1.1 Background to the Study
The role of agriculture in economic development and growth of a nation cannot be overemphasized. Agriculture can play a unique role in achieving food security and serve as an important engine for economic growth in a country especially developing countries. This is due to the large number of people engaged in it and its capability to foster food production and help generate substantial income, thereby reducing poverty and starvation. That an estimated 70 percent of the labor force in sub-Saharan Africa work in the agricultural sector (Ali, Mohammad, & Ebraheem, 2012), is a pointer to the fact that agriculture can serve as a springboard to national development by contributing substantially to the Gross Domestic Topic (GDP) of any nation.
Although the economy of Nigeria depends on crude oil, the country has since recognized the need to invest heavily in promoting agriculture. Since early post-independence, Nigeria has witnessed diverse agricultural intervention programmes by successive governments designed specifically to improve productivity in the agricultural sector. These initiatives emerged out of government’s concern that the agricultural sector must develop the capacity to provide the nation’s food, industrial raw materials and to generate foreign exchange. Programmes such as Operation Feed the Nation (OFN), Green Revolution (GR), the Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), the River Basin and Rural Development Authorities, the World Bank assisted Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) (Chukwuemeka & Nzewi, 2011), and most recently Anchor Borrowers Programme for farmers were all attempts by government at various times aimed at improving the capacity of the agricultural sector. However, despite all these seemingly laudable initiatives and agricultural development programmes by successive governments, Nigeria, known as the most populous black nation in the world, with a population of nearly 170 million people, is still faced with food insecurity. Though a noticeable positive shift was witnessed shortly before this era of economic recession, poverty is still on the increase; and this increase in poverty level in the country as noted by Oyakhilome and Zibah (2014), calls for a shift from a monolithic oil-based economy to a more diverse one with agriculture as the lead sector.
One of the major agricultural products grown in Nigeria is rice. The Nigerian rice sector attracts special attention within the West Africa sub-region because of the population of the country as well as its vast land area where rice could be cultivated. Although rice is primarily a cash crop in Nigeria, it also serves as a common staple food for many people across the country. In rice producing areas, the enterprise also provides employment for more than 80 per cent of the inhabitants in various activities along the production/distribution chain from cultivation to consumption.
A major challenge militating against the production of rice in sufficient quantity as it does to the production of many other farm products in Nigeria is technical inefficiency. Tchale (2009) has argued that due to lack of technical capacity, smallholder farmers experience low yields, which would almost double “if technical efficiency in smallholder farming systems could be increased by up to 40% on average, using the current production technology”. This means that the potential exists for not just rice famers but other farmers as well to double or even triple productivity. However, for this to happen, access to technological innovations, in terms of farming equipment, inputs, such as improved seed and chemical fertilizers, and information on proper spacing and insect and pest control, and prevention of post-harvest losses is crucial. Given the high illiteracy rate among farmers and their little means of livelihood, the need for agricultural extension services becomes highly important. Agricultural extension and communication are critical to helping these farmers gain access to resources and improve their knowledge in food production.
Some remarkable developments have also taken place in the rice production sector particularly in the last twenty years, both in terms of quality and the quantity of rice being produced. For example, before this period, the famous locally produced rice in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state popularly known as “Abakaliki rice” was known for containing large amount of stones due to the crude processing methods employed by rice farmers at that time. Presently, rice processing methods have significantly improved not just in Ebonyi state, but across the country to the extent that some locally produce rice can stand side by side with some imported ones. Also, both production and consumption have increased during this period, although the increased production is not sufficient to match the consumption increase, with rice imports making up the shortfall. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) noted in 2001 that the demand for rice in Nigeria has been increasing at a much faster rate than in any other African country since the mid-1970s (FAO, 2001). Ogundele and Okoruwa (2006) also observed that during the 1960s, Nigeria had the lowest per capita annual consumption of rice in the sub-region at an annual average of 3kg. Whereas, since then, Nigeria’s per capita consumption levels have grown significantly at 7.3% per annum. A worrisome issue about this trend as noted earlier is that local productions have not been able to match the increase in local consumption of rice. Per capita consumption ratio has risen from 3.0% to 22% but the country’s self-reliance ratio in rice production has dropped from 99% in the sixties to 79% between 1995 and 2000, with importation of the commodity rising to fill the lacuna created by low local production rate.
