ResearchRound’s Habeeb Kolade and Awosusi Oluwabukunmi were in conversation with Dr Olushola Fadairo, a researcher at the University of Ibadan. He is a lecturer at the University of Ibadan in the Agric Extension & Rural Development. His research focuses on corruption in the agricultural value chain and the effectiveness of climate change financing systems. Dr Fadairo shares insights into previous works regarding participatory community development designs, adoption of technology in the rural agricultural communities, corruption in Nigerian agriculture sector, climate change and his research work as a fellow in the CIRCLE fellowship program. Read excerpts below:
Researchround: We’re excited to have this conversation with you. We will like to ask, why did you choose your field of study/research?
Dr Olushola Fadairo: My specialization is Agricultural Extension and Rural Development. It is just one of the various options in the Faculty of Agriculture that any lecturer or anyone may wish to specialize in. I chose that field out of several options that I had at that time. Because I was mainly motivated by the crop of lecturers who took us Agricultural extension courses at that time when I was still in the university. I began to fall in love with the course, partly because of the way and manner the extension lecturers took their courses in the class. They were very humane, they were approachable and they had listening ears. I also found out I was doing excellently well. I was doing very well in other courses, but in extension, I was very outstanding. So I felt I had flair for that field of specialization and I would do better in that field.
The national government has been advocating for change in the agricultural sector for many years, what is the evidence of change in the sector?
I’ll like to say, yes- successive governments have been making changes in the agricultural sector. But from my viewpoint, these efforts have not really translated into any significant improvement in the sector. We have seen more motion than movement. We have seen more lip services being paid to agricultural development. We have seen more policies that were not well-construed towards bringing change to the sector. If these investments had been productive, then Nigeria should be self-sufficient in terms of food production today. Self-sufficiency ratio in Nigeria is low. In fact, when you compare the food self-sufficiency of Nigeria in the year 1961, it was around 1.0. But recently in 2007, the last record I had, it had dropped to 0.8. I’m sure it has dropped further by now. That means that in the 1960s, we were better off in terms of agriculture to GDP, in terms of self-sufficiency in Nigeria, compared to the current situation. That speaks volume for the performances of the successive government in terms of agriculture improvement. You will recall that Nigeria used to be one of the leading exporters of cash crops such as cocoa and some other crops like oil palm and groundnut. But what is the position of Nigeria today? If you want to talk about the change, the change is not really getting positive. It is rather not encouraging. If you look at budgetary allocation, when you compare 2018 to 2019, there was a 20% drop in terms of allocation to the agricultural sector from about 173 billion in 2018, dropped to 138 billion in 2019. And that is contrary to the agreement in 2003 which Nigeria undersigned at the African Union congress that was held in Maputo, Mozambique. The countries that participated agreed that about 10 percent of the budgetary allocation should be devoted to agriculture. Ours is less than 2%. So I don’t believe we made much progress. Yes, we may have had policies upon policies, but these policies are not well channelled towards ensuring we get good transformation in our agricultural landscape.
Where do you think the disconnect is? If the government budgets a certain amount but nothing gets done. There has to be somewhere along the line that the disconnect is happening.
A number of things along the line. Principally, corruption. Nigeria is so enmeshed in corruption. Agriculture is one of the worst-hit by the prevalent corruption in Nigeria. Let me give you an example of something that is happening in contemporary days. You are aware of the current COVID-19 palliatives, where you see in many states, stores are being broken and people are discovering COVID-19 palliatives that have been kept there. Huge quantities of bags of rice and other commodities, that people thought should have been distributed to the less privileged but are kept in stores. That is exactly what is happening in the agricultural sector. Funds are allocated, funds are released, but if these funds are not getting to the right people who should make use of them, if they are going down to political farmers or party cronies and not reaching the real farmers, then what do you have to say about that. Those are some of the problems that affect these policies and implementations that are made on TV but do not bring about change in agricultural production.
There have been many new agriculture technology companies seeking to focus on developing tech solutions for farmers. Given your research, Awareness And Use Of Information Communication Technologies Among Cattle Farmers In Oke-Ogun Area Of Oyo State, into the use of ICT by rural farmers, what level of preparedness do you think current farmers have to use ICT?
