Smallholder farmers in southeast Nigeria don’t have access to expertise from an extension service. But thanks to an enterprising journalist, farmers there can learn basic lessons about agriculture simply by turning on their battery-powered transistor radios to FARM 98.0 FM.
Nnaemeka C. Ikegwuonu, a Rolex Laureate and airways agriculturist, was in Raleigh recently for the opening of the new Nature Research Center. Because of his interest in agriculture, he asked to spend some time at N.C. State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
“I am first interested in meeting folks at College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at North Carolina State University. Looking at their website, I am fascinated by the work they are doing. My best format here may be a short of presentation to the faculty and students,” Ikegwuonu wrote in accepting the opportunity to participate in the museum opening.
Ikegwuonu stayed in the home of Dr. Bob Usry, Extension specialist and lecturer emeritus in the Department of Agricultural and Resource economics. The day of his visit to N.C. State, Ikegwuonu started by speaking to Dr. Bob Patterson’s World Population and Food Prospects class and answering their questions.
He also met with Interim Assistant Dean of CALS international Programs Dr. John Sabella and CALS communications professionals, participated in a tour and interview at WKNC, N.C. State’s student radio station, and participated in a roundtable discussion with Dr. Nora Haenn and students from Interdisciplinary Studies.
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, yet the 90 million Nigerians who farm have no access to information about agriculture. There are few telephones and no televisions, but everyone has access to a transistor radio that can serve as the voice of agricultural extension.
The 50,000-watt station, which went on the air in 2007, broadcasts lessons on food production and information about agricultural markets. Ikegwuonu also interviews experienced farmers who share their knowledge with other farmers, via radio.
Though farmers can listen in their own homes, communities have organized “Listeners Clubs” where farmers listen together and even interact with the station via cell phone text messages. There are some 3,300 listener clubs, and impact studies conducted in December showed that crop yields for these groups is up by 45 percent and income has risen by 30 percent.
Ikegwuonu’s Smallholders Foundation is also working to encourage youth to become farmers. In a country with an unemployment rate of 23 percent, agriculture can provide opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-employment. The foundation has established youth agriculture clubs in schools, where groups begin their own farming operations and learn to raise high-value fruit trees, crops and livestock.
“We want to create another Green Revolution all across Nigeria and Africa,” Ikegwuonu said.
Once the youth clubs have generated income from their operations, they issue loans to club members to help them start their own gardens or agri-businesses at home. To date, more than 4,500 students have been trained, and 1,600 youths have created their own home gardens.
Ikegwuonu told of a 13-year-old girl who borrowed the equivalent of $1,200 to start an egg-laying operation with about 50 hens. In the hours before and after school, she has earned $100-$150 per week – and enormous sum for Nigeria. Her father was so impressed that he invested another $1,200 to double the size of her operation.
In addition, the Smallholders Foundation provides micro-loans to older women to invest in their farming operations. The program has a return rate of 100 percent. As in many parts of Africa, women make up about 80 percent of the Nigeria’s farmers.
The Smallholders Foundation has received funding from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, UNESCO, Rolex and the Clinton Foundation, as well as many other organizations.
By providing information for farmers, promoting agriculture as a career for young people and providing micro-loans to farmers, Ikegwuonu hopes that he can help give Nigeria’s smallholder farmers the information and resources they need to improve their lives. In many ways, the organization shares the goals of Cooperative Extension in the United States.