Scaling Advisory Services to Nigerian Farmers in Need


Crystal Aghadi, Research Associate, John Babadara, Program Associate, and Godfrey Petgrave, Agronomist, report on PxD Nigeria’s most ambitious challenge yet: delivering advisory information to over 100,000 Nigerian smallholder farmers. 

Team PxD Nigeria is in the process of unleashing a wave of scientifically validated agricultural information to support the productivity of over 100,000 smallholder farmers during Nigeria’s 2021 Wet Season. Information to promote optimal cultivation and input use in support of nine priority crops is being delivered via automated push calls directly to the mobile phones of farmers across eleven Nigerian states, including Nigeria’s poorest, and conflict-affected states in the Northeast and Northwest Regions of the country. The Wet Season is particularly important for poorer farmers who rely on rainfed agriculture and is the most intensive and productive cultivation period of the year.

The messages that Team PxD Nigeria is delivering have been designed to maximize accessibility and relevance to smallholder farmers’ needs with the intention of buttressing and improving agricultural productivity and incomes at a time of heightened need. The message delivery schedule is aligned to critical decision points in the agricultural calendar so that farmers receive information when it is most practical and actionable for them. Our advisory content, and the timing of its delivery, are designed to assist users to make more informed and productive decisions during pre-planting, cultivation, and the harvest and post-harvest periods.   

Our Partners

On 12 November 2020 the Nigerian Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and PxD announced the inception of the Nigeria Rural Poor Stimulus Facility (NRPSF).

The Nigeria RPSF is designed to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers and to insulate domestic food supply by supporting access to affordable inputs and advisory to sustain production. The NRPSF is funded by, and aligned with, IFAD’s overarching Rural Poor Stimulus Facility which was established in 2020 to improve the resilience of rural livelihoods in the context of the COVID crisis by ensuring timely access to inputs, information, markets, and liquidity. The initiative is being implemented under the auspices of the Climate Change Adaptation and Agribusiness Support Programme (CASP), a comprehensive action plan being implemented by FMARD with support from IFAD. 

PxD is working with IFAD and the Government of Nigeria’s CASP initiative to build and scale mobile phone-based agricultural extension to support smallholder farmers in the seven Northern Nigerian states of Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara, as well as Ebonyi (Southeast), Nasarawa and Niger (Central), and Ogun (Southwest). To reach more users and maximize the impact of the grant, PxD is collaborating with additional actors and initiatives driving innovation in the Nigerian agriculture sector, including: the IFAD-supported Value Chain Development Program (VCDP) which uses a demand-driven approach to develop markets, address constraints and increase market access for smallholder farmers and medium-scale agro-processors along Nigeria’s cassava and rice value chains. PxD is also working with AgroXchange Technology, a private technology firm with on-the-ground access to farmers, that uses a digital profiling platform to facilitate access to markets, credit and inputs on the part of Nigerian farmers. We are also working to deepen the reach and access a new group of smallholders recruited by Pacific Ring (Cassanovas), a private firm working to expand production and post-production opportunities for cassava farmers in collaboration with the Nasarawa State Ministry of Agriculture.

Operational Context

Even before COVID-19’s ill winds began to buffet the global economy, Nigeria’s economic performance confronted significant headwinds linked to lower oil and commodity prices. In the near term, the World Bank expects unemployment and underemployment to increase, with disproportionately negative implications for the poor. 

The Wet Season advisory campaign will empower smallholder farmers in  Borno, Jigawa, Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe, and Zamfara States – across Nigeria’s Northeast and Northwest Regions – where poor human security has compounded legacy developmental challenges with negative implications for smallholder livelihoods and food security. The farmers who will receive information from PxD in the seven states that span Nigeria’s northern border are beneficiaries of IFAD’s CASP initiative. The 2021 Wet Season advisory campaign will also deliver advisory information to smallholder farmers in Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Niger, and Ogun states. Farmers in these additional four geographies are representative of other regions – the Southeast, North central and Southwest of the country, respectively. It is hoped that their inclusion will serve as further proof of concept for the integration of digital extension services in Nigeria, country-wide and at scale. The addition of farmers from Ebonyi, Nasarawa, Niger and Ogun states was made possible through a strategic collaboration with the IFAD supported Value Chain Development Program (VCDP), and collaboration with private sector partners actively implementing programs to support smallholder farmers.

A significant challenge in fragile and conflict-affected areas is balancing the need for extension services with multi-dimensional risks. Insecurity in Northern Nigeria has negatively impacted farming. When overlaid with the preexisting high levels of poverty in the region, conflict-affected and constrained supply chains, market disruptions, damaged infrastructure, and human displacement are contributing to an escalating food crisis for many communities. PxD’s digital extension services can be provided to farmers without the need for in-person contact, a significant advantage in conflict-affected areas, and with regard to ongoing physical distancing protocols necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Need throughout the region is expected to be particularly pressing this year as the onset of the main rainy season has been delayed. The Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMET) forecast predicts a combination of delayed rains, fewer days of rain, and a longer than usual dry spell, particularly in the Northern region where our service is concentrated.

