Nigeria is still predominantly an agrarian society; the agricultural sector employs around 40% of the entire labour force. Over the last four decades in a bid to enhance agricultural production, various agricultural policies and programmes have been introduced by the government. Based on conventional agricultural techniques these policies have done little to support smallholder farmers and have resulted in negative environmental impacts. Despite all these efforts, Nigeria remains a food deficit nation and a net importer of agricultural produce. Increasing global food and environmental crises, particularly in Africa, have created renewed interest in the viability of alternative approaches to agriculture and food systems such as agroecology for ameliorating these issues. This study had three broad aims: 1) to understand how agroecology is practised and understood in Nigeria; 2) to evaluate the opportunities for wider adoption of agroecological techniques; and 3) to understand the challenges to transitioning from the current conventional farming system to a more agroecological approach. From these aims, five objectives were developed, and these were addressed using a variety of qualitative methods. This study adopted an inductive approach which incorporates participatory action and design science research. A theoretical framework provides the rationale for the study and justification for the methods chosen as this project intersects at different research fields. Qualitative methods were successfully utilised for data collection and analysis, these included focus groups, semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis. The fieldwork research activities took place in Imo and Abia states, in south-east Nigeria. In total, 70 participants took part in the study, this comprised of 40 farmers, 20 extension personnel and 10 agricultural university lecturers, purposively and randomly selected. The farmers interviewed in this study were not familiar with the term agroecology although they understood what organic agriculture was and were concerned about the impact of conventional practices on their environment. Further work is needed to determine if this is replicated in other regions of Nigeria. The examination of the existing agricultural knowledge exchange systems (AKIS) in Nigeria identified two clear strands, a top-down formal system determined by government policy and facilitated by the extension services and a bottom-up, informal system of peer-to-peer knowledge exchange between farmers. Currently, information on agricultural techniques and innovation is provided to farmers through the extension services. A key organisation is the National Extension and Advisory Liaison Service [NEARLS]. Interviews with NEARLS personnel revealed that government agricultural policy was based solely on intensive or conventional farming techniques and there was no expertise within the organisation on agroecology. As the top-down information AKIS is driven by government policy, this is difficult to influence and change in the short-term. Therefore, this study explored potential options to facilitate a bottom-up approach to agroecological transition. Peer-to-peer knowledge exchange is a key aspect of this approach and mobile applications (m-apps) could be used to facilitate this. A scoping review of currently available m-apps in Nigeria, revealed none which support agroecology. The SmartAgroeocology m-app was developed and demonstrated to farmers and extension agents, feedback from participants was positive. In conclusion, this study found that farmers are concerned about the negative impacts of the conventional techniques they use, and they are interested in adopting agroecological practices although they need support to do this. Currently formal support is provided by the extension services, but this is based on government policy which does not include agroecology. This top-down approach therefore does not currently support transition towards agroecological systems. Encouraging farmers to support each other and facilitate peer-to-peer knowledge exchange using mobile technology could instead facilitate a bottom-up approach to agroecological transition. In this study in southeast Nigeria, the potential of this was demonstrated by the SmartAgroecology app. The farmers in this study were very positive about its potential but further work is needed to determine whether these findings are representative of farmers in Nigeria.
- agroecological systems
- transition challenges and opportunities
- interactive knowledge exchange