension. The international recommendation of extension workers to farmers is 1 extension agent to 8 farmers (1:8), but here in this country, we have 1 extension agent to almost 3000 farmers (1:3000), which will be difficult for extension agents to cope.”

Furthermore, he said: “part of the problems of agricultural extension lie in the hands of graduate youths and parents, who neglect to observe opportunities. When graduates in agricultural extension fail to apply the knowledge they have learnt from institution but rather set-up a commercial vehicle business, it is part of the problems we have in agricultural extension.”

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Mr. Kola Badmus couldn’t hide his feelings about the need for agricultural extension agents in Nigeria, as he continues to say, “we need extension so much.”

Akame Samuel, an agricultural extension and communication student, also buttressed his point. According to him, “The impact of extension agents in Nigeria is really reducing drastically, and nothing is being done towards solving the problem. In Nigeria, the extension service is dead, the reason is because there is inadequate fund to power it up,  and the agriculture we are looking into in Nigeria is all this digital farming.

“No one is looking at the linkage system, and nobody cares for the farmers again. Before this can be solved, you have to address the linkage into the agricultural system. The linkage is having fault and these faults come from the federal government.

Added to this, he said, “looking at it critically, one of the most relevant courses abroad and quite a number of countries within Africa is the ‘extension service’. The more reason for this is because some of these African countries see their farmers as the most relevant and dedicated people in the economy. So, what can extension do? Extension is having a lot to do and the only way you can have the relevance of extension in Nigeria is when it can be privatized.

“People don’t really value the extension service because they don’t see the importance in it, but when you sit down and look at things intrinsically, you will see that extension services are having work to do.

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“Now, how can extension be reactivated in Nigeria? The first thing is public awareness, sensitization of Nigerians, empowering the Agricultural Development Project (ADP) and also through the non-governmental organisations.”

Finally, he said “To be frank, government can’t effect any change right now, because no one is really looking into it again. So when we have the NGOs that welcome investors and can bring about awareness to the government, then the government will know that the NGOs are doing something, and it will also see the need to do something on it too. So I think the NGOs are one of the people who can effect changes.”

Muyiwa Oluwademilade, an agricultural extension and communication student, also shared his views, saying, “first of all, there needs to be a re-evaluation of the policies that bind extension services. The existing policies do not fit into an evolving agricultural society, and as such limit the extension officer

“The major problems faced by extension officers are inadequate finance and personnel. This limits the level of work that an extension officer is meant to carry out. The agricultural sector can record major milestones with the utilization of extension offices if the necessary factors are taken into consideration.”

Sometime ago, the students of agricultural extension and communication technology visited Kolawole/Obada community, a village located in Ondo State, for the purpose of field extension work. Farmers and villagers were joyous to have this set of agricultural students amidst them.

On this visit, farmers were met and followed to their various farms so as to know their ways of farm practice and give vital information where necessary, as this is the purpose of their calling.

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