The largest impact on inclusive and sustainable growth needs of Nigeria can be through economic empowerment in the rural regions. The crux of the issue in Nigerian agriculture lies in farming being a non-remunerative activity for the majority of farmers who are small landholders or marginalised. What worsens their circumstances is inefficient resource-utilisation and land degradation as well as over dependence on rain-fed agriculture. Small farmers face additional challenges of poor access to affordable and good quality inputs; lack of technical know-how to improve productivity; weak institutional linkages; lack of affordable credit; and lack of transportation and storage facilities leading to post-harvest losses and distress sales. There are limited opportunities for non-farm livelihoods as well.
We have adopted an integrated approach of sustainable farming and a locally-relevant mix of non-farm livelihoods. This helps attain production resilience and diversification of livelihoods in order that rural households can cope with production and market risks. The key aspects cover domain interventions for enhancing livelihoods and productivity in an inclusive, participatory manner as well as initiatives to create and strengthen village-level institutions. These include: making small farming systems resilient with integrated farming systems for resource-use efficiency and higher yields, farmer aggregation and credit and market linkages; women empowerment through self-help groups, access to credit; rural enterprise development; building capacities for value addition at farm-gate; facilitation of community-owned and managed infrastructure such as for irrigation, mechanization and value addition, and enabling access to government schemes and resources..
Sustainable agriculture means an integrated approach to increasing farm yield and managing resources in order to address all three critical aspects of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. SOFAAG has adopted the Integrated Farming Systems (IFS) approach to stabilise income streams through natural resource management and livelihood diversification.
The IFS approach has multiple objectives of sustainability, food security, farmer security and poverty reduction. It involves use of outputs of one enterprise component as inputs for other related enterprises wherever feasible, for example, cattle dung mixed with crop residues and farm waste can be converted in to nutrient-rich vermi-compost. The salient features of IFS include – innovation in farming for maximizing production through optimal use of local resources, effective recycling of farm waste for productive purposes, community-led local systems for water conservation, organic farming, and developing a judicious mix of income-generating activities such as dairy, poultry, fishery, goat-rearing, vermicomposting and others. SOFAAG builds farmer capacities for adoption of productive, remunerative, eco-friendly and self-sustaining integrated farming systems.
Agricultural nurseries are an important aspect of sustainable agriculture, especially where farmers have poor access to quality planting material at reasonable price. With the right kind of training and support, these local nurseries can facilitate better use of soil nutrients, moisture and sunlight, resulting in healthier plant growth and enhanced yield performance. Local supply of saplings for different cash crops on regular basis to the farmers in the area also makes their farming enterprise more remunerative. This is also a platform for extension support in the form of new or better varieties of relevant crops. As these ventures do not need large space or large investment, they are suitable for strengthening livelihoods of small and marginal farmers. The potential is significant as well, given that demand for quality planting material is growing among farmers interested in horticulture, floriculture, social forestry and agro-forestry.
With most small farmers having limited access to irrigation, their economic wellbeing is closely linked to soil fertility. Bacteria, other micro-organisms and dead organic matter in soil are major factors determining fertility of dry land soils. Micro-organisms in the soil feed on available biomass and the resultant decomposed material improves the quality of soil and eventually releases important nutrients for crops in the field. Vermicomposting involves an initiative of introducing earthworms and microorganisms into a pit containing waste biomass and cattle dung. Use of vermicompost has shown positive outcomes of plant health and growth, as well as in improvement of soil quality, prevention of runoff, preservation of groundwater quality, reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and conservation of biodiversity.
We promote the establishment of agricultural nurseries and vermicomposting among farmers through sensitization, training and handholding support. We are collaborating with the government to set up nurseries at 160 locations across the country.
SOFAAG is engaged in livestock breeding as well as technical training and support services for small and marginal farmers to produce high-yielding animals, through the establishment of artificial insemination centres to improve genetic material of local livestock. We also raise awareness on the importance of mineral feeding, provide advisory through least-cost formula feeding practices, and assist women farmers to set up dairies and goatries. We have plans to build and support farmers and value chain linkages for livestock farmers. The results of such interventions include additional income and risk mitigation for farmers, affordable nutrition for their families, more efficient land and other resource utilisation, enhanced soil fertility and water retention capacity.
Aggregation is one of the most effective means of reducing the risk in agriculture and strengthening the livelihoods of small and marginal farmers. By collaborating through farmer groups and FPOs, farmers have better capacity for and access to technical know-how on crop planning and management, inputs (including seed production), credit, post-harvest management, value addition, marketing infrastructure and better market linkages. The aggregation approach also helps small and marginal farmers in accessing various benefits of government schemes for rural development. The process involves mobilizing farmers into groups of between 15-20 members at the village level (called Farmer Interest Groups or FIGs) and building up their associations to an appropriate federating point i.e. Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs). SOFAAG has done pioneering work on promoting and strengthening the FPO structure as a tool to address the challenges of access to investment, technology, quality inputs and integration with markets that the small and marginal farmers face. SOFAAG’s goal is to improve the production, productivity and profitability of these farmers.
