[dropcap type=”1″]I[/dropcap]nformation and communication technologies (ICTs), such as mobile phones, satellite data and the like – are transforming agriculture. With gadgets, such as mobile phone, computers and others, farmers receive data on crop prices and market information.
They also enjoy stable year-round prices, while eliminating middlemen and lowering transaction costs.
One farmer who is benefitting from accessing data online is the Chief Executive, Hastom Global Services Limited, Mr Debo Thomas.
He is into cashew and plantain farming in Ogbomosho, Oyo State. Thomas accesses data on commodity prices, and other agricultural services through his smartphone and tablet. For him, information and communication matter in agriculture. Whether for those growing crops, raising livestock, or fish farming. This is because farmers seek information from one another and from other stakeholders across the value chain.
Apart from personal contacts, Thomas has used his phone to seek information on the most effective planting strategy, where he can get improved seedlings and feeds, and how he can acquire farmland. With data gleaned from his phone or laptop, he is on top of the situation as up dated agric information helps him to cope with market changes.
He has witnessed the power of the mobile phone and how people are using it to improve communication in agriculture and rural development. New mobile applications are also being used to provide timely information to farmers. Thomas said the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) can improve smallholder farmers’ income and increase agricultural productivity. This is because increasingly affordable connectivity and tools, especially mobile phones, as well as advances in data storage and open access, have made ICT relevant to agriculture. Providing such knowledge though challenging, he noted helps farmers to be in business.
[quote_box_left]With massive agric data coming electronically to farmers, young people ,Thomas said, are attracted to agriculture and are establishing ventures that could revitalise rural neighbourhoods. Thomas has been able to sell large acres of farmlands and help major investors to establish agribusinesses across Oyo State. With ICT technologies, Thomas interacts profitably with farmers and other stakeholders and leverage a whole range of technologies to improve farming practices and effectiveness.[/quote_box_left]
[quote_box_right]He believes that provision of agricultural services through ICTs could be a game changer that will attract young people to farming. He explained that having better market information would help young farmers to decide what to plant and where best to sell it is important. While the government may not be able to attract everybody to farming, he noted that youths who decide to go into farming can serve as good ambassadors for farming, aided by the increased use of ICT that creates a more favourable image of farming activities.[/quote_box_right]
He however, lamented that farmers in the rural areas are cut off because of no internet connection. For him, lack of connectivity means that they may be unable to market their products sufficiently or access market data or agricultural research provided through online and telecommunications platforms.
He is of the opinion farming policies should be part of a wider agenda for rural development by creating an enabling social environment with services to make rural areas good places to live in. Thomas said agricultural technologies and innovations are important for rural development and food/nutrition security.
Besides, the sector needs better policies to attract young people to stay in the rural areas, in addition to providing better infrastructure and internet. He sees data driven agriculture as vital for youth employment and food security. He believes once farmers have the information they need to improve their productivity, access to financial transactions, they will be able to make much money from farming ventures.
Therefore, the government must promote suitable agricultural technologies that can be used by farmers and agro-entrepreneurs boost food production and development. From mobile technologies that easily connect markets to agricultural products, to identifying agricultural value chains, stakeholders believe the agriculture sector must of a necessity identify ways of scaling up existing technologies to connect farmers to opportunities and investors.
The concerns are Nigeria as a leader in the sub region is failing in its responsibility of collecting and managing data in agriculture. Some experts believe with a supportive government, the high rate of mobile phone penetration and the growth of technology innovation spaces, the country should not lack behind countries in agric data leadership.
Experts are urging Nigeria to close the glaring gaps in data needed in various agricultural development projects if the country’s economy is to improve. They believe investing in better economic data will act as an incentive for international investors to plough their monies into the country.
Lack of adequate data in agriculture would hinder foreign direct investment and the government’s efforts to reform the sector. To them, quality data yield not only has sectoral benefits, but also real economic returns.
Chief Executive, Skill Enhancement Centre (SENCE), Mrs Ogo Ibok is one of those who share this belief. She has keyed into it. To increase farmers’ access to fresh data, portals have emerged which farmers can use to improve agricultural practices. Her seizing this opportunity, has developed an online platform to provide online information to boost agriculture.
Mrs Ibok, discovered that getting information to start something within the sector was difficult. “There is no one place you can go to and get all the information you need on agriculture. The worst part is not even having a place to go and get information.” In the course of her research, she found out that there are a lot of institutes in Nigeria which can actually provide one with information on agriculture but people don’t know they exist and solving that problem became her major interest in agriculture.
To this end, her organisation decided to put up information on its website so that people can have electronic access to all the vital information on agriculture. While hers is a major step accepted across the industry, experts still believe the dearth of information is making it difficult to translate data into useful information for producers and other players in the value chain. Experts said lack of access to information about the prices of crops in different markets, is hindering farmers from negotiating for better prices.
They believe government agencies need to invest more in providing agricultural information to farmers, particularly using new low-cost methods with SMS and other ICT tools. This is because there are no accurate sources for farmers to collect price information at various markets and gather other content such as weather forecasts, fertiliser prices and transport costs from farms to the markets. Neither, are there portals to provide localised agric weather information and agronomical tips.
This is not restricted to rural farmers alone, farmers in the urban areas who have mobile phones cannot access commodity prices in various markets. In rural areas, however, it is still a challenge for agricultural extension workers (AEWs), to persuade local farmers implement new production technologies especially so if these significantly alter the farmers’ current practice.
On the whole, reaching more farmers is key in facilitating widespread use of the technology. It was experimented with the e-wallet programme launched by the government using mobile phones. According to a study undertaken by the Fertiliser Suppliers Association of Nigeria (FEPSAN) on the Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GESS),participants in the e-wallet scheme faced numerous challenges.
The e-wallet was found to be ineffective in many states, mainly because of the poor telecommunications network. Many farmers did not receive the e-wallets and had to resort to the use of scratch cards, which were insufficient for the number of farmers who required them. Among those who did receive the e-wallets, a large proportion did not know how to activate their numbers, or the numbers to dial for fertiliser and seeds.
A high proportion of non-GESS farmers surveyed were not aware of the scheme, but were willing to register for the next cycle. The Director of Studies, Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI), Dr Olufemi Ola-dunni, collaborated that the agriculture sector is suffering from lack of reliable data which is hindering growth. The scenario, according to him, has had profound effects on the economy. The sector, he noted, has not been effectively monitored and reported on progress.
He said the nation’s agriculture statistics are generally lagging behind. He said academics, policy makers, investors and other data users are unable to find relevant, reliable and high quality data to analyse and devise agric policies. According to him, information gaps and the quality of statistical data on the sector are quite worrying for many as the bulk of data in use is outdated and no longer relevant and reliable.
Where statistics are available, he said they generally have not been gathered in a consistent manner over a time period adding that such data become questionable and one cannot use them to make important decisions.
He noted that there is now greater recognition among stakeholders of the need to scale up support to statistics development in the agric sector to monitor policies, implement public service reforms and to achieve development outcomes and results.
Meanwhile, In line with its avowed determination aimed at up-scaling agricultural activities through technology adoption and dissemination in the West African sub-region, the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP) in Nigeria has embraced the Electronic Technology Transfer (ETT) Agriculture.
WAAPP Electronic Technology Transfer (WAAPP-ETT), is a means of developing a robust, easy to use integrated and accessible system that will improve the lots of the farmers through effective and responsive participation in research. The practice he said could also lead to improvements in key implementers, and in the promotion and adoption of best practices as well as quick response to field problem. ETT Agriculture offers low cost communication to farmers, service providers and real-time access to any agricultural services no matter their location, language and level of education.