Breakthrough with Prof. MK Othman-Re: World Food Day: Food Security, Innovations and Challenges in Nigeria

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My 2-series article with above caption was published on 18th and 25th to commemorate the 2017 World Food Day, which is marked every 16th of October each year.
World Food Day (WFD) is celebrated every year around the world in honor of the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which was established in 1945. The day is celebrated widely by many other organizations concerned with food security, including the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
The article was written to reflect the precarious situation of food security in Nigeria, the efforts by stakeholders and mounting challenges the nation is facing to address the food security issues.  Readers can access the article via; https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4040876004067686701#editor/target=post;postID=2570734917613774893;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=10;src=postname.
One of the ardent readers of this Column identified a quick and viable solution to the food insecurity in Nigeria. The Reader is Dr. Rabe Isa Mani, the former Deputy Country Representative to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Nigeria.
Dr. Mani is a season technocrat with vast experience in agricultural development projects nationally and internationally. He is retired, certainly not tired and ever ready to make contributions for the development of Agriculture in Nigeria.  
“Agricultural extension is the driver of knowledge and innovation in the Nigeria Agricultural Value Chain” Dr. Mani posited, which could address the precarious challenges the food security is facing in Nigeria. Dr. Mani was a keynote speaker at the National Extension Review and Planning Meeting held on 28th November 2017 at NAERLS, ABU Zaria. I am sharing the abridged version of the Mani’s lecture with my esteemed readers with the hope that the message will come across those who can use it to make this country achieve food security sooner than later. Happy reading

  “In the 1970s and 1980s, the development of Agriculture in Nigeria went through the “Programme” phase that tried to refocus the national priority to increased food production for self-sufficiency and food security. Prominent amongst these Programmes were ‘The National Accelerated Food Production Program (NAFPP)’, ‘Operation Feed the Nation (OFN)’, ‘The Green Revolution’, ‘The Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs)’ and ‘National Programme for Food Security (NPFS)’.

These Programmes had varying levels of success and shortcomings, but the common denominator was that their achievements were all directly and positively correlated to the level and efficiency of their agricultural extension components. It is on record that significant improvements were recorded when the extension components of the Programmes were well catered for.
This is also evident by the fact that their impact could not be sustained because the desired level of change by the beneficiaries (in almost all cases, the primary producers) was not attained. In simple terms, the level of adoption of the promoted technologies (e.g. new seed varieties, fertilizer rate and application methods, agronomic practices, use of herbicides and pesticides) remained low.
Consequently, 42 years after the first ADP projects (in 1975), farmers are still battling with the adoption of basic practices such as optimal spacing and technologies like improved seed varieties, type and rate of fertilizer application, etc.
Like the ADP Programmes, River Basin Development Authorities (RBDA) were set up to provide catalytic and strategic support to agricultural development by bringing together the main factors of agricultural production, land, water, labour in sync with each other.
The extension also provided the link that made the RBDAs succeed during their twilight days by providing the required farmer skills development and technology promotion. When the RBDAs were re-structured, extension became “orphaned”. Although the water management reverted to FMARW, the land was left to the beneficiaries; extension was left in limbo because not all the agricultural extension staff under the RBDAs (which is an FG Institution) were absorbed by the State ADPs where the dams are located.
By far, the most enduring of the Government interventions in agricultural development has been the Agricultural Development Projects (ADPs). From the 1975 pilot projects in Funtua, Gombe and Gusau, each state has currently acquired one ADP. With World Bank funding support and adequate counterpart funding, the ADPs functioned as effective extension arms of the state Ministries of Agriculture. However, with the exhaustion of the WB support, most states could not support the extension activities of their ADPs.
Hence, lack of mobility, low or non-payment of travelling allowances and vehicle maintenance seriously took its toll on the Training and Visit (T&V), which is the pivot of the ADP extension system. The first casualty was fewer visits and contacts to and with the farmers, next was the abolishment of the Fortnightly Review Meetings, then, MTRMs became quarterly, half yearly, and now have ceased to hold in many states.
The embargo on employment especially at the lower and technical level for many years meant that new and replacement Extension Agents were not engaged. Those in service continued to progress in their career progression to Officer and Management levels becoming detached from the farms. Hence, the low ratio of extension agent to the farmer became even wider. This is the historical perspective of the extension system in Nigeria. What is the Current Practice and Modified Approach?
Yes, agricultural extension is still the driver, primarily because no alternative has been found; and the fact is, there is no better alternative. Consequently, in spite of the shortcomings and challenges faced by the ADPs, they remain the public institutions to reach the farmers with extension messages, new technologies, skills development and farmer capacity building. Recently, some states have established Songhai Centres to promote training, skills acquisition and technology dissemination. However, without the village or cell extension agents, the technologies and products of the Songhai Centres have so far very limited exposure to public and uptake.
It is in recognition of the relevance and capacities available in the ADPs that most Development Partner Projects are either implemented through the ADPs or they rely on the staff of the ADPs to execute the field activities. This partnership has evolved and to some extent addressed some of the challenges of ADPs thus, enabling technologies and extension messages to reach the beneficiaries. However, this development created its own challenges.

  1. Development projects have a lifespan and are location bound. Hence, they need to be up-scaled to make the state-wide impact. Thus limiting sustainability and area coverage.
  2. Depending on the focus of the projects and level of funding, some staffs end up being more engaged than others. This comes at the expense of systemic approach involving all staff at different levels of hierarchy and discipline. This also limits state-wide coverage.
  3. Some ADPs end up playing the partners against each other by deploying qualified staff to one and less competent to the other.
  4. There are possibilities of double reporting of projects results funded by different organizations.

Consequently, there is a scenario of ADPs existence in most states by name whose functions have become limited when not supported by a Project. The FMARD has set up its own Department of Extension and deployed staff to states.
Commercial farmers, who can afford, engage consultants and technical advisors while the majority of farmers who are resource-poor just sweat it out. In the process, there are different kinds of independent extension “outfits” “advisors” “specialists” operating across the states. It is high time that the FMARD comes up with standards and regulatory mechanism for such practitioners and get them properly integrated into the national system.
What is the Future of extension in Nigeria and its Challenges? The Future role of extension as a tool to drive knowledge and innovation in the Nigeria agricultural value chain certain as it may sound unfortunate will not be as obvious.
This is because, over the years, the number and types of the “vehicle” have changed. Much of the focus of extension has been at the production end and now the emphasis is being placed on the whole agricultural value chain, so the demand and type of extension interventions will have to change.
Should agricultural extension apply itself to the whole value chain or should it curve a niche and expect others to take responsibility for other areas? Take for instance the issue of food safety and hygiene, where does agricultural extension draw the line in the case of saying cowpea that was sprayed with pesticides, at the farm gate after harvest, at storage, at market retail level or at the household when the beans are being cooked?” (To be continued next week)

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