In a study published in 2019 by FAO, ICRISAT, and CIAT on “Climate-Smart Agriculture in Borno state of Nigeria” it was observed that agriculture contributed at least 65 percent to the GDP of Borno state, with no fewer than 70 percent of the entire state population involved in one form of agricultural activity or the other.
The study further delved into the role technology plays in the furtherance of agricultural activities in the state. This is coming at a time where the activities of insurgents have put a damper on economic activities, leading to the displacement of approximately 1.9 million residents.
The changing climatic conditions have also put on hold the activities of Nigerian farmers; they often contend with flooding in the rural communities, extreme heat, soil degradation, and consequently drought. This is particularly so for North-Eastern Nigeria. Nigerian smallholder farmers who mostly practice rain-fed agriculture are usually at the mercy of the changes brought about by the extreme weather conditions as their productivity, as well as their overall livelihoods, have been negatively impacted.
The increasing weather variability and its effects on agriculture call for innovations that can help farmers remain productive all year round. For example, farmers can benefit from real-time weather advisory support services that enable them to make informed planting decisions. However, the provision of weather advisory services is but a scratch on the surface of the possibilities that ICT can help deliver.
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For example, due to the dynamic nature of the sector, there are quite a lot of moving parts such as the rapidly changing information on best practices as well as the constant entrants of new players and new innovations. Farmers looking to gain premium pricing on their produce need to be up to date on the latest information required of them to stay productive and competitive in the global agricultural arena. Access to finance has also proven to be an obstacle that has plagued smallholder farmers in Nigeria and farmers need to be educated on how best to position themselves for available but limited opportunities. All these and more are some of the challenges that ICT leveraged solutions can help address for smallholder farmers.
With over 203.5 million active mobile telecommunications subscribers in Nigeria, the nation’s tele-density has constantly witnessed a year-on-year increase. This means people are connecting faster than before and access to sector-specific information is but one phone call away. The country’s agtech companies have identified several opportunities in mobile telecommunication trends and have proceeded to develop innovative solutions that are layered on ICT. From e-commerce to financial products, these companies are giving a new face to agriculture in Nigeria.
One of such companies changing that Nigerian agricultural narrative is Farm Innovation Nigeria. In 2019, they launched a product called Farm Aid which is a digitized extension platform aimed at providing cost-efficient agricultural extension services to farmers. The company studied the traditional extension service delivery system in Nigeria and noted the high cost of servicing one farmer. With a goal of bringing down the cost of servicing one farmer to N5,000 annually, they set out to pilot the solution in Gombe and Adamawa state but have since included 4 more states in their coverage. By leveraging mobile communication technologies such as SMS, Interactive Voice Response (IVR), Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) and a dedicated call center manned by seasoned agronomists the company provides farmers with information on Good Agricultural Practices, weather advisory support for climate-smart agriculture, access to market and information on available financial products and financial management tips for farmers. It also helps connect farmers to market actors looking to work with them.
The company currently has over 40,000 farmers on its database and has been able to bring down the annual cost of extension service delivery to N2000 per farmer. The beauty of ICT leveraged extension service delivery lies in its ability to encourage inclusivity across board. For example, via mobile phones, women smallholder farmers and those living with disabilities have access to instant information where cultural and societal barriers may have prevented them from being active participants.
There is still so much work to be done to improve tele-density especially in the rural communities to get more farmers connected to the rest of the world, as there are constant innovations taking place in the agtech space aimed at improving the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Nigeria.