Innovative Use of Technology for Agricultural Development in Nigeria By Olawale Rotimi
(A conference delivered by Olawale Rotimi Opeyemi at Landmark University, Nigeria on Tuesday 31st of May, 2016)
This important conference and discourse on E-Agriculture is coming at a time when Nigeria is desperate about investing in a gainful sector that will rapidly restore the nation’s economy which is currently swimming through rough water. Due to the global oil crisis, Nigeria’s oil revenue has shrunk, thereby creating the need for diversification into agriculture and some other sectors.
Prior to the discovery of oil, Nigeria’s economy flourished through agriculture. Of course, agriculture isn’t new to the Nigerian economy, during the pre-crude oil era when Nigeria economy totally dependent on agriculture; the sector has offered vast opportunities and employed over seventy percent (70%) of the Nigerian labour force. Agricultural sector has provided food requirements for the country and raw materials for local industries, as well revenue from exportation of cash crops. Agriculture can not only be a major source of revenue for Nigeria’s economy, it is also the bedrock of Africa’s economy as a continent.
The sector accounts for about 20% of Africa’s GDP, 60% of its labor force and 20% of the total merchandise exports. Agriculture is the main source of income for 90% of rural population in Africa. Agriculture represents a great part of the Africa’s share in world trade. On the list of 20 top agricultural and food commodity importers in 2004, 60% are from Sub-Saharan Africa. African countries represent also 50% of top 20 countries, in terms of the share of total agriculture/ total exported merchandise in the world.
However, discovery of crude oil weakened the priority given to agriculture in Nigeria, and Nigeria slide into a mono-economic nation. With the recent global oil crisis which has affected Nigeria’s economy severely, once again Nigeria is faced with a mandatory need to diversify the economy, particularly to agriculture. Beyond planting of crops, harvesting, processing and selling, there are investment opportunities in agriculture in Nigeria, for example, cashew nut exportation. Nigeria has huge deposit of cashew nuts, in Kwara, Oyo, Kogi, Benue, and Osun among other states. In 2015, N1bn export deal was made with cashew growers in Nigeria which is driven by the rise in demand from China, India and other fast-growing economies; the global cashew boom has generated profits at most trading houses.
According to a news report, some cashew exporters in Nigeria are worth millions of dollars in annual revenue. There’s an on-going campaign to grow more cashews to meet global demands in coming years with the government and the private sector campaigning to farmers to increase local cultivation , cashew exports could be inching closer to a new peak of 400,000 tonnes.
Why Technology and Agriculture?
-Technology is an integral part of this century, any sector that wants to grow must be technology driven.
-To modernize agricultural practices and expose farmers to global trends in Agriculture
-To ensure accountability in agriculture funding
-To connect farmers with market.
Problems Facing Agriculture in Nigeria and the Place of Technology
For the purpose of this conference, we shall discuss three major problems confronting agricultural sector in Nigeria and how technology can be used to resolve them. In order to help farmers thrive, it is important not to only develop technologies that target specific needs of farmers but also to educate the farmers so they can embrace new ways and utilize them efficiently. For students of Computer Science here today, as we discuss these problems facing agriculture in Nigeria, the onus of proffering tech-driven solutions is on you. We shall be discussing three major problems confronting the agricultural sector in Nigeria and how technology can used in resolving them.
1. Middle Men Hostage
In Nigeria, farmers and consumers are squeezed by middle men. Middle men have held both farmers and consumers hostage. Farmers have no control over the market price of farm products, usually, the prices of farm products are largely determined by the middle man, and this makes the middle men more profitable at the expense of the farmer and the consumer. The middle men have disconnected farmers from consumers and ensured the major profits are captured, they dictate the market price of farm produce.
It is important to note that the profitability of farmers is essential to the sustainability of agriculture in Nigeria. Food items are unnecessarily costly because middle men dictate the market price. To safeguard the future of Agriculture in Nigeria, linking the retailers/consumers to farmers is very important. Nigeria is not the first nations to be faced with this problem, India among others are faced with similar problem.