Between January and March 2021, PxD Nigeria implemented our inaugural digital extension service which broadcast Dry Season advisory to a cohort of 5,613 smallholder farmers to support the cultivation of five priority crops. In April 2021, after the completion of the Dry Season campaign, the team conducted a survey of farmers to assess the efficacy of the service and inform future programming. Prominent among the information received from farmers was that only 26 percent of farmers surveyed reported access to any other form of extension service. The dearth of alternative and accessible sources of trustworthy agricultural information underscores the utility of digital extension in remote- and conflict-affected areas, and additional challenges that confront in-person extension services in the context of a pandemic. 

How the System Works

PxD’s advisory information is  delivered via push calls coordinated through a Paddy-powered voice-based platform and focuses on increasing smallholder farmer knowledge about affordable inputs and promoting activities that improve productivity and income generation. 

Paddy is what we call our backend technology – the framework we use for building two-way communication applications to communicate with our users on their mobile phones. Paddy’s versatility allows for a great deal of automation, provides comprehensive monitoring tools, and enables our team to run tests and tweak the platform in real-time as we concurrently deliver our advisory service.

Advisory calls are timed so that the first attempt to place a call to each farmer is at 7AM. If a farmer does not pick up the initial call, three retries will be attempted at the same time on the subsequent three days. The timing of calls is informed by PxD’s experience delivering an initial service to 5,613 farmers during the Dry Season, and a follow-up survey with users of that service. The call times explicitly avoid times when farmers may be observing religious practices.

e-Extension in Practice

A total of 85 push call messages have been developed to support the cultivation of nine priority crops during the Wet Season (10x Millet-related messages, 9x Soyabean, 9x Cowpea, 10x Cassava, 10x Sorghum, 9x Cabbage, 8x Groundnut, 10x Maize, and 10x Rice). Message content addresses key practices farmers can adopt to improve their productivity and yields. 

The team has developed approximately two hours of content to be pushed via voice calls to farmers to support the cultivation of nine crops. Extrapolating from the average pickup and listening rates we observed during the Dry Season campaign, we hope that farmers will access between 600,000 and 900,000 total minutes of content depending on pickup and listening rates. 

Each message is translated and recorded in Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba to accommodate users in Nigeria’s various regions. Messages are designed to be delivered in approximately two minutes or less to maximize information retention and mitigate the potential for distractions while listening. Messages prioritize information about the following Good Agronomic Practices (GAP): 

  1. Soil requirements for selected crops
  2. Climatic requirements for selected crops
  3. Land preparation for selected crops
  4. Sowing/planting methods for selected crops
  5. Fertilizer Management 
  6. Integrated Pest and Disease Management  
  7. Disease management  – Bacteria, Fungi, and Virus
  8. Key Pests and Diseases management for selected crops
  9. Good Harvest practices
  10. Good Post-harvest practices

Examples of calls to farmers.

Hausa Audio file of 1st Millet Call to Farmers (Women narrator):

English Translation:  Do you know that millet does not grow well in flooded conditions? In preparation for the wet season, do not grow millet on soils prone to waterlogging and flooding. This is because doing so will cause shallow rooting, low seed protein, and poor yields. Millet can be grown on a wide variety of soils ranging from clay loams to deep sands. For better yields and grain quality, it is best to grow millet in deep, well-drained productive soil. Properly managed soil and good tillage practices will give millet deep rooting which will result in good seed production and higher yields for the farmer. 

Igbo Audio file of 5th Cassava Call to Farmers (Women narrator):

English Translation: Applying fertilizer on your cassava farm should be based on results from soil analysis, but if the soil test is not done, you can then use the land history and vegetation as a guide. In the absence of any soil testing agents, you can also determine the quality of your soil by simply taking note of the weeds or other plants that are growing on the land before clearing. If you observe more broadleaf weeds on the land, this is a good sign that the soil is good. Another physical way to check for the quality of your soil is to check if it smells, a rich soil will smell like dirt while a bad soil will have no smell at all. For best yield, apply 3 – 4 bags NPK 15:15:15 on 1 acre of cassava farm. Apply Fertilizer at 8 weeks after planting. Apply 1 match box-full of NPK fertilizer around each stem, 10 cm from the plant, this is two fingers away from the stem, or broadcast with care around the plant, making sure the fertilizer does not touch the stem or leaves so that it doesn’t burn the plant.

Hausa Audio file of 5th Rice Call to Farmers (Man narrator):

English Translation: Preventing pests in your field will save money on pesticides and increase the value of your harvest. Intercropping beans with your rice can discourage pests from your field. Keeping your field clear of weeds, debris, and dead plants will also keep pests away. 

Visit your field regularly and check at least 10 plants for signs of pests. If you notice signs of pests, speak to your agro dealer immediately for advice. Be careful– if chemical pesticides are used incorrectly or used too much, pest problems can become worse in the future.