Re­vive agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices

Weekly Trust - - Views - Mundagi@dai­lytrust.com with M.U Ndagi 08059637394 (SMS only)

Atrip made last week through some agrar­ian com­mu­ni­ties in Niger State and the spec­u­la­tive thoughts that sub­se­quently en­sued promptly re­minded me of the good old days of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices in Nige­ria. Re­ly­ing on the cli­matic pat­terns of this re­gion in ad­di­tion to the cul­ti­va­tion prac­tices among farm­ers, guinea-corn should or­di­nar­ily have at­tained ma­tu­rity by the time the rains are over. This no­tion was, how­ever, de­flated when I re­cently trav­eled through GawuPaiko-La­pai-Agaie road; just about three weeks af­ter the last rain. Many stalks on sev­eral farm­lands have nei­ther grown to ma­tu­rity nor bore any ears of corn.

Al­though I ruled out the propo­si­tion that the rains stopped pre­ma­turely, I thought of few fac­tors that could have led to the sit­u­a­tion. Late plant­ing, poor qual­ity of seeds and ef­fect of dis­eases on plants were some of the rea­sons sug­gested by my mind even though I never had any pro­fes­sional train­ing in soil or crop sci­ence. If any of these fac­tors were plau­si­bly re­spon­si­ble at all, the ser­vices of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers, I felt, could have averted it.

With the in­creased farm­ing ac­tiv­i­ties wit­nessed dur­ing the 2016 and 2017 farm­ing sea­sons, there can be no bet­ter time to re­vive the ser­vices of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers than now. This is with a view to ed­u­cat­ing and rais­ing the pro­duc­tive ca­pac­ity par­tic­u­larly among lo­cal farm­ers. For agri­cul­ture to im­prove in Nige­ria, lo­cal farm­ers must have to be taught value-added farm­ing tech­niques in place of tra­di­tional prac­tices. The friendli­est ap­proach to do­ing this, in my opin­ion, is through agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers. I also do not think it is wise to be spend­ing so much on work­shops and con­fer­ences for agri­cul­tural of­fi­cers with­out ex­tend­ing the gains of such knowl­edge-up­dat­ing ses­sions to farm­ers.

In­creased agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tiv­ity at the ru­ral farm level would, thus, re­quire ba­sic agri­cul­tural ed­u­ca­tion par­tic­u­larly the ex­ten­sion type that will help move mil­lions of farm­ers from out­moded cul­ti­va­tion meth­ods to pro­gres­sive farm­ing sys­tems. The ac­tiv­i­ties of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers are usu­ally pro­grammed to help farm­ers to be aware of and an­a­lyse their present chal­lenges in or­der to find so­lu­tions to them through the prac­ti­cal guide of an agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion of­fi­cer.

An agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion worker has many roles. He is an ad­viser, a tech­ni­cian, a con­sul­tant, a change agent and a con­fi­dante to ev­ery farmer in his area of cov­er­age. He acts as a con­tact man be­tween farm­ers and agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment MDAs. He links farm­ers with agri­cul­tural re­source cen­ters where they can source farm­ing in­puts just as he con­nects farm­ers with fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions that grant credit fa­cil­i­ties for farm­ing.

Agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers also help gov­ern­ment and agri­cul­tural re­search in­sti­tutes to im­ple­ment agri­cul­tural poli­cies as they re­late to in­no­va­tions in plow­ing, plant­ing, weed­ing and har­vest­ing of crops. Through agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices, farm­ers learn the best ways to store and pre­serve farm pro­duce. Agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion of­fi­cers also ex­pose farm­ers to va­ri­eties of seeds in­clud­ing hy­brid. These farmer ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties add up to raise the living stan­dard of farm­ers. This is why agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices have re­mained one of the crit­i­cal strate­gies for ru­ral de­vel­op­ment in many coun­tries of the world.

