By Adebola Adedugbe, Farm Ideas Nigeria
In Nigeria, agriculture is done more on subsistence level with low input and poor output. Agriculture is largely traditional and practiced by smallholders and pastoralists. This type of agriculture is predominantly rain-fed, has low yielding production and lacks access to critical information, market facilitation and financial intermediation. The role that ICT can play in addressing these challenges is increasing; as personal ICT devices such as mobile phones or tablet PCs, are becoming more widely available. Farmers lack access to credit facility and fertilizer.
The ‘Agriculture Transformation Agenda’, (ATA) embarked upon by the present government in Nigeria, has improved the agricultural sector. The trouble-free access of farmers to agricultural inputs and information has been possible because of the transformation in the agricultural sector through ICT. Youths in agriculture and farmers now receive subsidies on fertilizers and information about price and weather directly through a cell phone based system, which was developed to send subsidies via electronic vouchers. This technology first launched in Nigeria and West Africa has reached 1.5million farmers including the youth in agriculture and 7.5million felt the impact in the first year. A data base of farmers was developed with 10 million registered.
This technology in Nigeria has been successful through youth engagement with their knowledge of ICT under the leadership of Dr Adeshina Akinwunmi as the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development in Nigeria. As part of the Agricultural Transformation Agenda (ATA) by the Nigerian government; one of the objectives is to aggressively transform this sector. In Nigeria, ICT has given Youth in agriculture a window of opportunities if agriculture is pursued as a career path. Investing in agriculture is one of the most effective ways to achieve food security and drive inclusive growth. Thus ICT can help link youth to agriculture in ways previously not possible, while at the same time, ICT is today widely available and accessible. The use of social media has been helpful in providing quick information and opportunities on agriculture. It has also given young people in Africa a more comprehensive view of the potential role youths in ICT can play in the development of agriculture.
Young Professionals in Agricultural Development (YPARD), a platform for youths in agriculture of which the author is a member, has been involved in creating awareness about agriculture among-st youths. The use of innovative ICT by young people is thus changing the face of agriculture. Farmers recognize that ICTs can help to make them more efficient and improve both yields and sales; ICTs are bringing new solutions to a range of farming problems, promoting more efficient irrigation, better livestock management and even encouraging the development of self-funding solutions. Despite these successes, however, significant challenges still remain. A lack of electricity and poor internet connectivity in many areas are still widespread problems. Depressingly, terrorism and conflict are also identified as particular concerns in rural areas too.
As the target date draws nearer for the date set for meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the shift towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which build upon the MDGs and converge with the post 2015 development agenda, including meeting food and nutritional needs, remain cardinal problems in Africa. Agriculture has to be made a gainful undertaking, an undertaking that youths can depend on for their livelihoods. Poverty reduction and food security in Africa depend on a vibrant commercial agriculture sector that includes smallholder farmers. African countries would need to commit themselves to investing adequate resources in training youth in agriculture related business entrepreneurship, to support incentives such as credit facilities, and to develop market quotas.
It is also important to promote and build capacity along the agriculture value chain, and to create and sustain opportunities in this sector for future generations. Engaging young people in agriculture through the application of ICT, as a way of attracting them to work in this sector is critical to economic development of countries and will help reduce unemployment, hunger, poverty, risk and uncertainty experienced in the agricultural sector.
It is important that governments also invest time and resources in the education of young professionals in all aspects of agriculture including, climate smart agriculture, considering the full value chain. Young professionals should be positioned to undertake research and to build upon earlier research and experience, thus filling critical gaps and helping to respond to real needs in the sector, region and continent.
If agriculture in Africa is to be transformed to achieve food security, to drive economic growth and improve living standards, Africa must take advantage of youth in ICT to boost the entire value chain.