In an apparent move to respond to the increased per capita consumption of rice in Nigeria, local production rose, averaging 9.3% per annum. However, this increase to a larger extent was traced to vast expansion of rice farming land area at an annual average of 7.9% rather than to increases in rice yield which stood at 1.4% per annum, and therefore was not sufficient to match the increase in consumption.
Also, in an attempt to address the demand/supply gap, governments at various times have come up with policies and programmes targeted specifically at improved yield in rice. However, these policies have not been consistent due to lack of continuity especially when there is a change in government. Ogundele and Okoruwa (2006) noted that the erratic policies reflect the dilemma of government in securing cheap rice for consumers and a fair price for the producers. Thus, the fluctuations in policy and the limited capacity of the Nigerian rice sector to match domestic demand have raised a number of pertinent questions both in policy circles and among researchers. One of such questions for example is: what are the factors responsible for the poor domestic rice production leading to low demand for the indigenous commodity in Nigeria? Central to this question might be the issue of communication between rice farmers on the one hand, and agricultural extension workers who are responsible for passing the knowledge of agricultural technological improvements across to farmers on the other. Agricultural extension function has been to promote the diffusion of agricultural innovations, that is, teaching farmers how to adopt new crop varieties and livestock breeds using modern techniques, a process called agricultural education or technology transfer model (Miller & Cox, 2006). This process requires cordial interplay of information exchange among both parties without which nothing tangible is likely to be achieved. Towards the end of 2016, the federal government of Nigeria announced that the country will commence rice exportation by 2017. How a country that is still struggling to match local consumption with local production will begin the exportation of a commodity desperately being sought after by its populace raises serious concerns.
Rice is perhaps the world’s most important food crop, being the staple food of over 50% of the world population, particularly in India, China, and a number of other countries in Africa and Asia (Ogundele & Okoruwa, 2006). In Africa, particularly in the 1980s, Egypt and Malagasy Republic account for 62% of all rice produced (Akpokodje, Lancon & Olaf, 2002). Nigeria has a potential 5 million hectares of land that spread across all the ecological zones, suitable for rice cultivation (Ojehomon, Ayinde, Adewumi, & Omotesho 2013). Yet, Nigeria still imports rice. The major reason for the importation is the inability of the local farmers to meet domestic demand due to low productivity. In Nigeria, the average yield of upland and lowland rainfed rice is 1.8 ton per hactare, while that of the irrigation system is 3.0 ton/ha (PCU, 2002). This is very low when compared with 3.0 ton/ha from upland and lowland systems and 7.0 ton/ha from irrigation systems in places like Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal (WARDA and NISER, 2001). It therefore appears that rice farmers in Nigeria are not getting maximum return from the resources committed to the enterprise.
The need for improvement of rice production across Sub-Sahara Africa led the West Africa Rice Development Agency (WARDA) to discover a new technology for rice farming specifically targeted at boosting rice production in African countries in 1991 (Tiamiyu, 2008). Through a special hybridization breeding programme, the New Rice for Africa (NERICA) technology was born. WARDA has since then disseminated this technology across many African countries including Nigeria. Surprisingly, most African countries where NERICA technology was successfully implemented have witnessed significant improvement in local rice production except Nigeria (Tiamiyu, 2008). Could this be linked to poor information dissemination strategies or perhaps faulty communication strategies employed by extension workers who are saddled with the responsibility of passing down the knowledge about NERICA to farmers? This study is set out to answer this pertinent question.
