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How private extension services can improve farming

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In Nigeria as in many African countries, agricultural extension and advisory services are not available to smallholder farmers. This has denied them the opportunity to learn and apply efficient agronomic practices to improve productivity and increase food security. But now, there is a private sector response, DANIEL ESSIET reports.

 

Transforming Nigeria’s agriculture into a high-growth sector is essential for the country to speed up recovery, poverty reduction and inclusive growth.

Realising this vision, however, would require more efforts by stakeholders given that the government’s vision for agriculture and thrust for diversification are being challenged by inadequate extension system and facilities.

True, the agricultural extension and advisory services sector has not delivered adequately the knowledge and tools farmers need to increase their yields. This is, particularly, true for small-scale farmers.

Stakeholders, noting the insufficient number of extension workers, are advocating a paradigm shift to meet opportunities, raise farmers’ incomes and ensure food security.

Inadequate and ineffective agricultural services, such as access to farm input and extension services, which are imperatives for increasing the production of the cash crop, have equally been a challenge.

Last May, the Federal Government agreed to increase agricultural extension workforce to 75, 000, along various value chains towards efficient food production and self-sufficiency in line with global best practices.

The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mohammad Nanono, stated this while kick-starting the training of extension agents in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which is holding in the 37 headquarters of the Agricultural Development Projects(ADPs).

Nanono, who expressed worry over the declining fortunes of the agricultural extension system, traced the problem to decreased funding, policy changes, reduced manpower and lack of interest of youths in agricultural entrepreneurship, which had adversely affected food production and exposed the country to the dangers of unemployment, youth restiveness, and economic instability.

He said: “At the inception of this administration, a special committee on the Revitalisation of Agricultural Extension Service in Nigeria was constituted to, among others, recommend appropriate institutional structures, arrangements and capacity building for the delivery of effective and efficient pluralistic agricultural extension and advisory services in Nigeria using globally acceptable approaches and platforms.

“One of the key recommendations was to build the capacity of youths and practitioners in agricultural extension delivery system, exposing and equipping them with best global practices and tools to enable them to deliver with efficiency.

“We are taking off in Abuja and all other states in the federation will do the same and they will continue until we achieve our target of 75,000 extension workers over a period of three years.

“We are already at 45,000 extension workers both government and the private. And I think our target is achievable.”

Though the Federal Government has demonstrated the will to increase extension services to help smallholders, lack of funds means that reach is limited. Interestingly, the private sector is delivering these services, complementing the government’s efforts in many countries.

An example is the OCP Fertiliser Nigeria’s work with farmers.

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Its agribusiness-based advisory services take various approaches and are built around lots of different models. One of them is the Farm&Fortune Hub, a one-stop shop service, that enables farmers to find solutions for their challenges.

The Farm&Fortune Hub also connects farmers to information, resources, markets, and financial services.

They are placed in major farming belts in the country, where farmers can obtain input as well as receive technical training and advice, access services such as credit and benefit from help with marketing. To ensure that farmers in underserved markets have access to fertiliser and other quality input, OCP Africa is establishing 36 one-stop-shop Farm&Fortune Hubs across 13 states.

Speaking during the training of agro promoters, on the operations of its Farm&Fortune Hub model in Abuja, the Country Manager, OCP Africa Fertiliser Nigeria, Mr Caleb Usoh, noted that the company intended to create an advisory services and farmer training outlet around a model commercial farm.

Already, the company has strengthened its extension service outreach with television and radio programmes to increase the reach of agricultural information, and improve the adoption of good farming practices.

Agro promoters operating the hubs are equipped with computer tablets to reach more farmers with a bundle of agribusiness services and personalised mentoring.

His words: “We are proving a platform that provides well-managed farmer and farm data and insights into the nature of farmers’ challenges and their solutions. Each shop is licensed to educate farmers and promote better agricultural practices. The hubs retail seeds, fertiliser and pesticides and is well-stocked with/ farm implements, and veterinary supplements./

He explained that the group was ready to support agricultural producers to make businesses more competitive.

Zamfara State farmers are beneficiaries of Farm& Fortune Hubs. They have received specialised training to boost their productivity, and in turn, their income and standard of living.

The Programme Manager, Zamfara Comprehensive Agricultural Revolution Programme( ZACAREP), Alhaji Garba Gayari, said the partnership is  providing a major instrument for development as knowledge is one of the primary input for agricultural growth and increased income for farmers.

His words: “Last year, they trained 3,000 Zamfara farmers.The training had significant impact on the lives of beneficiary farmers. Most of the training zeroed on land preparation, how to plant, planting timing and good agronomic practices. Most of our farmers lack skills.We have 521 extension workers. If you consider the number of farmers we have, you see that one extension worker is catering for 1000 farmers. This is very inadequate with over one million farming families.”

As a result of the training, a lot of farmers have record tremendous results.

He recalled: “Before now, a farmer could not boast of up to 40 bags of maize from an acre. Today, after the training, with fertiliser support, one farmer told me he got 95 bags of maize from one acre. Can you imagine the difference? Some recorded 85, 90 and 70 bags, depending on the geographical location of their farms.”

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The Director-General, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Dr Manzo Maigari, sees Farm& Farm Hub as a commendable intervention that will deliver digital technical support and rural extension services to family farmers to boost output and increase their income.

He said his company has partnered OCP to implement initiatives to reduce rural poverty and promote sustainable development.

He said the hub operators would provide technical information to farmers, advising them about soil preparation, overseeing their production, climate conditions, as well as pest and disease control and management, among others.

A leading agro promoter in Plateau State and Chief Executive Officer, Bennicle Investment Nigeria Limited, Mahwash Benedict, praised the initiative.

He is convinced the hubs will leave its mark on, and spearhead rejuvenation. He is certain that with OCP Fertiliser Nigeria’s support, they can use technological tools to improve the productivity levels of farmers.

The Managing Director, VD& S Farmers Centre, Epe, Lagos, Mrs Folake Aina, sees a huge opportunity to conduct extension work and precision agriculture using communication tools  to reach farmers.

She is enthused by the scale of services the initiative will bring in serving farmers in Lagos.

According to her, the hub infrastructure was sufficient to provide farmers with technical training based on simple technologies.

The Executive Director, Africa Franchise Institute, Chiagozie Nwizu, described OCP’s Farm & Fortune as an appropriate system that will have a positive impact on the agricultural sector.

To increase access to agricultural input for farmers in rural communities, he said the company established the one-stop-shop.

He sees a future where field agents are assisted to understand and analyse farmers’ needs and crop history, create customised farm management plans, deliver agricultural advice, and help farmers procure loans.

For extension services to be of a higher level of quality, OCP Head of Agronomy, Dr Donald Madukwe, maintained that agro promoters need to possess certain skills to enable the transfer of knowledge and services.

The desire to help agro-input promoters at the hubs provide the motivation for the organisation to work with the Africa Franchise Institute to develop a franchise model and support the hub operators  in optimising their performance in the market.

The hub training has inspired Bob Ufomadu and reinforced his conviction that entrepreneurial success depends on dedication and commitment.

Among the many things he learnt how to better manage a farming business.

The benefits to Ufomadu are clear: his income would increase and productivity secured.

Until now, farm advisory services and information for smallholder food crop farmers have been largely government-funded.

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