Currently, Nigeria is one of those in sub-Sahara Africa with food-deficit, mainly due to her exploding population, which is in the region of 200 million people. Also, thousands of refugees displaced by Boko Haram insurgents in the North are vulnerable to starvation, as confirmed by the reported number of deaths. However, despite the Federal Government’s much-hyped diversification of the economy, in which agriculture is expected to play a critical role, the sector is still plagued by a series of challenges, chief of which is the dearth of extension workers/agents.
Currently, agriculture extension services in the country are being delivered mainly through Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs), which are state institutions saddled with the mandate of raising agricultural production and improving rural livelihoods through extension services. Effectively, ADPs serve as extension arms of state ministries of agriculture. But the moribund state of the extension services in the country has become a big challenge to farmers, particularly smallholder farmers, who have been lamenting endlessly, the absence of extension agents to assist them with new technologies and training on ways of boosting productivity.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recommendations, one extension agent should serve a maximum of 800 farm families that is a ratio of 1:800 in developing countries. Even though establishing the current number of extension agents in the country is arduous owing to inaccurate data, Nigeria’s farm families’ ratio falls short of FAO’s recommendation. In fact, it is as high as one extension agent to over 10, 000 farm families.
Olumide Ojo, one of the two project managers of Oxfam’s Pro-Resilience Action (PROACT), which is aimed at improving food security, nutrition and resilience of vulnerable people in Kebbi and Adamawa states, said that, “several kinds of research, reports, and statistics have established that the average extension ratio of EAs to farmers in the country stands at one extension worker to 5, 000 farmers, that is 1:5, 000). This shows that the country is in dire need of EAs, which presently is grossly inadequate.”
Ojo, also said, “Training and retraining of the EAs is a major debacle in the system. It is sad that the last time the present crop of EAs got any training was about 15 to 20 years ago. Many of them are using their educational knowledge to practice, no wonder the system is in crisis.
Persistent funding challenge also appears to be a major encumbrance that is bogging down the system, as most of the ADPs are confronted with inadequate funding.