Information Needs of Small Scale Farmers in Africa: The Nigerian Example
By Vincent Nnamdi Ozowa
Over the years, deliberate, though ineffective efforts have been
made by donors and African countries to bring about agricultural
development without much to show for it. Much of the failure can
be attributed to the adapted transformation approach to agriculture
which is characterized by the introduction of a wide variety of large scale
farming and processing technologies. It is however gratifying
to note that there is now a shift in emphasis from the big scale
transformation approach to the small scale improvement strategy
approach which is attuned to African age-long farm practice.
The failure can also be attributed to the treatment of information
delivery as a matter of course by most African governments. As
often happens, agricultural information is not integrated with
other development programs to address the numerous related problems
that face farmers. Information is an essential ingredient in agricultural
development programs but Nigerian farmers seldom feel the impact
of agricultural innovations either because they have no access
to such vital information or because it is poorly disseminated.
The information provided is exclusively focused on policy makers,
researchers, and those who manage policy decisions with scant
attention paid to the information needs of the targeted beneficiaries
of the policy decisions. The non-provision of agricultural information is a key factor that
has greatly limited agricultural development in developing countries.
If the approaches to agricultural development programs are to
work, African governments need to take new approaches to information
dissemination and management that grow out from a clear understanding
of what farmers information needs are.
Nigerian farms are classified into small scale, medium scale and
large scale. When judged by international standards whereby all
farms less than 10.00 hectares are classed as small, then 94.37
percent of all farm holdings in Nigeria in 1973/74 (or 28 million
holdings) must be classified as small scale farms while the remaining
5.63 percent or 1.7 million are medium scale holdings.
A small scale farmer depends on his efficiency in the utilization
of basic production resources available to him or her. He/she
makes a significant and important contribution to the national
product. i. e. 99 percent of total crops output. The small scale
farmer is the main producer of 98 per cent of the food consumed
in Nigeria with the only exception of wheat.
Experience has shown that small farms outyield large farms on
calorie output per hectare and are therefore more efficient. Even
though small scale farmers' accessibility to agricultural innovations is often limited by unfavorable economic, socio-cultural
and institutional conditions, they have achieved some level of
efficiency through deployment of their indigenous knowledge. If
provided with the right inputs, feasible technology and relevant
information, they are capable of transforming traditional agriculture.
Information Needs of Small Scale Farmers
No one can categorically claim to know all the information needs
of farmers especially in an information dependent sector like
agriculture where there are new and rather complex problems facing
farmers every day. It is safe to assert that the information needs
of Nigerian small scale farmers revolve around the resolution
of problems such as pest hazards, weed control, moisture insufficiency,
soil fertility, farm credit, labor shortage, soil erosion and
The information needs may be grouped into five headings: agricultural
inputs; extension education; agricultural technology; agricultural
credit; and marketing. Modern farm inputs are needed to raise
small farm productivity. These inputs may include fertilizers,
improved variety of seeds and seedlings, feeds, plant protection
chemicals, agricultural machinery, and equipment and water. An
examination of the factors influencing the adoption and continued
use of these inputs will show that information dissemination is
a very important factor. It is a factor that requires more attention
than it now gets.
The general lack of awareness among small scale farmers can be
attributed to their high level of illiteracy. This contributes
to the low level of adoption of agricultural production technology.
Extension is a type of education which is functional rather than
formal. It is better provided by extension workers whose main
task is to convey information in a meaningful form to farmers.
One of the ways they do this is by training a group of model farmers
with the hope that such farmers come in contact with other farmers.
This "trickle down effect" is particularly necessary
because farmers outnumber available extension workers with the
present ratio of 1:3000.
Agricultural technology for the small scale farmer must help minimize
the drudgery or irksomeness of farm chores. It should be labor-saving,
labor-enhancing and labor-enlarging.
The farmer needs information on production technology that involves
cultivating, fertilizing, pest control, weeding and harvesting.
This sort of information is at the moment being diffused by extension
workers, other farmers, government parastatals and agricultural
equipment dealers. The impact is yet to be felt.
Agricultural credit encompasses all loans and advances granted
borrowers to finance and service production activities relating
to agriculture, fisheries and forestry and also for processing,
marketing, storage and distribution of products resulting from
Small scale farmers are among the potential beneficiaries of agricultural
credit in Nigeria but because of their low level of literacy they
are mostly unaware of existing loan facilities. To reap the benefit
of credit, farmers need information relating to sources of loan
such as names of lenders, location and types of existing credit
sources. They need information on the terms of loans such as the
interest rates, loanable amount and mode of repayment.
Information regarding agricultural credit gets to small scale
farmers usually through channels such as relations, friends, neighbors,
government officials, commercial and credit banks. Grassroot organs
such as village heads and local government officials are used
to diffuse such information because of their personal touch with
small scale farmers. Extension agents need to intensify their efforts in educating farmers to increase their
level of awareness.
All business activities involved in the movement of commodities
from production to consumption is marketing. The farmer's market
information needs are those that enable him make rational and relevant decisions. Market information services
have the function of collecting and processing market data systematically
and continuously, and of making it available to market participants
in a form relevant to their decision making. Market information
needs of small scale farmers include:
In Nigeria, agricultural market information to small scale farmers
is provided by the Ministry of Agriculture through the field level
extension workers and by the broadcasting media. A lot still has
to be done in this area. Some of those in charge of market information
are not trained for the job.