Infusing appropriate technology and appropriate innovative practices in agriculture is more critical now than ever before. Why is this? There is a projection that by 2050, the global population is going to hit 10 billion and African is going to contribute largely to this. That means that we need to up our game in terms of food production. Food production currently is growing disproportionately with population growth. It is not that food production is not growing, it is, but marginally and not with the population growth. We must be able to produce what we consume, if possible, more than we can consume so we can have excess to export. That is when we can be comfortable and say we have achieved self-sufficiency in food production. That is not the case now. We still import a lot of what we consume. A lot of agricultural produce is still being imported to Nigeria. Only very few are produced locally. The way out is to embrace technology to jack up our potential. There have been examples like greenhouse technologies, agroponics, and some other things coming up. Not every of these is adaptable to our situation, but a number can be tried in our environment.
In terms of preparedness, I will say that farmers are fairly prepared. Of course, awareness is going on about some of these technologies. For example, the average farmer knows about greenhouse technology now, even though they do not use it yet. Many people now know you can get information on telephone, SMS, Whatsapp and the internet. More importantly, more youths are getting involved in agriculture and have lower barriers to adoption of technology. During the agricultural transformation agenda of Dr Akinwumi Adesina, while he was Minister of Agriculture under President Goodluck Jonathan, e-wallets were used for fertilizer distribution for farmers. This was an innovation the regime brought on board and I was involved in conducting an assessment of the effectiveness of the e-wallets. I travelled to some communities in Oyo State and Ekiti State to do the evaluation. Many farmers were happy with that technology. Farmers that you think would be unable to use it, they had mobile applications on their phones, and through the phones, they were able to get SMS on when fertilizers have arrived, where to uptake their fertilizers and the rest. If that was successful, all we need to do is just gradually improve upon these. We should not aim to start from the top, we should gradually start from where farmers are, build them up until they get to where they ought to be. Therefore it is feasible, even though a lot of work needs to be done.
You outlined that the technologies that rural farmers usually have access to are television, radio and other mechanical approaches like meetings and workshops. How effective do you think these have been in the agricultural process, what are the identifiable limits to these approaches and how do they affect agricultural production?
We have an example of an agricultural programme in the Philippines. The Philippines used to be an importer of rice, but within one year, they launched Masagana 99 (1973). They launched television programmes, radio programs, bombarding farmers with appropriate information of where they can uptake resources, input for agricultural production and the rest. The result revealed that within two years, the Philippines attained self-sufficiency (1975).
I was involved in a recent program in the Northern part of Nigeria where they used an interactive radio instruction programme (IRI), to reach pastoralists to give them information that can help them produce well and to give them information that can encourage them to put their kids in schools. This also worked effectively. Radio, Television, Workshops have been effectively deployed and have been effectively deployed in agricultural interventions in the past. And their potency still remains till today. The only thing is that we cannot also just stay there. We must also think of how we can mainstream emerging technologies. Talking about the limits, in my research, I mentioned that meetings were very effective. Farmers prefer one on one meetings with extension agents, as they would be able to see and receive information in the way they understand. However, the truth of the matter is that we don’t have sufficient extension workers who can go round all the farmers. On average in some states, we have one extension to cover about 1700 farmers, sometimes we have one extension work to 3500 farmers. Thus, we need to embrace technology to provide low-cost loudspeakers. Meaning with as little cost as possible, you are able to reach a wider range of farmers. Those are part of the limits. Up till now, some rural places are not electrified in Nigeria. What happens to farmers in those environments, who don’t have electricity access? TV programs become irrelevant to them because they would not be able to access whatever program you air on television that is meant to improve their production.
Meanwhile, that research you were referring to was one of my earliest researches and I’m sure that knowledge has moved beyond that level now.
Why is there a shortage of agricultural extension officers when there are agricultural extension graduates every year? Is the profession not lucrative?
This problem is not peculiar to the agricultural extension unit. The absorptive capacity of the government into public spaces is very limited. Government is not expanding opportunities for young graduates to go into such paid employment. The government is also not doing enough to create the environment for these graduates to carve niches for themselves in their areas of specialization. Private extension service is not thriving so well in Nigeria, else these graduates would have thought of starting private extension services that can service farmers. Farmers want to depend on the public extension service and unfortunately, free public extension service is not sufficiently equipped with appropriate human capacity and facilities to go round these farmers. As for the reason why farmers may not want to patronize private extensions; a number of them see extension service as a public good. Many farmers who are responsible for the bulk of food consumed in Nigeria are small scale peasant farmers. They feel agriculture is not that lucrative enough for them to set aside some of their income to pay for extension services. Awareness is growing gradually but we don’t have enough of it that can absorb these graduates. For instance: Justice Development and Peace Commission (JDPC), British American Tobacco have extension units and USAID has a number of intervention extension officers recruited. We have programs like the Community for Social Development (CSD) project. But these outlets are still not enough to absorb all these graduates and that is a general problem for our country.
