Abuja — The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Sabo Nanono, yesterday lamented that lack of extension workers to guide exporters has cost the country massive opportunities in its agricultural exports drive.
Nanono noted Nigeria had also been banned from the exporting its red beans into the European market in the past four years because of the level of chemicals application in the crop, which is considered high for human consumption.
Speaking in Abuja at the opening of a training workshop for extension services agents in the 36 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), the minister argued that these problems would not have arose, if there were enough extension workers to guide the farmers.
He pointed out that for local commodity crops including sesame seeds, soybeans and cassava among several others, to have meaningful export market, extension services must become a priority for the government and private sector.
The minister stated that over the years, extension work had been extremely useful in guiding farmers on how to plant, apply fertilizer, weed as well as time to harvest.
He, however, regretted that this important segment of agriculture had been relegated to the extent that extension workers are currently not available in some states.
He also said that recent census of extension work, which was carried out about three years ago by the government, revealed that only about 16,000 extension workers existed throughout the country, although there are other private extension workers.
Nanono added that the development had serious consequences for agriculture and economic growth.
The minister, however, noted that government has embarked on a programme to increase its extension workers to 75,000 within the next three years.
He said: "The implication of this is that we are way behind the average number of farmers to an extension worker that even our neighbours have gone far ahead of us.
"So, one of the important issues when I came in as minister is extension work. I realised that we are losing a lot not only in direct production but also in post-harvest because we lack enough extension workers to go round."
The minister stressed that key issue for the country remained how to modernise agriculture and to create a platform between the sector and the industrial sector.
Nanono also noted that mechanisation is the way forward in the country's agricultural practice.
He bemoaned the low level of 'tractorisation' in the country, which he put at about seven tractors to 100 square kilometers.
He said: "It's supposed to be 127 tractors to 100 square kilometers. Kenya is the most mechanised country in Africa with 27 tractors per 100 square kilometers."