To achieve the objectives of farmer aggregation in context of sourcing of inputs, credit, value addition and sale of output, the critical link is a local facilitation centre, which provides all the necessary services to farmers of member FPOs in their quest to become more productive and efficient as viable farm enterprises. These Agribusiness Village Resource Centres (AVRCs) are managed by their associated FPOs and are equipped to handle provision of a variety of services and also to nurture farmers for tapping growth-oriented opportunities through targeted assistance and capacity building. They are planned based on a study of the local input-output market demand, opportunities and financing solutions and can help FPOs function effectively as aggregators. This approach encourages rural entrepreneurship for offering service linkages with medium and larger commodity buyers and input sellers, which can eventually help build a more efficient value chain. SOFAAG’s FPO programmes include setting up of such support institutions as well.
With limited access to employment opportunities in rural Nigeria, large scale migration pushes migrant labour into the urban informal sector with inadequate social safety nets and poor living conditions in urban slums. A sustainable solution lies in enhancing their access to livelihoods back home. Local entrepreneurship in rural or semi-rural regions could enable growth locally and build local talent and capacity. This requires relevant and adequate training as well as building capacities to help create micro and small enterprises.
Through the College of Entrepreneurship and Small Business (CESMAKH), SOFAAG is running an Agropreneurship and Agribusiness development programme (A2DP) for unemployed agriculture and allied sector graduates in Nigeria. The initiative is part of the services of Centre for Agricultural Entrepreneurship of CESMAKH. After training, SOFAAG provides active hand-holding support to these trained agropreneurs for setting up their own agribusiness ventures. The programme is 60-days training and one year of hand-holding support. The training covers modules for soft skills, business skills, preparation of Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for access to credit, and the support phases includes mentoring and guidance.
This concept is easily extended to EDP initiatives for school dropouts and graduates in other streams for programmes funded by other sources.
SOFAAG conducts vocational skills training in below poverty line (BPL) districts. Rural youth from poor households are trained in various trades for a period of 90 days. We have developed a customized curriculum for a range of trades, and impart job-oriented knowledge including theoretical and practical training, certified by CESMAKH. Under the Agropreneurship and Agribusiness development programme (A2DP) programme of College, we shall train BPL youths and place them in companies, banks, schools, cooperatives, dairy and retails stores. The trades include agriculture management, rural sales and marketing, warehouse management, computer operations, hospitality and house-keeping, rural banking and insurance and agri-machinery operations and mechanics.
Our ICT based innovations address farmers' information needs by facilitating farm extension services to help them improve crop productivity, optimize resources, increase price realization and enhance livelihood options
SOFAAG 's multi-lingual call centres are located in Umudike, Ibadan and Dutse . Our experts answer farmer queries related to agronomic practices, pest outbreaks, market prices, weather forecast, government schemes, among others. Our approach is based on open software with sophisticated MIS in the form of an inbuilt knowledge management system to capture the entire range of advisory services and to provide full backend data support to our knowledge workers.
SOFAAG shall effectively utilize the medium of Community Radio Stations to provide agricultural extension services to farmers within reception range covering a radius of 25 km. CRS provides agricultural advisory and information updates. It also plays an important role in rejuvenation of the local culture and dissemination of information on government schemes related to health, education, water, etc.
Our EAS initiatives is to create and disseminate real time farming information through animation clips on Mobile/Tablets/PCs. Small and marginal farmers can access this service through an applet that can be installed on basic mobile phones or tablets in a cost-effective manner. It offers a gateway to solutions for farmers who can find solutions for specific farm-related queries. The output of this initiative is user-friendly access to relevant information in audio, picture and text format, as well as the facility of live conferencing with experts and viewing live auctions among others.
Empowerment through SHG development is an ongoing process for us, and we aim to empower all women from small holder farming families associated with us across the country. The intervention involves formation of the groups, opening their bank accounts, inculcating financial discipline through regular savings, and credit linkage with banks for income generation activities.
Group strengthening meetings of SHGs is the instrument that SOFAAG effectively utilizes to motivate SHG members to discuss income generation activities that could be feasible for women at their doorstep. We provide skills training and facilitate women SHGs to set up enterprises in poultry, dairy, vermi-compost, washing powder production, goatery and other locally relevant businesses.
In rural Nigeria water is used for various purposes viz. drinking, washing, agriculture, Livestock, poultry, industries etc. The use of water can be classified into two main categories i.e. “Domestic” and “Productive”. Domestic water use generally includes all the household water needs and productive purpose includes income generation activities. But in most cases, water sources, uses and users are not well integrated, leaving scope for improvements in water use efficiency, livelihoods, and equitable water use. SOFAAG is promoting multiple water use services through its programmes.
SOFAAG works to bring change in rural communities through watershed, natural resource management and participatory irrigation management. We have in-house know how for rain water harvesting and shall introduced small checkdams (Anicuts) with the participation of village communities.
Drip and sprinkler irrigation methods are efficient ways to improve crop management, soil management and increase crop yield. Farmers can get more crops per drop of water. High cost is a major constraint for small and marginal farmers in adopting this method. SOFAAG has partnered with organisations that can provide micro-irrigation systems at affordable cost.
It is estimated that around 21% of Nigerians are affected by water-borne diseases annually. Chemical contamination of ground water is a major problem, particularly due to fluoride and arsenic. SOFAAG plans to set arsenic and fluoride removal plants in acutely affected areas.