Participants at a one-day ‘Policy Dialogue On Key Thematic Issues on Agriculture in Nigeria’ held in Abuja have canvassed a six-point measure required to improve the roles of agricultural extension service workers as the country continues to explore options to improve non-oil sector contributions to the GDP but more particularly, ensure food security.

The dialogue, which featured over 50 representatives of farmers’ organizations and networks from across Nigeria, public officers, parliamentary Committee representatives, Non State Actors, media, etc., was organised by the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS) in collaboration with TrustAfrica.

In the paper titled ‘Extension Service Survey: Result Validation’ which was presented at the forum by Godswill Aguiyi of AGRA, the stakeholders validated the report of the survey and its findings that governments at national and sub-national levels were not doing enough to support extension service delivery through adequate funding and policy framework.

Specifically, they particularly highlighted the various issues challenging extension service delivery namely, absence of agricultural extension service delivery policy at the State level with just only Benue State having one which however is not being implemented; and inadequate funding or low budgetary allocation to agriculture extension is not encouraging.

Other challenges identified as constraining efficiency of extension service in the country are, weak human capacity owing to lack of training and re-training; inadequate staffing (wide EAs to farmer ratio, sometimes 1 to 10,000); and gender imbalance among Extension Agents-EAs (FAO states that the ratio of male to female EAs is 72:28).

In addition, the stakeholders identified poor condition of service with some state workers being owed several months of salaries; poor staff motivation in form of remunerations and allowances; lack of mobility for Extension Agents ; poor use and patronage of ICT in extension service delivery; low level of adoption of technology by farmers and insecurity and crises in the villages as hurdles to improved extension service to farmers nationwide.

To address the sundry challenges, participants recommended improved funding by states to extension service delivery through budgetary allocation, particularly by the Government of the States has become imperative as this will enable the ADPs to execute capital projects, carry out training for personnel, engage in distribution of inputs and carry out other activities for the benefit of farmers.

In addition, while blaming the ADP system for its inherent lapses, the participants recommended that the ADP should adopt a business model of generating internal revenue possibly through investment in the intensive distribution of inputs such as seed, farm implements and equipment hiring services, etc.

Specifically, they advised that ADPs could also venture into becoming the center for commercialization and multiplication of improved seeds and seedlings, agricultural equipment hiring, etc. thereby generating incomes rather than waiting for and solely depending on Government with cap in hands.

On the issue of motivation and mobility for the EAs, the stakeholders demanded for improved remuneration packages for the EAs and staff as a way of encouraging them to perform their duties is hereby canvassed.

In addition, they canvassed that where EAs remained far away from their field duty locations, means of mobility such as motorbikes, with possible support/collaboration with other development partners and institutions, should be provided for them as a matter of policy.

This is just as they recommended further that research should be well funded to present to ADPs for onward transmission to the SSFs.

While advocating the need for governments to encourage the recruitment of new and young extension agents into the ADPs to help revitalize the workforce, the participants identified that N-power project, which is a two-year project by the Federal Governments, as a potentially good way to start; noting however, that the limitation of the project is that it will end soon.

On the need for training and supervision of N-Power intakes, the participants agreed that there was the need for training of the already-employed N-power graduate so as to equip them with required skills for extension service delivery.

Their position on the N-Power intakes derived from the fact that many of the N-Power graduates employed by Government were not purely graduates of agriculture discipline or agriculture extension who are supposed to impact on the farmers, describing the situation as an anomaly in a society where there are many graduates from universities and other tertiary institutions of agriculture

Secondly, the participants observed that there was no provision for training of the intakes to equip them on extension service delivery; and that the intakes were being paid directly by the government with little or no supervision or monitoring by the ADP.

The participants described the non-supervision and monitoring of the intakes by the ADP as absolutely wrong as it negated the principle of mentorship and handholding of the intakes to understudy and adapt with roles and responsibilities to the farmers.

The objectives of the lead paper – the NANTS survey on extension service delivery in Nigeria – include the assessment of funding availability, staffing, tools and performance of extension services in the selected states, identifying government and funded programmes for smallholder farmers involving extension services.

Others are, identifying key services being delivered to the farmers through the extension agents in the states, and scoring extension workers performance and proffering recommendations to stakeholders on way to improve extension services delivery to smallholder farmers in the country.

In his keynote address, Prof Seth, highlighted many of the issues presenting challenges to the farmers and agriculture in general in Nigeria, and commended NANTS for taking the bold step in providing the platform for interaction between public sector and Non-State Actors.

He called on government at all levels to listen to the farmers in order to practically address the challenges of food security in the country in a holistic manner.