Using Technology to Boost Agriculture
President Muhammadu Buhari recently in Abuja pledged that the Federal Government will sustain the deployment of Geographic Information Services (GIS) and other similar technologies to help farmers achieve increased production. The President made this known when he received a delegation of the Surveyors Council of Nigeria (SURCON) led by the President of the International Federation of Surveyors, Prof Rudolf Staiger. He expressed delight that many States in Nigeria are adopting GIS for both urban and rural development, noting that the Federal Government was also on track in using similar technologies to support farmers to increase their yields. President Buhari said his administration will continue to work with members of the survey and geo-informatics profession to provide quality infrastructure that will bring prosperity to Nigerians. ‘‘Our Government, in the past 5 years, has embarked on critical infrastructure development and rehabilitation projects across the country. We are designing and building roads, bridges, rail tracks, airports and affordable housing all over the country. ‘‘Our goal is simple, we will develop quality infrastructure that will bring prosperity to millions of Nigerians in both our urban and rural areas. ‘‘To achieve this, we are working with surveyors, engineers and town planners. I am, therefore, confident that the 344 new surveyors inducted into the register of the Surveyors Council of Nigeria will be very busy in the coming years,’’ he said.
The President also used the occasion to recognise the roles and numerous contributions of members of the profession to national development, pointing to the design and development of the Federal Capital Territory. ‘‘Indeed this beautiful city of Abuja, which was conceived in 1976, is an excellent example of the good work delivered by your profession. ‘‘As you are aware, the city we are seeing today was designed and built through the collaboration of many local and international surveyors, engineers and geospatial experts,’’ he said. In his remarks, Prof Staiger, told the President he was in the country to witness the induction of 344 new surveyors into the register of SURCON, and the investiture of the maiden edition of the Distinguished Senator Ahmed Ibrahim Lawan Award for the Development of Survey and Geoinformatics in Nigeria. ‘‘For me, it is a great opportunity to personally interact with President Buhari whose international reputation of honesty, integrity and selfless services stand him out as one of the greatest sons of Africa,’’ he said. The President of the International Federation of Surveyors added that the association was proud to be associated with the Nigerian leader and his administration’s determination to revive Nigeria.
In a related development and to further drive its support for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), the federal government has facilitated a $20 million technology fund for young innovators through Bank of Industry (BoI), while the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is offering a N90 billion soft loan facility for small scale agriculture enterprises. This came out of a meeting to review progress on the government’s efforts to support the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, MSMEs, presided over by the Vice President at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
It is very important to note that, the policy thrust and objectives of the present administration on agriculture include,
· Agriculture as a business–focusing the policy instruments on a government-enabled, private sector-led engagement as the main growth driver of the sector. This essential principle was established in the ATA and will remain a cardinal design principle of Nigeria’s agriculture policies going forward.
· Agriculture as key to long-term economic growth and security—focusing policy instruments to ensure that the commercialization of agriculture includes technologies, financial services, inputs supply chains, and market linkages that directly engage rural poor farmers because rural economic growth will play a critical role in the country’s successful job creation, economic diversity, improved security and sustainable economic growth.
· Food as a human right –focusing the policy instruments for agricultural development on the social responsibility of government with respect to food security, social security and equity in the Nigerian society; and compelling the government to recognize, protect and fulfil the irreducible minimum degree of freedom of the people from hunger and malnutrition.
· Value chain approach –focusing the policy instruments for enterprise development across successive stages of the commodity value chains for the development of crop, livestock and fisheries sub-sectors, namely input supply, production, storage, processing/utilization, marketing and consumption. Building complex linkages between value chain stages will be an important part of the ecosystem that will drive sustained prosperity for all Nigerians.
· Prioritizing crops- focusing policy on achieving improved domestic food security and boosting export earnings requires a measure of prioritization. Therefore, for domestic crops, the initial focus in 2016 –2018 will be expanding the production of rice, wheat, maize, soya beans and tomatoes. For export crops, the initial focus will be on cocoa, cassava, oil palm, sesame and gum Arabic. In 2018 onwards, the export focus will add on bananas, avocado, mango, fish and cashew nuts. Investments in closing infrastructure gaps to accelerate productivity and investment in these crops will also be sequenced to reflect capital availability and management attention.
· Market orientation–focusing policy instruments on stimulating agricultural production on a sustainable basis, and stimulating supply and demand for agricultural produce by facilitating linkages between producers and off-takers, while stabilizing prices or reducing price volatility for agricultural produce through market-led price stabilization mechanisms (commodity exchanges, negotiated off-take agreements, extended farm-gate price undervalues chains coordination mechanisms, agricultural insurance, etc.)