I grew up to ap­pre­ci­ate agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion work­ers and their ser­vices be­cause my late el­der brother, Malam Ibrahim Ndagi, worked and re­tired as an agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion worker. As a young boy, I liked pic­tures which got me at­tracted to him be­cause I used to see him with posters that car­ried pic­to­rial sketches and in­scrip­tions in Nupe lan­guage. The posters were meant to ed­u­cate farm­ers on plant­ing meth­ods, fer­tiliser ap­pli­ca­tion, har­vest­ing tech­niques, seed preser­va­tion as well as ap­pli­ca­tion of pes­ti­cide to crops. The posters were pro­duced and sup­plied at that time by the Na­tional Agri­cul­tural Ex­ten­sion Re­search and Li­ai­son Ser­vices (NAERLS) of the Ah­madu Bello Uni­ver­sity, Zaria.

As an ex­ten­sion of­fi­cer, my brother lived in the ru­ral farm­ing com­mu­nity of Sallawu, a vil­lage that is about 10 kilo­me­ters along AgaieKatcha road in Niger state. Be­tween 1972 and 1974, our fa­ther would ask me to ride on my small bi­cy­cle to take ev­ery of­fi­cial let­ter that came from the Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, Minna (the then head­quar­ters of Niger Prov­ince) to hm. I once took such a let­ter (an in­vi­ta­tion to at­tend one-month train­ing) to my brother and so he de­cided to re­turn to Agaie with his wife on his white-painted bi­cy­cle. About three kilo­me­ters on our way back; his bi­cy­cle had a flat tyre. One kilo­me­ter fur­ther into our jour­ney, my bi­cy­cle chain also cut.

My brother had a demon­stra­tion farm at the vil­lage. I went to the farm with him on the few oc­ca­sions that I spent some days with him there. He used it for giv­ing farm­ers prac­ti­cal field demon­stra­tions of ap­pro­pri­ate im­proved tech­niques. The col­lapse of Agri­cul­tural De­vel­op­ment Projects (ADPs) in many states and the Project Co­or­di­nat­ing Unit (PCU) of the Fed­eral Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture and Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment saw the eclipse of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices in many parts of Nige­ria.

Agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vice (or farmer ed­u­ca­tion) is an ed­uca­tive and in­for­ma­tive sys­tem through which farm­ers are as­sisted to im­prove upon their farm­ing meth­ods and tech­niques with a view to in­creas­ing pro­duc­tion and in­come. This is usu­ally achieved through or­ga­nized ex­change of in­for­ma­tion and de­lib­er­ate trans­fer of skills from trained agri­cul­tural of­fi­cers to ru­ral farm­ers. Ex­perts in agri­cul­ture re­gard agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion as a process of in­te­grat­ing in­dige­nous and de­rived knowl­edge, at­ti­tudes and skills, to de­ter­mine what is needed, how it can be achieved, what lo­cal co-op­er­a­tion and re­sources can be mo­bi­lized to over­come par­tic­u­lar ob­sta­cles.

The rel­e­vance of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion in the de­vel­op­ment of agri­cul­ture in Nige­ria and else­where can­not be over-em­pha­sised. The erad­i­ca­tion of agri­cul­tural de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges can sig­nif­i­cantly be achieved through ex­ten­sion ser­vice ap­proach if the role of ex­ten­sion work­ers is prop­erly con­ceived and ef­fec­tively ad­min­is­tered. As we rec­om­mend its re­vival, we also sug­gest that the re­newed agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices should (if pos­si­ble) be ex­panded to cover women in agri­cul­ture, ir­ri­ga­tion as well as pro­duce pro­cess­ing and mar­ket­ing.

To en­sure sus­tain­abil­ity of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices, the wel­fare of ex­ten­sion work­ers must be catered for. Field ex­ten­sion should be made at­trac­tive so that youths will be will­ing to make ca­reer and living out of it. Agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices could be com­mer­cial­ized to guar­an­tee their sur­vival. May Al­lah (SWT) guide gov­ern­ment at state and lo­cal lev­els to prac­ti­cally sup­port the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of agri­cul­tural ex­ten­sion ser­vices, amin.

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