The role agricultural extension in poverty reduction

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Introduction

Agriculture is the main source of income for around 2.5 billion people in the developing world. It remains the backbone of many African economies, accounting for 57 percent of total employment, 17 percent of GDP and 11 percent of export earnings on the continent (World Bank, 2008).

 In Nigeria, the sector contributed 34.5 percent to GDP and US$2,197 million foreign exchange earnings mainly from cocoa, timber and non-traditional agricultural exports in 2009 (ISSER, 2010). According to the MoFA (2010), 50.6 percent of the total labour force in the country is engaged in farming, forestry, fishing and hunting, with women accounting for 51.8 percent in 2009.

In spite of the key role agriculture plays in the growth of the economy of Nigeria, the sector has recorded a decline in its contribution to GDP, employment, government revenue and foreign exchange earnings in recent years.

MoFEP (2010) has stated that whereas the agricultural sector grew in 2010 by 4.8 percent and contributed 32.4 percent to GDP, the services sector grew by 6.1 percent and contributed 32.8 percent as its share to GDP, displacing the Agricultural sector as the highest contributor to GDP. The decline in growth of agriculture is caused by lack of access to markets and credits, low level of technology especially mechanization, inadequate post-harvest infrastructure (storage, processing, transport), low uptake of research findings by stakeholders and limited availability of improved technological packages especially planting materials and certified seeds (MoFA, 2007).

Given these challenges, for agriculture to assume its leading role as the greatest provider of employment and reduction in poverty of the majority of the rural people, agricultural development is imperative. Agricultural extension services are now a major activity and basic element in programmes and projects formulated to bring about agricultural development and improvement in the quality of lives of the rural poor farmers (NDPC, 2011).

Through provision of extension services, the field extension staffs are mandated to transfer proven and accepted farming practices to farmers in a participatory manner and to assist them to secure microloans to help them get started on their own farms or expand them.

The field extension staffs are also expected to teach rural farmers postharvest processing and storage of the foodstuffs. They also provide credit and marketaccess assistance to the farmers to secure capital for their activities and to sell their surplus crops to generate income for their families (MoFA, 2007).

With the inception of agricultural extension services in the country some decades ago, agricultural modernization has not been achieved. The Ahafo-Ano South District (2010) has stated that most of the beneficiary farmers of extension services intervention in the district still produce foodstuffs meant for home consumption, do not have access to market for their produce and rely on natural rain for the cultivation of their crops, hence the failure of the rains sometimes lead to poor yield thereby perpetuating their poverty.

It is in this regard that the study is undertaken to unearth the problems of extension services delivery in Nigeria and its  role in poverty reduction.

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