· Factoring Climate change and Environmental sustainability –focusing policy instruments on the sustainability of the use of natural resources (land and soil, water and ecosystems) with the future generation in mind while increasing agricultural production, marketing and other human activities in the agricultural sector.
· Participation and inclusiveness–focusing instruments on measures to maximize the full participation of stakeholders including farmer’s associations, cooperatives and other groups, as well as NGOs, CBOs, CSOs, development partners and the private sector. This places a premium on the role of these organizations or groups as agents of economic change in general and agricultural economy in particular, thereby drawing benefits from their policy advocacy roles as partners to and watchdog of government.
· Policy integrity–focusing policy instruments on measures for sanitizing the business environment for agriculture, in terms of accountability, transparency and due process of law, ensuring efficient allocation and use of public funding and fighting corruption on all programmes involving public resources. This also applies to compliance with international commitments, protocols and conventions that Nigeria is a signatory to.
· Nutrition sensitive agriculture–focusing policy instruments on addressing the issues of stunting, wasting, underweight and other manifestations of hunger and malnutrition with particular reference to the vulnerable groups, which include children under 5, nursing mothers and persons with chronic illness and disabilities. Agriculture’s Linkages with Other Sectors–focusing policy instruments on the connected relationship between agriculture and other sectors at federal and state levels, particularly industry, environment, power, energy, works and water sectors.
It has been said that,
I. With a projected population of 160 million, Nigeria has the greatest number of people to feed in Africa. In terms of employment, agriculture is by far the most important sector of the economy, engaging about 70% of the labour force.
II. Agricultural sector has the highest potential to diversify food supply and expand foreign exchange earnings.
III. Agricultural growth has remained steady at 6% in the last five years despite the growth of the overall economy.
IV. Currently, agriculture’s contribution to total exports has been relatively low, between 0.5% and 2.0% over the last four years.
V. Agricultural produce yields per hectare are 20% - 50% lower than those obtained in similar developing countries.
VI. Despite enormous agricultural production potentials, Nigeria is currently a net importer of food, with N1.30 trillion in wheat, rice, fish and sugar imports.
VII. Fertilizer and other Agric-inputs use is very low. Fertilizer per capita consumption is 6.1 kg/ha as against 18.9kg/ha for Senegal.
it is also imperative to underscore the fact that,
§ Fertilizer, agricultural production and food security are mutually related.
§ Fertilizer along with improved seed use is the key driver to agricultural production which in turn drives the attainment of food security.
§ Fertilizers are critical in improving agricultural production and food security through nutrient loss replenishment on farmers’ fields.
§ Food security exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to maintain an active healthy life. UN/FAO refers to food security to the availability of food and accessibility to it. A household is considered food secured when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.
§ Agricultural yields have remained the same or declined in the past two decades. Rise in agricultural productivity is derived more from expanded planting areas for staple crops than from yield increases.
§ Studies have also identified poor agricultural policies, low fertilizer use, low access to agricultural credit, land tenure insecurity, land degradation, poverty and gender issues, l o w investment in agricultural research, poor market access and marketing efficiency as the constraints for agricultural productivity.
§ Though Nigeria has proven 159 billion cubic feet of natural gas reserve (7th in the World) and a large quantity of phosphate rock deposits, local fertilizer production and supply is still a major constraint to fertilizer use.
To shore up and attain food security level in Nigeria, therefore, there must be an improvement in the agricultural production system.
§ One key to the food security pathway is providing farmers with access to quality inputs, particularly fertilizers and the knowledge to apply them efficiently and effectively.
§ There is also the need for a concerted effort, a coordinated public-private partnership to achieve the scale of reform necessary for sustainable agricultural growth.
§ Fertilizers, along with other inputs are important contributors to raising agricultural output by increasing yields and thus securing food security.
§ Excess output allows farmers to feed their families’ better, increase their income and develop commercial activities.
§ Farmers need access to inputs especially fertilizers and improved seeds at the right time and affordable prices.
§ One of the best remedies is the development of a virile network of private agro-dealers, who in addition to supplying agricultural inputs can also relay information on good farming practices complementing agricultural extension services.
Hence, there is no doubt that the Buhari led government is committed to food sufficiency as well as massive boost in agricultural production in the country. And, there is no doubt whatsoever that agriculture is indeed the future of Nigeria, which can provide gainful employment to a cross-section of the economy, especially the teeming youths of the Nigerian population, and also assist in no small measure to galvanize the economy of the country to greater heights.