Effective communication system requires the synergistic interdependence of the elements in the communication process (Ogidi, 2015). Communication strategies represent the overall approach adopted in information dissemination. It encompasses communication methods, which are means through which information or messages are transmitted to an audience or receiver (Ogunremi, 2013). Traditionally, it is assumed that good innovations sell themselves, but experience has shown that they do not (Olowu, Oyedokun, & Oladele, 2001), which is the reason why advertising, marketing and other forms of awareness creation for product and services have become integral parts of the communication process. The same also could apply to agriculture. Access to information through improved communication strategy is a crucial requirement for sustainable agricultural development (Agunga, & Manda, 2014). The emergence of modern sophisticated machines and other technological advancement in the agricultural sector have made it imperative that existing technologies and new ones be disseminated to the farming audience on a regular basis. Agricultural extension is basically aimed at providing farmers with essential knowledge and skills that would assist them in taking vital decisions which would ultimately lead to increased production (Ephraim & Gloria, 2013).
Extension agents therefore, will need to carefully adapt communication strategies and channels to effectively pass on the required message in each local situation. Effective communication between change agents and researchers is essential for increasing agricultural production through the use of improved technologies. Communication involves exchange of ideas between two or more individuals in an attempt to arrive at a convergence in meaning. Agricultural extension by its nature has an important role in promoting the adoption of new technologies and innovations in agriculture (Jamilah, Azril, Jegak, Asiah & Azman (2010). Extension workers go to meet with farmers in their homes, farms, markets or during town hall meetings and make them aware of the latest farming technologies and techniques. They also encourage them to adopt these techniques so as to enhance their productivity level and possibly upgrade from small scale farmers to large scale farmers.
Agricultural extension brings about changes through education and communication in farmers attitude, knowledge and skills. The role of agricultural extension includes dissemination of information, building capacity for farmers through the use of a variety of communication strategies and helping farmers make informed decisions (Sinkaiye, 2005). If extension agents fail to communicate the desired information the undesired information may circulate among farmers thereby leading to possible undesired results. The success or failure of a communication programme depends on the encoding-decoding process. Blumberg (1987) pointed out that formal, official structure of an organization defines status that are related to each other and between which communications are expected to take place. He further stated that communication lines consist of downward, horizontal or lateral patterns that can be both formal and informal. The purpose of communication in this regard is to facilitate the achievement of extension goals. The operational procedures for achieving organizational goals involve utilization of functional communication strategies. Extension education is the primary process through which farmers can learn the reasons for change, the value of change and the results that can be achieved through change (Ogunremi, 2013). Extension education is a type of education that is functional rather than formal and its main task is to convey meaningful information to the farmers. It is the major source through which farmers are made aware of alternatives from where they can choose the most desirable as well as how the different methods that exist for carrying out their farming and other operations (William, Fenley & Williams, 1984). It is in the light of the importance of the adoption of effective communication strategies by extension agents to assist in ensuring increased rice production in Nigeria that this study set out to evaluate the roles of communication strategies employed by extension agents in promoting the NERICA technology information among rice farmers in Ofada, Nigeria.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
The world food problem is a serious issue especially in Africa. Population increase is escalating, and increase in crop production is becoming an uphill task. Recently, in order to resolve the problem, NERICA was developed in West Africa. However, certain problems bother the mind of the researcher. The growth in consumption which has become most substantial in Africa’s rapidly growing cities, where rice is increasingly becoming the staple diet of the poor urban households is becoming a worrisome factor. Rice has therefore become a staple of considerable strategic importance. At present, rice imports are still significant because the region is yet to be self-sufficient in rice production. As a result of the increment in the consumption of rice in the country, the imported rice is being used to bridge the gap existing between production of the local rice and the domestic demand of consumers. The demand-supply gap of rice is becoming a major problem which requires attention in Nigeria’s agricultural economy especially as we hear of imported synthetic rice being infiltrated into the local markets of developing countries. Moreover, high exchange rate involved in importation of rice is a serious issue that requires quick attention if an economy would achieve any significant development. Hence, the adoption of NERICA rice by the farmers is believed to have potential to lead to an increase in productivity of rice in the country, result in reducing demand-supply gap, increase rice self-sufficiency and enhance improved foreign exchange earnings as the country looks to diversify from oil to agriculture based economy.
