Understanding the usefulness of agricultural extension services in improving bets practices and productivity.
Predating colonial times, subsistence agriculture has been widely practised across the nation. The availability of arable land, favourable tropical temperatures, and abundant and well-distributed rainfall remain strong factors in favour of productive agriculture in Nigeria. However, the growth of the oil and gas industry has negatively impacted the government’s investment in agriculture.
Reviving Nigeria’s Agricultural Sector is Necessary
A productive and well-managed agricultural sector can sustain steady development, both in terms of industry and the economy at large. Agriculture can provide employment and raw materials for industries, provide ample food supplies, and generate foreign exchange for the nation via exports.
Furthermore, agricultural practices offer added benefits to the environment. Such benefits include the preservation of wildlife and biodiversity; land conservation; development of rural areas; as well as meaningful management and renewal of natural resources.
The agricultural sector remains the number one employer of labour in Nigeria. More than 36 percent of the nation’s labour force is engaged in agriculture. Some learned sources put the number as high as 75% of the working populace. Additionally, agriculture contributed an average of 24% to GDP from 2013 to 2019. Given the importance of agriculture to the country’s economy, investment in agricultural education is poor. As agriculture becomes a mainstay of Nigeria’s economy, agricultural education will become a necessity.
Most of Nigeria’s farming is from subsistence or smallholder rural farmers. Accordingly, a lot of farmers may be uneducated or semi-literate at best. The rural nature of Nigeria’s agriculture means that most farmers have little or no access to agricultural extension or advisory services. The Global Food Security Index calculates some indexes to measure investment in agricultural education. They include:
- Access to extension services, which provide advisory services for farmers;
- Community organisation, measuring farmers’ access to associations such as unions, producers’ organisations, or cooperatives;
- A national policy or strategy aimed at empowering women farmers and increasing women’s access to agricultural inputs, and;
- A measure of access to agricultural technology, education and resources.
The only time Nigeria outperforms the global average is in empowering women farmers.
The Scope of Agricultural Education
Agricultural education involves the teaching and training of students and farmers in agriculture, land management, and natural resources. Agricultural education is an applied science, whose study is intertwined with Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and business management principles. As such, the scope of agricultural education covers the following fields: animal science, crop science, soil science, agricultural economics, agricultural extension services, agricultural engineering, and agronomy.
Agricultural education is incorporated into mainstream education right from primary school to tertiary level. It has helped to provide the necessary skills and manpower in various aspects of agriculture, from crop farming to animal husbandry, food processing to preservation and marketing. Depending on the extent of education, one may learn about research techniques, accessing agricultural finance, ecology and geography, policies/regulations, and managing large farms. Specialized workers in the agricultural sector include veterinary doctors, agricultural engineers, teachers, extension officers, animal health technologists, and field assistants.
We must look outside of the school system for agricultural education. Extension services can drive agricultural education in rural communities, by directly instructing farmers on techniques and best practices. These can be achieved through adult education, extension education, and rural and state agricultural development programs. It may also reduce the mass movement of educated folks from rural communities to the cities, with more people being alerted to the possibilities that lie in agriculture. Through agricultural education, notable improvements in the quality of labour and outputs can be achieved.
Where Agricultural Education is Needed
Nigeria’s agricultural sector has suffered some setbacks over the years. To begin with, outdated methods are still widely practised, most of which are rural and smallholder-based. Many rural farmers still use rudimentary tools and cannot afford mechanization. These practices limit food productivity, as well as land usage.
Additionally, illiteracy levels in rural communities lead to food wastage. Some rural farmers may reject advanced knowledge, change and innovation due to superstition and adherence to age-old cultural practices. The poor food storage techniques and fear of the ensuing waste often force farmers to sell below market prices, restricting growth.
Shortages in water supply and desertification have limited the crops which can be planted in Nigeria's northern region, also driving livestock herders further south. While seeking grazing fields and water for their cattle, these herdsmen have badly infringed on farmlands and clashed violently with farmers. All of these have impeded crop and food productivity. These problems can be solved with education in irrigation techniques and water usage. Education is needed in the application of agricultural inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and pesticides. Poor usage can produce the adverse effect of harming crops or land.
Agricultural Education: Interventions by the Federal Government
The Nigerian government is making attempts to reverse the poor productivity of Nigeria's agricultural sector in recent times. Via the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund), the government entered a partnership with the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and Brazil.
The Federal University of Vicosa in Brazil played host to the signing of the deal, which took place at the First Agricultural Research and Innovation Fellowship for Africa (ARIFA) symposium. The symposium was themed “Pedagogic Retooling Strategy for Africa’s Agricultural Research and Innovation System: Lessons from Brazil”.
As a result of this deal, Nigerian institutions such as TETFund would sponsor indigenous students to Brazil. As such, they would be able to understudy how Brazil used its Agricultural Revolution Policy to prosper its economy to the current stage it has attained. About 120 Nigerian scholars are currently undergoing their Master's and PhD programmes in Brazil through the TETFund sponsorship.
The arrangement is particularly beneficial to Nigeria, owing to similarities between the Brazilian and Nigerian agricultural environments. Both countries have similar climates, crop varieties, and ecology, meaning that crops successfully grown in Brazil can also be cultivated easily in Nigeria and transferred knowledge is highly relevant and applicable.