Agricultural extension has always been the same in meaning and content in Nigeria, but the application differs depending on the programmes it is meant to feed. By way of definition and for the purpose of this write-up, agricultural extension is defined as the transfer of adaptable and adoptable agricultural technologies to farmers in order to improve their status at their farm-sites without interrupting their farming activities. By extension, it helps the farmers to involve better agricultural skills that will improve the farmers’ return from their agricultural activities. At this point, I will want us to go through some of the agricultural programmes of the 20th century and discuss the major extension outfit put forward under the period.
Since after Nigeria’s independence in 1960, agricultural programmes were seen as developmental programmes until the emergence of the 21st century. During these times, agricultural extension system went through so much evolution and adaptation to solve many farmers’ problems. The first problem among the farming communities, as at that time, was that of subsistence and shifting cultivation among crop-producing farmers and free-range farming among the animal-producing farmers. Cash crop and animal production were rare to come by. Our farmers use very crude implements for farming leading to general low productivity, both on per hectares and per area cultivated. This problem was solved using the introduction of new implements and individual extension outfits. Maize extension agents often carry messages on maize alone and same goes to other crops and animals until gradually, agriculture evolved from total subsistence to partial commercialisation.
Then better implements, fertilizers, insecticides and tractors were adopted for crop farmers and animal farmers used vaccinations and feed formulation. Even at this individual commodity, extension system was still in practice. During these periods, there were so many programmes that each government put on ground that speeds up extension development. During the Yakubu Gowon administration, introduction of new implements and individual extension outfits method was used for agricultural development. This method was up-scaled in 1976 during the Olusegun Obasanjo Operation Feed the Nation (OFN) programme. At this time, civil servants were encouraged to farm, just as farmers. Areas of land were cultivated using tractors at subsidised prices and distributed to civil servants. The slogan “Whatever your Profession, Farm” became popular in the country. During this time, government subsidy became common for farm inputs and fertilizers, among others. Even tractors were given to farmers at a good subsidy rate since agriculture was viewed as a development programme.
This extension development outfit continued during the Shehu Shagari regime because agriculture was still at the subsistence level while importation of other food items were still encouraged. Fertilizers were imported to complement those that were blended in Nigeria to encourage farmers. Rice and maize were also imported alongside milk, sugar and other commodities since production were done at the subsidised level. After the Shehu Shagari regime in 1984, extension took a different dimension. The government of Muhammadu Buhari/Tunde Idi-Agbon started to see agriculture partly as a trade and no longer as a developmental programme. At this time, few individuals were rich enough to buy extension development for their commercial farms. Many privately-own commercial farms rose and these farms were not fully dependent on public extension delivery. By 1987, during the Ibrahim Babangida regime, a new wind of extension development blew over Nigeria. This was called the Unified Extension Delivery System (UEDS). This system became superior to every other extension outfit ever practiced in Nigeria.
UEDS is defined as an extension system whereby a single extension agent carries all the extension technologies to the farmers concerned. Under this system, an extension agent could carry extension messages and technologies on animal production, crop production, fisheries and even nutrition all at once. Farmers on the field now see extension agents as the alpha and omega of farming technologies. This system was first financed by the World Bank and later co-funded by the tripartite governments at federal, state and local levels in the ratio of 50%: 30%: 20%) in the nation. Since independence, the system is rated the best that had ever been practiced towards the rapid development of subsistence and commercial agriculture in Nigeria. This system gives direction and focus to both agricultural development and agricultural commercialisation all at the same time.
How does Unified Extension Delivery System works? Under this system, there is a unity of command. Although, the farmers see extension agents (EA) as the alpha and omega of agriculture, the ‘miracle’ that the EA works is inherent in the ability of some hidden workers. These workers are listed as: Subject Matter Specialists (SMS), Block Extension Supervisors (BES), Block Extension Agents (BEA), Zonal Extension Officer (ZEO) and Zonal Managers (ZM). Working of these five zonal officers normally strengthens the ability of the extension agents. Under the extension dispensation, Kwara State was divided into four geo-climatic zones based on the climatic dispensation of the area. These zones were named with their capitals as follows: Zone A (Kaiama), Zone B (Patigi), Zone C (Shao) and Zone D (Igbaja). A zonal manager administratively manages each zone, which is divided into the block, based on population of farmers to be reached by extension agents.
Moreover, each block is further divided into circles, which defines the operation distance of each extension agent. This means that each extension agent occupies a circle as its functional area of coverage. The determinant of a circle is the population of farmers called farm families. The recommended standard stands at 1:1,000 farm family, meaning that one EA is to service 1,000 farm family within a month. In conclusion, it can be said that as good as this system is, because of paucity of funds, extension delivery had moved to using group dynamics. Further discussions on this will be done at another day as I look forward to sharing my personal professional experience of over 30 years in the area of extension delivery with people.