NIGERIA currently lacks data on the actual population of agriculture extension workers and total number of farmers, an official of Federal Ministry of Agriculture has said.
Frank Satumari, Director, Department of Agriculture and Extension Service in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development disclosed this at the weekend during a meeting organised by ActionAid Nigeria to support women farmers under the aegis of Small Scale Women Farmers Association of Nigeria (SWOFON).
According to him, unlike the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) standard where one farm extension worker is assigned to 800 farmers, one extension agent in Nigeria is meant to work with 5,000 farmers. This, he described as an abnormal situation.
The meeting was organised to examine SWOFON’s access to extension services, inputs during and after the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
Satumari, however, disclosed that the government would give priority to graduates of Agricultural Extension Services in its proposed training for 76, 000 farm extension officers across the nation.
He said a committee set up by the ministry has already recommended to Mohammad Nanono, the Minister of Agriculture on the necessity to increase the population of extension service officers as part of efforts to build farmers capacity to yield better productivity.
“I can assure that during the discussion on how to implement this training, we have made it a priority for a graduate of extension service of agriculture to be given priority before considering any other profession,” he said.
Santumari said 14 million farmers were enumerated through the Growth Enhancement Support scheme (GES) when Akinwumi Adesina was the Minister of Agriculture about five years ago.
This figure, he said, has not been updated since then.
He, however, revealed that the 75, 000 proposed extension service officers including about 100, 000 N-Power Agro beneficiaries would help bridge the deficit.
The Director also hinted that there are 8,000 private extension service workers complementing those from the public service.
Speaking during the meeting, Mohammed Othman, Executive Director, National Agriculture Extension Services (NAES), in his remark, shared similar opinion with Satumari on the low population of extension agents compared to the number of farmers in the country.
Othman said there are only 14, 000 farm extension workers in the country with a ratio of one extension agent to 10, 000 farmers, according to a study on Agricultural Performance Report (APR), 2017/2018 conducted by NAES.
Earlier, Mary Afan, SWOFON President urged the ministry to increase its commitment to supporting women farmers, especially in the area of extension services, interventions in form of grants, tools and other farm inputs.
She said some members of the association in Abuja, Kaduna, Gombe, Oyo and Kogi states have benefited from the ministry’s support, noting that other states are also waiting to benefit.
“In Plateau, the commissioner just announced plans to commence distribution of agric inputs but they are yet to start,” she added.
Ene Obi, Country Director of ActionAid advocated need for the government to release more funding to the ministry stating that the amount approved is not what is eventually released for project executions.
Obi, who emphasised that 75 per cent of farmers in the country live in rural areas, called for regular capacity building for the extension workers.
“Federal Government should recruit more qualified extension workers urgently,” she said stressing that it was difficult to determine actual allocation for agriculture extensions from the ministry’s budget.
“The service conditions of extension workers require a review. Make the service attractive, especially now that youths are asked to embrace agriculture like the N-Agro.”
She urged the ministry to partner with the state governments to develop the sector and ensure the extension service officers are Information Communication Technology complaint.
Farm extension officer is an agriculturist who shares latest information on better farm practice with rural farmers in order to help improve efficiency, reduce the cost of production, pest infestation, guide the farmers on the right use of farm inputs such as machinery, pesticides, herbicides in overall attempt to boost farm yields.