Will you like to shed more light on how corruption has affected agricultural development?
A lot of research has been done into why a lot of investment into agriculture has not yielded positive results, why policies keep somersaulting. Many researchers look at various variables. They look at socio-economic factors, climate, environment … that my research was to call the attention of social science researchers to the fact that what the major problem was – corruption; how corruption affects agriculture. It undermines development. It diverts resources away from activities and processes in agriculture from the most important to the less important ones because of selfish interests. It increases efforts that are required to carry out routine field activities. You know in agriculture, timeliness is very important in agricultural operations. What corrupt officials do is to delay the timing of the release of funds so that by the funds are eventually released, the operations have already moved ahead. So there is nothing for you to do other than to share the money. I have observed some of these in a number of research institutes. They will not say this on camera, but the funding that is supposed to help them in intervention in agriculture, especially the ones that come from the government whether deliberately or by accident, those funds don’t come at the right time. Farmers begin planting activities around March and funding for agriculture should be available at this time. But deliberately, if you meet with those officials, they will say those funds do not come at that time. They will come when the season is almost over- say in September. And when the funds come, you have just a few months to return and retire all the funds by December, as you must not carry it over to the new year. Money that is supposed to be for projects in 2020 is coming in October 2020. And you have October, November, December to return the money back to Abuja. So what happens? What they are telling you is that let us share this money and we cover it up. However, it will be recorded that in the year 2020, the government invested so and so billions in agricultural development.
In their wisdom, chief executives in such organizations will say let us just do something to ensure we spend this money. Money that you are spending not based on necessity, in terms of what is needed to be given to farmers. You begin to organize irrelevant programs. You bring farmers together for a three days workshop. Record the video- oh! we have done this. We still have 300 million left – what else can we do? Let us go and distribute items to farmers in Iseyin. You yourself know that these things are off the bar and are not targeting any specific outcome, rather than just ensure that the available money is spent and you do appropriate retirement to the central office.
The focus of your research has straddled between the lines of agricultural development through extension services and community development. I assume this is because rural communities are often farming communities. My question is this, there is the clear possibility that elevating the level of education in a community like this, would eventually elevate the quality of life in those communities. Locally and foreign-funded programmes have been attempted. What kind of programmes have you found to work or what kind of programmes do you think will work? And why do they work?
Agricultural programs that have been fairly effective in promoting rural development are programs that are participatory in the identification of problems in rural areas and in their implementation process. So if you look around community development interventions, you consider “what is common to those programs that are performing compared to ones that are not performing?” The visible factor mainly rests on the ability of the program to embrace a participatory approach in project implementation. Many development interventions are failing because some people come with the idea of CDD (Community-Driven Development), but they are not really imbibing the tenets of community driven development. But those projects that are imbibing it are succeeding. The participatory approach puts the steering of development in the hands of the beneficiaries of such development. They are able to tell you these are what our needs are. They are also involved in the implementation of such development agenda, finding solutions to those problems. This is a factor of what I have found in my few years of involvement in rural development programmes that make them work. Those that are developed from the viewpoint of planners and are just forced down the throats of rural people don’t last- their sustainability is always very threatened after some few years, no matter how laudable the project appears to be in the first few years of its implementation. You have to engage the people who understand the rural people. If you are not a development or extension specialist, if you go to the rural community and profile them, you might not identify what their problems are. If you implement a project based on what you think is their problem, you may find that you are implementing a wrong project. You have not involved people who understand, who work with farmers, who understand their psychology, who understand the psychology of rural people, who understand when they say yes and they mean it. An extension specialist is able to understand that when this man says yes, there is something else on their mind and is able to profile deeper why he is saying yes when he is meant to say no. He is able to bring to the table genuine recommendations that will help to solve the problems in rural areas. And is also able to work with the people to ensure that these recommendations are translated to tangible outcomes.
What real career opportunities exist for extension graduates?
