Promoting agric extension…and making the farmer proud

By Godwin Atser
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Extension programs in Nigeria have proven successful in boosting food production, raising incomes, and making farmers proud, but the inability of the government to sustain such programs has sparked calls for reforms in the extension policy framework.

Farmers say lack of continuity hurts productivity, incomes, and livelihoods.

“For example, access to farm inputs, such as improved varieties, herbicides, and fertilizers has been limited and advisory services are getting scarce by the day since scientists from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) completed its project and left,” says farmer Ibrahim Maina-Hari, a 65-year-old leader of a community farmer group in the drought-prone region of Borno State.

But three years ago, Maina-Hari was able to more than double his yield. His income skyrocketed amid bountiful harvests, thanks in most part to the participatory rural extension approach (PREA) which was implemented by IITA and other partners that brought innovations to his door steps, through the project Promoting Sustainable Agriculture in Borno (PROSAB).

"The program made me proud because the money I made from my cowpea farm alone helped me to pay for my children's school fees and to take care of my sick wife," he says.

The PREA involved farmers and researchers working together and carrying out participatory trials of varieties and technologies using enhanced farm management practices. Researchers also helped farmers by linking them to markets.

Like Maina-Hari, several other farmers benefited from the PREA approach with poverty dropping by 14% and incomes rising by as much as 81% among participating farmers, according to Dr Alpha Kamara, IITA Systems Agronomist.

Scientists who worked on the project, funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), say the success of the project was evident with yields rising by 220% for maize, 100% for cowpea, 50% for sorghum, and 70% for groundnuts.

On the whole, more than three-quarters of the farmers' groups that used some or all of the recommendations reported that their harvests more than doubled, while significant increases in availability of food (94%) and enhanced nutrition among children (86%) were also noted.

However, since the 5-year project ended in 2009, little has been done to scale up or scale out this approach.

Like its cousin, the Agricultural Development Program (ADP)—a program-packaged approach—was also abandoned in the 80s after funding by the World Bank dried up.

In spite of its limitations such as the top-down approach and its demotivated, dispirited and, in some cases, not-well-trained workforce, the ADP was—and arguably still is—the most enduring public system of agricultural extension in the country. While the World Bank loan facility lasted, the ADP, which was then replicated in every state of the country, recorded significant achievements. Things, however, took a downturn with the withdrawal of the bank funding.

Prof. Michael Madukwe, in his inaugural lecture organized by the National Universities Commission, notes that extension, although a cornerstone of agricultural development, has not been accorded priority nor recognized for its role in transforming agriculture in Nigeria.

There have been calls to restructure the ministry and give more autonomy to the extension service, but such calls have been resisted for fear of loss of influence, Madukwe says.

Consequently, extension in Nigeria has been bugged with a myriad of other problems such as lack of competent staff, weak linkages with the research sector, poor staff mobility, and little financial support.

Top officials in the Ministry of Agriculture say that extension issues are being addressed. “We have already set up a committee to look into the issue of policy for extension because of its importance to agricultural development,” said one official who wants to remain unnamed.

External funding to the rescue
The neglect of extension by the country's Ministry of Agriculture has earned the sympathy of external development agencies, in most cases prompting their intervention.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Bank are but a few of these concerned development organizations. In recent times, some of the more notable extension projects included IITA's CIDA-funded PROSAB, Sasakawa Global 2000, the Special Program on Food Security (SPFS), and the National Fadama Project.

These initiatives have been effective short-term measures but the reliance on international agencies has proven to be unsustainable in the long run, especially when the funding ends. Another concern from external funding has been that of staff instability within the institutions, according to a research paper titled "Learning from Experience: Potato Innovation Systems and Participatory Research".

In most cases, staff work under short-term contracts, which do not ensure sustainability of activities or motivate staff interest.

In the ADPs and ministries in Nigeria, changes in administration, policies, procedures, and funding are common after each election and often do not ensure continuity of extension activities.

Rethinking funding for extension
With the current system of funding becoming unsustainable by the day, extension practitioners in Nigeria have to look elsewhere for sustainable funding options, says Prof. Bankole Ogunbameru of the Department of Agricultural Economics & Extension, University of Maiduguri, Nigeria.

He notes that extension service organizations should first and foremost look inward to generate funds.

His views provide some food for thought as stakeholders gather in Nairobi for the confab on Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services on 15–18 November to forge a way forward for the extension sector.

According to Ogunbameru, the extension system should begin to develop new revenue-generating mechanisms and motivate farmers to bear some of the service costs such as accommodation for extension agents and payment of mobility allowance.

The sector should also consider establishing commercial enterprises such as commercial farming, tractor hiring, sales of production inputs, and direct engagement in agroprocessing.

Other alternative funding alternatives worthy of consideration are:

Establishment of an independent directorate of agricultural extension at the national level that will give the sector, among others, financial autonomy.

Establishment of an endowment fund (Agricultural Extension Foundation) to provide a more stable source of funding. Such a Foundation could attract funding from donors, government, or individuals.

Establishment of Extension Tax Fund that would attract funds from levies on agricultural commodities and

Direct payment by extension client for services provided by the public extension organization.

There is also the need to shift some of the costs of extension to farmers in the spirit of participatory extension.

More than funding and training
But more than funding and training, the lack of a realistic policy or an unstable policy framework for charting the mission of the extension system requires urgent attention. The policy framework should address issues such as lack of agreement on the functions of extension, the clientele to be served, how extension will be financed, frequent changes in organizational structure and program priorities, rapid turnover of the extension staff, and the proliferation and lack of coordination between different organizations that undertake extension work.

This position is being supported by the FAO's Global Consultation on Agricultural Extension that recommended that "all national governments should develop and periodically review their agricultural extension policy. This policy should include the goals of agricultural extension, the responsible agencies and personnel, the clientele to be served, the broad programmatic areas to be addressed, and other relevant guidelines."

The road ahead
Prof. Ademola Ladele of the Department of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, says that practitioners must rethink the policy framework and the funding options for the extension system and adopt new strategies to move the sector forward.

"One is to embrace approaches that will organize farmers into groups such that they themselves begin to have a voice in the policy affairs of the agriculture sector," he says.

According to him, there is an urgent need to empower local communities in a manner that allows them not only to participate in project implementation but also to hold officials accountable.

Ladele explains that "Extension today is still perceived as a public good and farmers do not pay for services. However, if the private sector is to be involved, services will have to be paid for. So this also boils down to policy."

Indeed, the Nigerian experience is not an isolated case, nor is it unique. Several other developing countries have similar challenging stories. The institution of a viable pan-African framework will help mobilize the potential of extension towards enhancing the broad and complex flow of information and advice in the agri-food sector.

This is the only way to help farmers such as Maina-Hari experience the much-awaited and long-overdue 'African Green Revolution'.

Atser is a Communication Officer (West & Central Africa) with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Ibadan, and a postgraduate student at the University of Ibadan, Ibadan, Nigeria.