How the Nigerian Forum For Agricultural Advisory Service is Adjusting to the New Normal

NIFAAS Seizes Opportunities in ICTs to Build Capacity of Members

Nigeria has not been spared from the general economic meltdown and social lockdown imposed by the global pandemic of Covid-19. As at 31st July 2020, the country has recorded 43,151 confirmed cases of the virus, with 879 deaths. Consequently, all schools and government institutions are still under lock and keys since the last week of March 2020.

Meanwhile NIFAAS had planned activities in capacity building for its members at the different CF Working Groups. But the lockdown threatened the possibility of conducting the training. However, after series of online meetings by AFAAS and its stakeholders in April and early May 2020, the leadership of NIFAAS decided to explore the opportunities in online platforms to meet and build capacity of its members. Consequently, meetings were held by the executive council of the CF, later expanded to include Working Group leaders. Issues of discussion included: mobilizing CF members for the implementation of CAADPXP4 project, and building the capacity of CF Working Group members and stakeholders. The CF thus experimented with Zoom and GoogleMeet apps to decide on the more appropriate application for training. The Screen Share facility on Zoom App, as well as its flexibility to manage and use made it a better choice. Moreover, a short survey among the CF members showed that about 78% of them had participated in one or more meetings on Zoom. This made the CF to conduct about 17 meetings and 4 webinars on Zoom between May and June 2020.

At the beginning of July, AFAAS made its subscribed Zoom platform open for all Country Fora to facilitate the CAADPXP4 Implementation. The encouraged NIFAAS to increase its utilization of online tools for CF mobilization and capacity building.

Currently, NIFAAS has nine (9) specialized Working Groups, viz: Postharvest Management, Gender, Youth, Climate Smart Agriculture, ICT4Ag, Innovation Platform, Policy and Advocacy, Livestock Extension, and Aquaculture Extension. Of the nine Groups, only two (Policy and Advocacy, and Aquaculture) were yet to hold a training session as at 31st July 2020. Online meetings and seminars are organized weekly from various Working Groups, with issues bordering on the various components of the CAADPXP4 project. Discussants and panelists are drawn from within and outside the CF to enrich learning and facilitate sectoral knowledge sharing.

These meetings and online seminars have kept NIFAAS active and intellectually productive, especially since the economic lockdown since March 2020. The CF’s visibility on a national landscape was also enhanced through them. And the progress made by NIFAAS on the use of ICT has inspired related networks and bodies to use these online tools for training and meetings in Nigeria. In May 2020, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development organized its first online meeting in collaboration with NIFAAS and the National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS). The outcomes of that meeting included the setting up of a national committee to revitalize agricultural extension in Nigeria, with Professor Tunji Arokoyo, a member of AFAAS Board, as member. Moreover, the large-scale successes of NIFAAS meetings guided the first online capacity building for 629 field extension agents scattered across Nigeria’s 36 states and Federal Capital Territory. The training events, which lasted two days (27th- 28th July 2020) and had a success rate of more than 94%, was conducted by NAERLS, which is the hosting institution of NIFAAS. It was hosted and moderated by NIFAAS CIKM.

There have been a few challenges, though. The most prominent of these are: unstable power supply and poor internet connectivity especially in less developed areas of the country. Telephones and computers soon run out of power where meetings extend beyond 120 minutes, while poor connectivity disrupts interaction and moderation at meeting.

In conclusion, the new normal that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to the global community has become a blessing for the CF and its members. It has greatly enhanced visibility, relevance, interaction and productivity of the Forum in the nation’s agricultural extension and advisory sector in Nigeria. We hope to build on this achievement in the coming days to improve the sectoral performance in the country, especially in building an ICT-driven knowledge network in the country.

NIFAAS CIKM, Nigeria

1st August 2020