Today, E-commerce is fast growing in Nigeria. E-Commerce is gaining more popularity with the increasing number of people who are gaining internet access and are becoming IT literate, with the number of mobile phones surpassing the population of the country. The most common online activities of Nigerians in percentage are browsing and searching, 74 per cent, selection of a product, 56 per cent, paying online, 15 per cent, paying offline, 82 per cent and online checking of results, 43 per cent. This implies that, Nigerians are actively engaged in e-commerce.
However, on many of the e-commerce platforms where e-merchandise is done, clothing items and electronic gadgets are usually on display for sale. There is a need for a shift into sales of agricultural produce online in Nigeria; technological platforms should be developed to connect farmers directly with retailers/consumers. Initiative such as the local mobile application- Hojah (www.hojah.com), which is a platform for cooked and raw food items to be sold should be encouraged. More of such platforms should be developed, and farmers should be encouraged and trained to use such platforms to display their produce in order to connect the market directly.
2. Farm Security
Insecurity in farms in rural Nigeria is increasingly alarming, particularly with the widespread of Fulani herdsmen attack on farmers and their farms. Even though the tension between Fulani herdsmen and farmers in Nigeria has been in existence for many years, the tension is taking a more severe dimension with increasing and constant attacks on farms and farmers. In April 2016, among others, news reported that Fulani herdsmen invaded farm settlements in Ibadan destroying crops and injuring farmers. Similar attacks were launched against farmers in Benue, Ekiti and Ondo states.
The Nigerian government at all levels has started suggesting solutions to the on-going attacks on farms by Fulani herdsmen who take their cattle to graze on farm lands. One of the suggested solutions is creating grazing area. Creating grazing area is a fantastic way to resolve this, since the cattle will only move within the grazing area. However, the need to answer the following questions:
i. How will this grazing area be demarcated?
ii. How will herdsmen know when “they” and the cattle are out of boundaries?
iii. How can the government track movement of cattle in order to spot any cattle out grazing area?
During President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, the idea of distributing mobile phones for local farmers was raised. In order to ensure monitoring of grazing area for Fulani herdsmen and their cattle, and security for farmers, the following can be introduced:
i. Toll Free Emergency Call Line for Farmers: Since majority of the farmers use mobile phones, a toll free emergency number for farmers to connect security operatives is very important. Inability to report attacks early enough downplays tendencies of intervention by security operatives.
ii. Tracking Devices/Surveillance: More also, tracking devices and surveillance can be used in tracking movement of herdsmen and cattle; this will enable the government and the security agents to identify herdsmen who have crossed the grazing area into farm lands.
3. Lack of Access to Research Development
To make farming the backbone of Nigerian economy, it must be made viable. If the sector is not revamped, viability is impossible. There are developments in agriculture, such as improved seedlings and stems which grow faster with more yields, pest, weed and erosion control, new fertilizers e.t.c. but many farmers are unaware, particularly in rural areas. If farmers learn about new developments in agriculture, they are able to implement in their farms and increase productivity, hereby ensuring food security in the country.
Exposing the farming population to improved ways of farming will move farming out of traditional practices. Lack of access to research development in agriculture among rural farmers has continued to limit productivity. Many of these rural farmers cannot read English, but they are able to read local languages.
An online farmers’ community where farmers connect, read and discuss developments in local languages is crucial. Just like social networking, farmers networking should be encouraged, to expose farmers to new practices, developments and trends in the farming profession.
Such platform should be developed, and farmers should be trained to take advantage of it for agricultural development in the country.
Dear audience, like I said earlier, above are the three major problems I consider very important, these problems need speedy technological solution. However, there are other problems confronting agriculture in Nigeria that needs technological solution, such as record keeping in farms, lack of access to funding opportunities e.t.c. The key focus of introducing technology to agriculture in Nigeria is to ease the practice of agriculture in Nigeria, increase viability of agriculture and ensure food security in Nigeria.
I urge Computer Scientists in Landmark University and other Universities across Nigeria to proffer solutions to these problems confronting agriculture in Nigeria through technology. The next set of billionaires in Africa will emerge from agricultural sector; let’s join hands to make agriculture a more lucrative venture.
Olawale Rotimi is a Writer/Journalists. He can be reached via +2348105508224 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RotimiLawale