Nasir Yammama speaks on the best approaches for agricultural extension and meeting the needs of women smallholder farmers in Nigeria.
How do you see the challenge of providing effective agricultural extension in Africa?
Extension faces a great manpower and technology deficit in Africa; the ratio in Nigeria is about one extension agent to about 2,000 farmers, which is outrageous. It is impossible to say we need to get more extension agents because that alone would not solve the problem. The best approach is to leverage on available technologies and new media to be able to deliver extension services – especially those that can provide information and training to farmers.
With the high proliferation of mobile phones in Nigeria, it is important that this technology is stepped up to cover rudimentary extension services. For instance, imagine a farmer who has invested in and applied agrochemicals and then it rains the next day washing them away. A text with the weather forecast would save this farmer much money and effort.
Also, simple things like how to reduce spacing between crops to enhance yields can be communicated via phone calls, voice or SMS messages. So we need to combine mobile technology and human presence to work hand in hand to reach more farmers. Without extension, there is no way we can produce the food that the world needs.
Which innovations and approaches do you feel are best placed to overcome this challenge?
What is needed is to increase the use of available technologies to not only capture information or data, but also to deliver it. In terms of capturing data, new technologies such as drones and satellites should be used. The establishment of call centres is also effective in terms of information delivery and, although this comes with charges – as voice, data and even SMS messages cost money – there are ways to innovate around this to bring costs down. We also need to adapt the financial model so that farmers can afford extension; for example, adding the cost of extension services to the inputs received.
What impact is your company, Verdant, having in providing information services to farmers in Nigeria?
We have built a two-way communication system whereby we send out information to farmers, but they can also request additional information at any time. So far, we have 8,000 active farmers and it is fascinating to know what they ask for. A lot of farmers see the promise in using agricultural data for decision-making, and send requests regarding weather forecasts, finance, and the best technology – ranging from seeds to machinery.
How do you ensure that your services are meeting farmers’ needs and helping women, as well as men?
One of our greatest values as a company is that we try not to be too removed from the farmer. We constantly interact with farmers and have established demonstration farms where they live. Most farmers would only adopt an approach, such as using some agro-chemical or improved seed, after seeing how it performed on another farm. We are also in continuous contact with research agencies which research and develop technologies, such as new seeds and animal husbandry techniques. Our goal is to popularise these new technologies to smallholders. So the most prominent and cost-effective discoveries, especially new seed varieties, are indeed pushed to farmers through Verdant.
We also endeavour to take note of what farmers want, especially in terms of culture and social realities, and we try to provide the services in a manner that can be useful to them for decision-making and improved productivity. We launched a special rice programme in Kano, having encountered a group of 12 women who grow over 35 ha of rice despite constraints like access to inputs, markets and basic infrastructure. We’ve been working with these women, using mobile technologies to help them in their dealings, and telling their stories in order to attract attention around their farming.