Agriculture

Cassava production: agencies move to integrate AKILIMO into FG’s extension package

By Akanimo Sampson

Nigeria’s National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS) is locked in talks with the African Cassava Agronomy Initiative (ACAI) project to integrate AKILIMO into the government extension package in the country.

AKILIMO offers a suite of tools and materials for cassava growers, extension workers and organisations that promote improved cassava cultivation practices. The tools are developed by evaluating agronomic technologies in the fields of over 5000 cassava growers in Nigeria and Tanzania.

It combined results with geospatial soil and weather information to train models and predict how cassava will respond to its agronomic technologies. This explains why they claim: We know cassava.

However, NAERLS is one of the 18 national agricultural research institutes (NARIs) under the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. It grew out of the Specialist Services Section of the former Northern Nigeria Ministry of Agriculture to provide a formal link between the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) and the Ministry of Agriculture in 1963 as Research Liaison Section (RLS) to ensure that research results get to farmers in adoptable form.

In 1968, following the dissolution of the regional structure, RLS was transferred to IAR and became known as Extension and Research Liaison Section (ERLS). Consequently, the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) Council, in accordance with Statute 19, separated ERLS from IAR in 1975 and renamed it the Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (AERLS).

Thus, AERLS, became an autonomous Institute within the agricultural complex of the university under the aegies of the then Federal Ministry of Science and Technology (FMST), similar to IAR.

Following the reorganisation of the research institutes by the then Federal Ministry of Science and Technology, a number of changes in the mandates of several research institutes were made in April 1987.

In recognition of its contribution to successful extension and research support services in Northern Nigeria, AERLS earned a national mandate which transformed it to the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS).

To effectively discharge its function of coordinating the overall planning and development of extension liaison activities throughout the country, NAERLS established six zonal offices. These are located in each of the six coordinating research institutes – National Root Crop Research Institute, Umudike; Institute for Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan; National Cereals Research Institute, Badeggi; Lake Chad Research Institute, Maiduguri; Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria.

On the other hand, ACAI is a five-year Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded project in five countries in Africa (Nigeria, Tanzania, DR Congo, Ghana and Kenya) aiming to increase the availability of appropriate and affordable technologies to sustainably improve short and long-term agricultural productivity in cassava in the target countries.

The vision of success of ACAI is to deliver the necessary knowledge base and tools for accessing this knowledge to cassava scaling partners and ultimately farmers in the target countries while instituting the necessary capacity and skills for national system scientists to engage in transformative cassava agronomy.

 NAERLS is responsible for development, collation, evaluation, and dissemination of proven agricultural innovations as well as research on extension methodologies and policy.

As part of NAERLS’s core objectives to adopt the multidisciplinary approach to problem-solving, the integration of AKILIMO tools in extension services in Nigeria will ensure the adoption of effective agronomic recommendations in farming practices.

The IITA-implemented ACAI project developed the AKILIMO decision support tools that provide cassava agronomy recommendations to help cassava farmers optimise their production and income from growing cassava.

The advice covers several use cases such as tailored fertilizer recommendation for cassava, six steps to cassava weed management and the best planting practices, intercropping cassava with sweet potato in Tanzania and maize in Nigeria, scheduling cassava planting and harvesting for sustainable and consistent production of cassava, and optimising the amount and quality of starch in the cassava roots.

NAERLS Assistant Director for Research, Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, Prof. Christogonus K. Daudu, met with ACAI staff, including Christine Kreye, Theresa Ampadu-Boakye, and Thompson Ogunsanmi, to discuss how to integrats AKILIMO into the national extension package.

The integration with NAERLS will involve the Federal Department of Agricultural Extension Services (FDAES) of the federal agriculture ministry.

Prof Daudu says the IITA is interested in working with all AKILIMO use cases and recommendations, pointing out that the agronomy advice for getting the optimum return on investment through intercropping cassava and maize could be a starting point because of an ongoing AGRA-funded project in Niger and Kaduna states.

The overall goal of the project is to catalyse and sustain an inclusive agricultural transformation in Nigeria to increase incomes and improve food security by developing and implementing community-based extension approach to increase crop productivity of maize, rice and soybean.

To develop and implement a private sector-led Extension service to increase maize, rice and soybean crop productivity by smallholder farmers in Niger and Kaduna States.

ACAI and NAERLS also discussed the need for a working group, with members selected from ACAI, NAERLS/FMARD, and NCRI, to review the existing cassava manual and consider how to integrate agronomy advice content from AKILIMO.

More discussion between ACAI and NAERLS included the integration of AKILIMO into the national helpline and NAERLS website to complement an interactive voice response (IVR) system where farmers make direct calls, which NAERLS resource persons physically operate via text messages.

National Farmers Helpline (NFHL) Centre is an agricultural-based Call Centre that provides farmers with a wide variety of agricultural information and advisory services in real-time.

The Centre enables establishment of close linkages and seamless communication mechanism among key stakeholders in the agriculture value chain. The Centre also handles inbound calls, outbound calls and Short Message Services (SMS).

The Centre is located at NAERLS, Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, with regional offices in each of the geo-political zones of the country.

With time, the centre will provide other Value Addition Services as a one stop farmer help Centre.

National Farmers’ Helpline Number: 0813 989 0090

WHY NFHL?

The traditional extension services like physical contact with farmsers cannot meet the demands of millions of farm families in Nigeria.

However, with the growing penetration of mobile telephony across the length and breadth of Nigeria, a phone-based extension delivery system will help bring extension services to millions of Nigerians in real-time.

Bridging the Extension Agents-Farmer ratio, providing information to farmers in all areas of agriculture (best agronomic practices, commodity prices, input suppliers, weather information, etc.), and connecting farmers to extension enlightenment programmes

Other benefits include bridging the knowledge gaps amongst farmers with encompassing experience in extension services, providing linkage to all agricultural stakeholders along the agriculture value chain, and responding to complaints, enquiries and provide feedbacks to all agricultural related issues

FEATURES OF NFHL

Covers the entire country including major mobile network providers, country-wide number, call forwarding facility with on-site experts, provide information to farmers in local languages (Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba), and operates from 8:00am to 4:00pm daily.

Meanwhile, ACAI is discussing the signing of an agreement with NAERLS in conjunction with other government agencies such as FDAES to facilitate collaboration on developing an agronomy knowledge base and the dissemination of AKILIMO tools. 

Long-term plans include working on incorporating fertilizer recommendations and other AKILIMO recommendations in the extension agents’ advisory pack.