1.1 Background to the Study

Agriculture constitutes one of the most important sectors of Nigeria’s economy. The sector is particularly important in terms of generating employment and contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and export revenue earnings. It contributes 22% to GDP, equivalent to $112.12 billion (N18,513 billion Naira at N165 per dollar) (Christie, 2014). In Nigeria, an estimated 65% of the population resides in the rural areas where agriculture is the predominant occupation. It is estimated that about 70% of the rural population are engaged in agriculture (Federal Office of Statistics, 2009). For more than two decades, the agricultural sector of the Nigerian economy has continued to perform below expectation despite the huge sum of money being allocated to the sector in each year’s budget (Onyeahialam, 2012). In 2002, about N9.874 billion was mapped out for the sector. Also during the same year, 72 million dollars donated by Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) were distributed to the 36 States of the Federation in addition to the year’s allocation (Iheagu, 2012). According to Iheagu (2012), the money cannot be said to have been justifiably used, rather, what transpire is the prevalent poor attitude of the government to the execution of agricultural programmes which is always a top-bottom approach system.

Previously, government embarked on various reform programmes with a view to increase food production and processing both for home consumption and export. The reform programmes introduced which among others include the: Farm Settlement Scheme established in 1960, National Accelerated Food Production Programme 1972,Agricultural Development Projects 1972, Nigerian Agricultural and Co-operative Bank 1973, Operation Feed the Nation 1976, River Basin Development Authorities 1976, Directorate of Food, Roads and Rural Infrastructures 1986, National Directorate of Employment 1987, National Agricultural Land Development Authority 1988, Food Security and Poverty Alleviation Programme 1999. All these programmes have significant merit, but the facts remain that none singly or collectively have addressed the felt needs of the farmers to any significant and sustainable extent (Ladele, 2010; Ijere, 2012).

Farmers’ participation in the development process has in recent years become increasingly popular especially in development programmes that are geared towards poverty reduction. In the words of Parfitt (2014), “it is clear that participation has become one of the central influences in mainstream development thinking”. The concept of participation has taken the characteristic of a panacea. This was as a result of failure of the conventional, blue-print or “top-down” approach that placed emphasis on the transfer of innovation to adequately address rural developmental challenges without the involvement of beneficiaries in the development process (Dichter, 2013). Igbal (2017) added that most agricultural projects fail because when projects are designed, farmers’ culture or socio-economic characteristics are not considered which lead to inability of outside agents to recommend appropriate technologies that are compatible with the target groups. In such development approaches farmers are often seen as “objects” as opposed to being “subjects” in the development process. As such, participation of beneficiaries was passive in the achievement of predetermined objectives. In contrast, the people-centered or the bottom-up approach places emphasis on peoples’ participation in the development process with a view to empowering them for future self-development initiatives.

Agricultural development and extension programs have long been seen as key elements for enabling farmers to obtain information and technologies that can improve their livelihoods (Purcell and Anderson, 2017) and is recognized as an important factor in promoting agricultural development (Anderson and Feder, 2017).Yet negative experiences with extension in the past have sparked considerable debate worldwide about the best way to provide and finance agricultural extension. However, Anderson and Feder, (2017) argue that it is generally accepted that it is only a well-performing extension service that can make significant contributions to improved agricultural growth and the welfare of poor people. It is in this regard that Nambiro (2015) posits that it was as a result of ineptness in the public extension system, a third type of extension service; private agricultural extension system has emerged comprising of private companies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations (CBOs), and faith-based organizations. Community based organizations serve as the apex organizations by which communities can embark on agricultural development projects, small scale industries, vocational and trade, skills, rural transportation and other rural economic activities (Fakoya, Apantaku, & Oyesola,; Anyanwu, 2012; Adejumobi, 2017).