Agricultural Information Dissemination
Within the past two decades there has been a burst of research
activities in the area of agriculture in Nigerian universities
and agricultural research centres located around the country.
Far reaching innovations that are capable of boosting the small
scale farmer's agricultural production and Nigeria's economic
development have been discovered. The yam minisett technique,
protein rich soyabean production and utilization techniques, production
and use of animal vaccines and drugs and labor saving devices
are some of the many improved agricultural innovations not properly
diffused. Prominent among the agricultural centers are the International
Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), the National Root Crops
Research Institute, the National Veterinary Research Institute
and the three universities of agriculture.
Unfortunately, most of the these innovations do not reach the
farmer's field. This is because the medium for information dissemination
in use are not quite effective.
Institutional and governmental organs have been put in place to
ensure that farmers get to know and adopt agricultural innovations
relevant to their situations, e.g. the Agricultural Extension
and Research Liaison Services (AERLS), the extension services
of the Agricultural Development Project (ADPs), Ministries of
Agriculture at both state and federal levels, Media Forum for
Agriculture, Cooperative Extension Centres (CEC) of universities
and public enlightenment units of the 18 agricultural research
centers. These bodies serve as facilitators of agricultural messages by acting as communication departments.
They use media such as leaflets, newsletters, posters, exhibits,
visual aids and radio programs in communicating agricultural information.
Radio and television programs are popular although controlled
by government with its attendant problems regarding the choice
Of all the existing channels of agricultural communication, Nigerian
farmers rank extension high est in terms of providing credible
information and advice, especially on agricultural technology. A major function of extension is to get the farmer
into a frame of mind and attitude conducive to acceptance of technological
change. The use of fertilizers, for example, is fairly widespread
in the middlebelt region of Nigeria where information about fertilizers
is well diffused. Even though the demand for fertilizers is buoyant,
the supply is mostly inadequate to meet the demands.
Apart from the use of extension for diffusion of agricultural
innovation, other channels like rural development field staff,
contact farmers, school teachers, private sector agri-business
people, staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and the electronic
and print media are used. These channels have their strengths
To strengthen the efforts of the print and broadcasting media
in ensuring proper agricultural information dissemination to farmers,
the Media Forum for Agriculture, was formed by media practitioners
from all over Nigeria in 1989 with the aim of providing better
support for agriculture by improving the quality of agriculture
coverage in the media.
Again, the targeted audience is not properly reached as the main
beneficiaries of information carried by the print and broadcasting
media are urban elites.
Problems of Agricultural Information Dissemination
There are some limiting factors and apparent constraints in agricultural
information dissemination in Nigeria, including status differences
between extension agents and their clients; agents' inadequate knowledge of "how communication
works"; lack of interagency cooperation both in program
planning and implementation; and the extension's general lack
of interest in traditional media.
One of the obvious constraints in the use of the broadcasting
media in Nigeria is poor reception quality and the area covered.
The messages carried are not tailored to the information needs
of rural populations. Even when the information is relevant, it
is seldom aired at the proper time and so does not get to the
Another major constraint is the use of print media: Leaflets and
newsletters as message carriers are of limited use in reaching
illiterate farmers. Technical language used in communicating information
is incomprehensible to the farmers.
Another major constraint to agricultural information dissemination is the inadequacy of existing extension programs. Some of these programs are conceived without well thought out plans and are prepared in a hurry without the farmers whose attitudes are to be changed making any input. Such agricultural information packages can neither sustain the farmers' interest nor effect the desired attitudinal change. Farmers' interests are disregarded even more as most of the agricultural innovations are written and broadcast in English instead of the local language.
When local language is used, emphasis is often on the three major
Nigerian languages Hausa, Ibo and Yoruba. These programs are broadcast
when farmers are far away in the fields or too tired to listen
after the day's toil. A majority of the farmers do not own radio
Well intentioned agricultural programs can be marred by poor implementation
and too much bureaucracy. For example, the Cooperative Extension
Centre of the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, has a competent
corps of subject specialists without adequate funding, facilities
and logistic support like visual aids, equipment, transportation
and adequate communication channels. As a result, the Centre has not been able to achieve
the expected impact on the immediate university community.
The present ratio of 1 extension worker to 3,000 farmers is inadequate
for effective agricultural information diffusion. The problem
is compounded by the paucity of women in extension agents especially
in a society where cultural and religious taboos make it impossible
for male extension workers to reach women farmers who outnumber
male small scale farmers.
Many people in extension are ill-prepared for extension and an extension communication job. The emphasis in their training is more on technical proficiency rather than on rhetorical and persuasive skills. An extensionist trained in this way, is unlikely to make an impact on a conservative farmer who is not likely to put his farm inputs to risk by trying the extensionist's improved technique. There is real need for extension agents training to be relevant to their jobs at the grassroot.
[V. N. Ozowa is Senior Librarian at the University of Agriculture, Makurdi, Nigeria. An earlier version of this article was published by the Quarterly Bulletin of the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists, IAALD/CABI (v. 40, no. 1, 1995) which has given kind permission to reprint.]