INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES TRAINING NEEDS OF AGRICULTURAL EXTENSION AGENTS IN BAYELSA AND RIVERS STATES, NIGERIA

ABSTRACT
Despite the fact that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have been proposed as a means to improve extension delivery in Nigeria, very little has been done to identify the ICT training need of agricultural extension agents. The study examined the ICT training need of agricultural extension agents in Bayelsa and Rivers States of Nigeria. A descriptive survey design, content validated and pretested questionnaire were used to collect data from 100 public extension agents in the two States. Descriptive statistics, T-tests and stepwise regression were used to analyse the data with the help of SPSS version 20 Software. The study revealed that hardware, software and World wide web were not frequently used for extension activities. There were differences in ICT training need for hardware, word-processing, statistical and presentation software, World wide web, social media and electronic mail according to State, sex, income, specialty of EAs, location of operational area, educational qualification, age and experience of extension agents. Selected socioeconomic characteristics determines ICT training need. Human, financial, policy, infrastructural and institutional constraints prevent extension agents from accessing training in ICT. The study recommends among others training in the use of hardware, software and World wide web for extension agents taking into consideration the sex, location, income of extension agents. Moreover, there should be stakeholders collaboration to address the numerous constraints preventing agricultural extension agents from accessing ICT training.


CHAPTER ONE
INTRODUCTION
This chapter examines the Information and Communication Technologies Training Needs of Extension Agents in Bayelsa and Rivers States, Nigeria. It discusses the background to the study, statement of the problem, research questions, objectives of the study, hypothesis, significance of the study, scope and definition of terms.

Background to the Study 
Agriculture as a field of study, is concerned with activities of rearing animals, cultivation of soil to grow crops, and improvement of the quality of agricultural produce, products and by-products for utilisation by man, animals and industries. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy of many nations and in most developing countries, agriculture provides employment for over 70 percent of the entire population (Anthony, 2010). For instance, in Benin, Tossou and Zinnah (2005) asserted that agriculture is the foundation of the economy, accounting for about 70 percent of export income and 40 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Agriculture is the backbone of Indian economy as the sector remains the principal source of livelihood for more than 52 percent of the population and contributes 14.2 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Raghavalu, 2012).

In Mozambique, agriculture is the pillar of the national economy with 80 percent of the population employed in the agriculture sector and 11 percent contribution to the national GDP (Ministry of Agriculture, 2010). The strength of the Ghanaian economy is based on agriculture, which contributes some 45 percent to the nation's GDP and employs about 70 percent of its labour force (Okorley, Gray & Reid, 2009). In the case of Nigeria the situation is not very different. In addition to petroleum sector, agricultural sector is a key sector in the Nigerian economy with the sector accounting for over 26.8 percent of the national GDP and two thirds of the employment (Umaru & Zubairu, 2012).

The rural farmers are the backbone of agricultural production in Nigeria. Largely, the resource poor with fragmented farm plots, indigenous agricultural production and post-harvest activities, the rural farmers have continued to provide some level of sustenance and even contribute to the economic growth (Omotesho, Ogunlade & Muhammad-Lawal, 2012a). Nigeria is largely described as an agrarian society with at least 70 percent of her estimated population living in the rural and sub-urban areas constituting the major food producers (Ibe, 2011). Despite the endowment of Nigeria with 74 million hectares of arable land and 2.5million hectares of irrigable land, Nigeria is unable to take comparative advantage of the climatic condition, the large expanse of land and ever increasing teaming population to make her sufficient in food production, irrespective of variety of crops that thrive well with maximum yield in different ecological zones of the country (Oriola, 2009). The problems militating against agricultural productivity in Nigeria had been traced to use of primitive technologies and over-dependence on human labour (Ibe, 2011) and ineffective extension system (Nwachukwu & Kanu, 2011).

