The agricultural sector in Nigeria is one that has the potential to contribute in no small measure to Africa’s food security. Although the country is blessed with enormous resources that support fishing, crop production, livestock farming and forestry, only 41% of the total arable land is under cultivation. The nation has a youthful population; however, as of the second quarter of 2020, the youth unemployment rate was pegged at 41%.
While agriculture employs about 36% of the country’s labour force and contributes about 26.5% to the nation’s GDP in 2020, there is still some room for improvement. Most deserving of special attention and are the country’s smallholder farmers – the food heroes.
This group of farmers make do with less than 0.5 hectares of land even as they make up over 80% of the total farming population. Tasked with the enormous responsibility of feeding a nation of 200 million people, they mostly rely on outdated means of production in carrying out this complex task. They also encounter several challenges that are not limited to unstructured markets, limited access to finance, limited access to improved seed varieties and other inputs.
Over the years, the three tiers of government, as well as various international development agencies, have sought ways to improve farmers productivity through community-based extension service delivery support and other capacity-building programs. Nevertheless, one key component has often been overlooked in these interventions; that is the power of information communication technology to drive behavioural change at scale. This entails the use of digitized tools to induce and sustain behavioural change by improving the channels of communication to encourage instant feedback and the frequency with which people gain access to on-demand information. ICT tools, specifically mobile phones have come to play an important role in connecting people to information. It is on this premise that Farm Innovation Nigeria Ltd’s e-extension platform – Farm Aid was birthed.
The challenges for most organizations implementing agricultural projects aimed at improving the livelihoods of Nigerian farmers has been how best to communicate information on Good Agricultural Practices at scale in a timely and cost-effective manner. Traditionally, extension agents pay physical visits to the farms that are often in remote areas, travelling through rough terrains that have a significant impact on the cost of transportation. The person-to-person nature of the engagement also casts a heavy shadow on the limited number of extension agents available to provide advisory services to farmers. For organizations supporting farmers in Nigeria, all these factors lead to high programmatic costs specifically in the areas of farmer recruitment, farm and business advisory services and most importantly program monitoring and evaluation.
The Nigerian Communications Commission reports that as of December 2019, Nigeria had over 172 million active mobile lines and 251,646,091 connected GSM lines. There is an opportunity here for stakeholders to leverage mobile technology to reach farmers with sector-specific information.
Farm Aid is one such case studies, through this platform Farm Innovation Nigeria (FIN) has provided extension services to over 40,000 farmers on its database. Through a combination of SMS and its dedicated call centre, they provide GAP services, weather advisory and financial advisory services to farmers who otherwise may not have had access to such services owing to the remoteness of their locations. From its inception till date, the platform has recorded over 14,000 call engagements with farmers in Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna and Kano States. With the recent launch of the platform in Borno, the company believes they can reach farmers in villages that have been ridden with insurgencies.
Through simple text messages and USSD technology, farmers are accessing the information they need to become more productive and connect to a ready market for their harvest. This certainly does make the case that with proper access to information on Good Agronomic Practices (GAP), modern farming techniques and improved seedlings, small-holder farmers can increase their income by at least 30%.
It also does make the case for further investments in the Agtech sector as there are opportunities for players innovating around climate-smart agriculture and cost-effective post-harvest technologies for farmers. The government can also support growth and rapid innovation in this area by creating an enabling environment for agri-tech startups to thrive; particularly in subsidizing costs to enable more organizations to deploy innovative solutions at scale.