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‘We must drive extension services as business’

How important is extension services to the nation’s agriculture? If we are thinking of diversifying the nation’s agriculture to a level we want it, then…

How important is extension services to the nation’s agriculture?
If we are thinking of diversifying the nation’s agriculture to a level we want it, then extension is the key. Extension is the key because most of the people that participate in the country’s agriculture are smallholder farmers. These smallholders’ farmers have a lot of constraints around them – constraint about adopting best agricultural practices, constraint of understanding how to do agriculture as a business among others. So when you have a platform that extends the knowledge of how to do these things in line with best practices, that can drive business enterprise, then the only structure that can do it effectively is agricultural extension.

How does agricultural extension do that?
Agricultural extension does it in three basic methods. One: There is the technology transfer. Agriculture is a science and a sector that is improving over time based on the fact that there is increase in the human population, and there’s the need for people to be fed alongside that. Industries are growing and they need raw materials. So there are constant technology development activities that are going on in that sector. If those technology development activities are achieved, the only way the smallholder farmers can have idea of what has happened over time in the research institutes is through technology transfer. So extension delivers those technology improvements to the farmers.
Two: The human capital development itself; because the smallholder farmers were mostly not exposed to the conventional schools that we have today, either because they were not privileged or opportune to do that. But the agricultural extension agent helps them develop the capacity. So you’re looking at two fundamental issues – transfer of technology and human development capital.
Three: Through extension, facilitation activities can be driven on that platform. What do I mean by that? Today, a farmer is looking for where to take his grains, if there are active extension activities, that structure can facilitate for him to access that output market and also help him to increase equity in his investment, by sourcing for credit. If you have active extension services, it helps the farmer to access the kind of equity he needs. So extension is very key in the life of a farmer. So if we want to take agriculture to a level where we want it to be, then these key fundamentals are not something we can overlook.

What are the challenges of effective agricultural extension service delivery system in Nigeria today?
One of the problems is that the extension agent-farmers ratio is not there. Today we don’t have enough extension workers that can even reach the standard extension delivery system. There is a standard – in most cases, we say one extension worker to 250 farmers, but today that is not there. There are states today that do not have up to 17 extension workers and they have up to 700,000 to 800,000 farmers in their jurisdiction, which is a big challenge itself.
So there is the need for us to increase on that ratio. Two, even if the extension workers are there today, they are poorly trained. They don’t get the training they need to get. Like I said, if the extension workers have to play those elements we talked about earlier – technology transfer, facilitation and human capital development, they need to be trained. Today all that training is not happening in the rural areas.
Thirdly, there is the issue of poor funding. If you want an extension agent to move from one place to another, you have to provide the structure for him to be able to do that.
The worst of all is that research institutes and extension agents are working apart. The research institute today will develop a technology, and there is a link completely missing between the research institutes and extension workers. So who will transfer the technology to the farmers – that is a huge problem.

In view of lean resources at government disposal today, how can the authorities drive extension activities?
I will always say that agriculture should be a business. If government is looking to drive that sector as a business, then we should also by now be putting infrastructure that will also drive all the parameters of agriculture as a business. We can only achieve that if government also drives extension as business. They do it in so many countries. The truth of the matter is that resources will continuously be a constraint in the present situation that we are in today. 
So if the government is constrained with that, then, the other alternative that we have today is to drive extension as a business. The most critical thing is that the right infrastructure to drive extension as a business must be put in place.

What is Notore doing in the area of extension services?
For Notore, when we came on board, we noticed that extension structure had completely collapsed. You cannot drive the green revolution which Notore preaches today without extension services. So the only way for us to do it is through extension services. So what do we do in Notore? We now decided to say that in most of the agricultural communities today, we have people that have some level of education – some have primary school education, some secondary school and some even diploma in the rural areas.
We first of all identified opportunities where you can drive this kind of structure. We now decided that if that is case, we will use the structure and the opportunity that is available to drive a sustainable extension structure. So we identified, mobilized and trained the people that we think can play this part. And when we trained them, we called them village promoters.

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