Nigeria's Government in a bid to achieve sufficiency in food production and food security, introduced several programmes such as School to Land Project, Farmers Settlement Scheme, Operation Feed the Nation, Green Revolution, River Basin Development Authority (RBDA), Directorate of Food, Road and Rural Infrastructure (DFRRI), Federal Roads Management Agency (FERMA), Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs) which is the extension arm of Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) in Nigeria. Agricultural extension services were identified with most of the programmes of Government to improve the livelihood of the people. Agricultural extension as an organisation supports and facilitates the people involved (engaged) in agricultural production to access or obtain timely beneficial knowledge, information, skills and technologies to address the problems of clienteles so as to improve the livelihood and overall standard of living of people (Birner et al, 2006).

Agricultural extension also links research with farmers by communicating agricultural innovations from point of innovation development to innovation users and then from farmers problems to research stations. Adekunle (2013) demonstrated the relationship between research, extension and farmers systems when he emphasised that knowledge (technology and information) would not be communicated from research to farmers and farmers problem(s) to research stations if extension is absent. In contributing to the pivotal role played by extension, Mabe and Oladele (2012) posited that agricultural extension bridges the gap between available technology and farmers' practices through the provision of technical advice, information and training and, they further indicated that without this bridge of gap, farmers' ability to adopt new technologies and plant varieties to enhance production and income would be limited. Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO, 2013) posited that in order to effectively bridge the gap between technology developers and technology users that is capable of improving livelihoods of the technology users, there has to be sufficient extension service system and timely agricultural knowledge transfer from point of invention to point of use. Suffice to say that insufficient extension services and poor access to information are known to widen the gap in the adoption of new technologies.

More so, agricultural information to and from farmers to research are time bound, and effective agricultural extension service delivery therefore depends on ability of extension to deliver agricultural knowledge to farmers and take farmers problems in turn to research on time. The extension agent who is the only extension staff saddled with such responsibility is therefore key to information delivery. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have enormous potentials to facilitate timely communication of agricultural knowledge, bridge the gap between agricultural information developers and farmers, and also develop the agricultural sector especially by improving the performance of agricultural extension agents and the overall extension sub-system if, the extension agents are equipped with necessary competence in the effective use of ICTs for extension activities.

Unfortunately, agricultural extension agents in Nigeria, still depend on traditional system of agricultural information communication such as face-to-face home and farm visits. Aboh (2008) opined that extension agents in most developing countries have used all sorts of traditional information communication technologies such as radio, television, drama and video in the delivery of extension service to clienteles. The traditional system of communication is no longer effective for time bound innovation transfer and, is unable to manage the high farmer extension agent ratio in recent time, thus, limiting farmers' productivity. The goal of the knowledge transfer is to raise farmers knowledge that will translate into increased efficient and effective agricultural production.

The agricultural development programmes (ADPs) which is the extension arm of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (FMARD) in Nigeria, realising the immense benefits of ICTs and in a bid to establish an effective extension system as well as alleviate the problems militating against high agricultural productivity, have made information and communication technologies (ICTs) an integral part of the extension communication process. ICT according to Odiaka (2011), is an umbrella term that includes all technologies for the storage, retrieval, manipulation, and communication of information. ICT is any device, tool or application that permits the exchange or collection of data through interaction or transmission (World Bank, 2011). Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are those technologies that are currently in use to interlink information technology devices such as personal computers with communication technologies such as telephones and their telecommunication networks (Okon, 2013). Information and Communication Technology (ICT) encompasses the use of existing technology such as hardware, software and telecommunication options, including the internet and telephony (mobile and landline) systems (FAO, 2013).

Meera, Jhamtani and Rao (2004) had stated that some of the numerous areas ICT play an important role are in agricultural extension activities, development of farming system research and extension, having location-specific modules of research and extension, promoting market extension, sustainable agricultural development and participatory research. The present rapid changes that information and communication technologies are causing in agriculture as well as agricultural extension work environment, is as a result of new practices and new ICT gadgets. The rapid changes make it imperative for agricultural extension agents who are employed in agricultural extension delivery organisations such as the ADPs to be skilled in the use of ICTs in performing extension activities in an efficient and effective manner.