Very large ones. I have worked in a few establishments before I came to academia. I once worked with an NGO that had a theme on communication and reproductive health among women. I worked as a senior programs officer. I was responsible for proposal writing, getting funds for the organization, and implementing a number of projects. I was able to do this effectively, because of the things you need in such a job is the ability to interact with people, to understand people’s problems and be able to communicate solutions to them. Where I am going is that the skills you acquire as an agriculture extension officer are not useful to agriculture alone. When I left the job, I worked with a training management consultancy in Ibadan as a training manager, briefly. For anybody who is a specialist in agriculture extension, as a matter of fact, they have a wide space to operate. If they want to remain in extension, apart from the research sector and public extension sector, we have organizations that employ extension workers because they relate with rural communities and farmers. I have at least one of my students who works with the Central Bank of Nigeria. They are in charge of agric loans and monitoring farms to ensure these loans are appropriately channelled. There are a number of private organizations that also provide extension services, like multinationals and food-producing companies that get materials from farmers and some of them need somebody within their organizations to be an interface with the farmers. They also set up extension units as they need people who will be able to go to farmers, convince farmers, and sell their produce.
What type of advancements are you looking to see in your field?
Digital extension is what we are looking towards. The old methods can no longer serve us. We also hope the government can fund public universities more. We also look towards more youth involvement in agriculture.
What are the barriers to research in your field? How do you think these can be improved?
Funding. When you don’t have good resources, you cannot get good findings.
What was your experience during the CIRCLE fellowship?
The aim of the Climate Impact Research Capacity and Leadership Enhancement (CIRCLE) Fellowship programme was to build the capacity of young researchers in Africa with respect to carrying out climate researches that provide solutions or unravelling the climate challenges in Africa and if possible provide solutions to adapting to climate change. I was deployed to South Africa, where I was, for a year. My research focused on climate finance. When the call came, I tried to marry my previous area of research, which was corruption with climate change. That was the first hurdle I had to cross. I was able to write a proposal that brought in the issue of corruption and climate change and carve a niche for myself under the theme of climate finance. I argued that there are quite a number of investments in fighting climate change, and many people are looking at adaptation issues, mitigation issues, but nobody is looking at what is happening to this huge fund that keeps going into climate change. If we don’t look at how climate funds are managed and utilized, we may just keep doing a lot without achieving anything. So I explored corruption in the climate finance field and focused on a particular project called the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) project. A United Nations project for which Cross River, Nigeria is a beneficiary of the project. I used Cross River as my area of study and looked at climate finance in the project being implemented there. I published about three papers from that Circle Research fellowship.
What were your findings during the programme?
Communities were not appropriately carried along. Many things were opaque. There is what we call carbon credit. Carbon credit is meant to be provided to people living in forest communities. REDD+ was conceived that one of the ways to convert climate change is to ensure that depletion of forest covers are stopped. So Communities that have extensive forest covers should please leave those forests because forests have a sequestering carbon, i.e. removing carbon that is trapped in the atmosphere. Since developed countries are responsible for carbon emissions, Africa contributes just about 3 percent of the global carbon emission. Developed nations don’t have forest covers as we have in Africa. So one of the incentives was that let us contribute money, give money to forest communities in Africa to leave their forest and preserve their forest, so as we keep generating this carbon, we have assurance there is thick vegetation somewhere that is helping to trap the carbon. Since industrialization is a leading cause of global warming, carbon credits ensure communities with forest covers can have the incentive to keep their forest covers and while achieving sustenance. There are funds that have been contributed by multinational agencies and many donor companies in developed countries and under the United Nations, many African countries can access this fund which can be used for direct intervention in your forest communities under the REDD+ project to give people support to preserve the forest. The success of that intervention will depend on the extent to which the transfer of these resources is transparently done and whether these people who are at the receiving end got what they were supposed to get. If they do not get what they should get, there is no incentive for them, so they will go to the forest, fell the trees and then the chain continues. My study looked at this compensation. To what extent are the forest communities in Cross River state receiving the benefits they are supposed to get from the REDD+ project? If they are receiving the benefits, are they satisfied with the benefits? Can we now say as a result of this benefit, they are not going to the forest? Have they been given alternative livelihood that can serve as a fallback for them? Those are what I looked at in the study. Largely, the community members complained that all they saw were face-caps, t-shirts that visited them truly, and that they only kept promising them that carbon credit would come. In fact, one of them said I should help them to intervene so that the carbon credit comes during their own time so that when they die, they can tell those who have died that eventually before they died, carbon credit came. I provided qualitative and quantitative reporting of the expectations and disappointments and grievances of the forest communities members about the REDD+ project in Cross River.
Thank you very much for your time.