Conversely, since the implementation activities for the dissemination of NERICA commenced in Ogun state in 2003 through the Multinational NERICA Rice Dissemination Project (MNRDP) by the Federal Government of Nigeria, one would have expected to see a rapid increase in local production output as well as a corresponding decrease in rice importation as observed in other African countries where NERICA technology has been successfully implemented. But this has not been the case, Nigeria as a country is still a net importer of rice in Africa, with over N356 billion been spent yearly on rice importation alone (Adesina, 2013). Given that such huge amount that has significant adverse impact on the nation’s GDP is spent annually on rice importation, could communication strategies of extension workers been responsible for low adoption of NERICA technology among rice farmers in Ofada, Ogun State?
1.3 Objective of the Study
The general objective of this study is to evaluate the effectiveness of communication strategies used by extension agents in disseminating the new rice for Africa (NERICA) technology information among rice farmers in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria. The specific objectives are to:
- identify the communication strategies employed by extension workers in disseminating NERICA technology information to rice farmers in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria;
- examine the effectiveness of the communication strategies in fostering understanding about NERICA technology among rice farmers in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria;
- determine the extent to which the communication strategies enhanced the knowledge of rice farmers about NERICA technology in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria;
- find out the knowledge of rice farmers on the use of NERICA technology for the production of rice in Ofada, Ogun State;
- ascertain the extent to which the communication strategies employed by extension agents stimulate the rice farmers interest towards the adoption of NERICA technology in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria and
- examine the level of increase in rice production experienced by farmers who used NERICA technology in Ofada, Ogun State.
1.4 Research Questions
The study will be guided by the following questions raised:
- What are the communication strategies employed by extension workers in disseminating NERICA technology to rice farmers Ofada, Ogun state?
- How effective were the various communication strategies in fostering understanding about NERICA technology among rice farmers in Ofada, Ogun State?
- To what extent did these communication strategies help in enhancing the knowledge of rice farmers about NERICA technology?
- What is the knowledge level of rice farmers on the use of NERICA technology for the production of rice in Ofada, Ogun State?
- To what extent does communication strategies employed by extension agents stimulate the rice farmers interest towards the adoption of NERICA technology in Ofada, Ogun state, Nigeria?
- What is the level of increase in rice production experience by farmers who adopted NERICA technology?
The study was guided by one hypothesis:
H01: There is no positive influence between communication strategies of extension agents and its impact on the knowledge of rice farmers about NERICA technology in Ofada, Ogun State.
1.6 Significance of the Study
This study would be relevant in many cases and to many stakeholders related to rice production in Nigeria. Evaluating communication strategies can help in developing an assessment of the various methods of communication available to extension workers as a foundation for making decisions about their effectiveness. This would help in determining areas that need improvement. At a period when extension agents are being looked upon by rural farmers for solution to agricultural-related needs due to diversification efforts of the government from crude oil to agriculture, it becomes necessary for constructs of these nature to be studied so as to provide solutions for modern methods of agricultural practices that would improve productivity and create diverse opportunities for economic growth. Also, adoption of improved technologies can lead to the desired result in agricultural production only if farmers comply with the recommendations and requirements of the technologies, in terms of input use and timing of operations.
However, for any form of adoption to take place, rural farmers must not only have adequate information regarding these technologies, the methods through which such information is communicated to them must be persuasive enough to motivate them to do so. Therefore the findings of this study can be useful to food processing organisations, farmers, government agricultural agencies, development communication practitioners, agricultural extension workers and other stake holders in increasing quality and effectiveness of agricultural communications for better use of agricultural technologies. Particularly in this regard is the need to improve rice production in Nigeria where the cost of importing the commodity has placed it beyond the reach of many households. Promoting the adopting of NERICA technology through effective and functional communication methods by extension wor