ICTs enable extension system orient towards overall agricultural development of small production systems by creating the enabling environment for small scale farmers with appropriate knowledge to compete in the agricultural sector (Nnadi, Chikaire, Atoma, Egwuonwu & Echetama, 2012). ICTs such as mobile telephones, Internet web and search engines, radio, television, optical disks, electronic communications, computer, digital cameras, videos, audio recorders, software and many more are known to play diverse roles in agriculture. World Bank (2011) opined that the types of ICT-enabled services such as, the use of mobile phones which serve as a platform for exchanging information through Short Messaging Services (SMS) are growing quickly in usefulness and improving the capacity and livelihoods of poor smallholders.

Similarly, Qiang, Kuek, Dyamond and Esselaar (2012) opined that mobile communications technology has become the world’s most common way of transmitting voice data and services and, no technology has ever spread faster. Extension agents trained in the appropriate use of ICTs, are able to answer faster with greater ease and increased accuracy, many of the questions asked by farmers (including questions on how to increase yields, access markets and adapt to weather conditions) (World Bank, 2011). Hence, appropriate use of ICTs by extension agents improve performance of extension agents and the overall performance of the extension organisation such as the ADPs.

The performance of an organisation such as the ADPs, depend on the performance of the extension agents who are the human resource capital of the ADPs that play an important role in the growth and performance of the extension system in Nigeria. It has however been established that the public extension organisation is not effectively and efficiently delivering extension service, hence, the training of extension personnel is regarded as the quick way to assess the necessity of agricultural extension transformation agenda, and the overall goal of agricultural transformation agenda (ATA) is to develop well-trained staff that will carter for a variety of actors along the targeted value chain in the States (Haruna & Abdullahi, 2013). The training of personnel in any organisation is increasingly becoming an important issue to the need for the management and its employee to be successful. Ovwigho (2011) had argued that the training of agricultural extension workers is an integral part of the overall agricultural production process since it is the duty of agricultural extension agents to reach farmers with useful and practical information for increased agricultural production. More so, jobs are becoming more technical and organisation specific and there are fewer candidates whose qualifications meet such requirements, hence the need to increase the technological knowledge and abilities of staff (McConnel, 2003). To improve organisational and employee performance, the employee of the organisation is trained (Khan, Khan & Khan, 2011).
Training is the process of providing knowledge and skills that are capable of bringing about desired changes in attitude in order to improve the competence of people being trained with the ultimate goal of improving performance (Youdeowei & Kwarteng, 1995). Armstrong (2009) opined that training is the use of systematic and planned instructional activities to promote learning, and training involves the application of formal processes to impart knowledge that assist people acquire necessary skills to perform jobs satisfactorily. Armstrong (2009) further posited that training is one of the several responses an organisation such as the ADP can undertake to promote learning. In order to improve the performance of extension agents in ADPs across the 36 States of Nigeria, the extension agents are trained during fort-nightly technological training (FNTs) and monthly technological review trainings. To effectively and efficiently respond to training need of extension agents through training, the training need of trainees (agricultural extension agents) have to be identified through need identification assessment in order to channel resources toward the desired need.

Training need refers to the competence that must be acquired by employees to enable them perform jobs at optimal level (Youdeowei & Kwarteng, 1995). ICT training need, thus refers to ICT competence that must be acquired by agricultural extension agents to perform assigned tasks at optimal level. ICT training need identification is not conducted in proxy but by identifying needs from the extension agents who need the training through survey. The survey method of training needs identification is supported by McConnell (2003) who defends that, the most used need identification method is survey approach whereby questionnaire is used. The training need identification survey assisted in revealing agricultural extension agents training needed in ICTs such as hardware, word-processing, presentation and statistical software, social media, electronic mail and internet browsing to successfully integrate ICTs in the agricultural extension communication process and, improve ICTs competence of agricultural extension agents through training such as in-service training. Thus, the need to examine ICT training needs of extension agents in Bayelsa and Rivers States.

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Item Type: Ghanaian Postgraduate Material  |  Attribute: 126 pages  |  Chapters: 1-5
Format: MS Word  |  Price: GH50  |  Delivery: Within 30Mins.
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