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Digital Agriculture as Panacea to Enhanced Food Production, Security

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Tolu Oyekan Inclusive Economic Recovery

By Tolu Oyekan

Recent studies on Africa’s agriculture market projects an estimated growth to $1 trillion by 2030.  This shows that the continent’s agriculture industry has huge potentials.  Informed suggestions have been made on how the full gains of this fast-emerging market will be achieved; one of which is through digital agriculture.

There is no doubt that modern farms and agricultural operations are carried out differently from how farming was done in the last 20 years.

This is mainly a result of advancements in technology. Like almost all spheres of life, technological advancements have made an in-road into agriculture to address such challenges as climate change – leading to increased temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, frequent extreme weather events and reduction in water availability.

Digital agriculture or agricultural technology benefits both farmers and end consumers by reducing the use of traditional/archaic farming methods and generating higher crop productivity. Digitizing agriculture also saves resources such as water, fertilizers and pesticides; reduces the impact on natural ecosystems; reduces chemicals getting into rivers and streams and increases the safety of farmworkers.

It is for this reason that the digitalization of agriculture should be part of the larger agricultural transformation agenda in Africa.

Over the years, there have been numerous digital agricultural initiatives and startups which by leveraging technologies, have led to improving farmer productivity, incomes, strengthening food security and enhancing the resilience of food systems in the continent.

Sadly, the impact on smallholder farmer incomes is still poor. This is not unconnected to the fact that access to technology in developing countries is an enabler of accelerated agricultural innovation.

In Nigeria today, some digital firms are focusing on ensuring that smallholder farmers benefit from the new technology revolution in agriculture. Platforms like Babban Gona, Thrive Agric and Agro Rite were created to give smallholder farmers access to resources critical to their work and the growth of the agricultural sector. But these solutions are still available to a meagre percentage of the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers scattered across Nigeria; and these smallholder farmers still battle with the three-fold challenge of poor access to market, poor access to finance and inadequate knowledge of improved farming practices.

According to a recent report by BCG titled ‘The Digital Agriculture Revolution’, agricultural productivity will need more than innovation. Already, greater crop yields are required to feed Nigeria’s exploding population. The population of Nigeria has been forecasted to reach over 400 million people by 2050.

Estimations published in 2019 show that by that time, the consumption of farm produce such as eggs, milk, beef, cassava, maize, wheat and others will increase by almost 300 per cent! If not properly addressed, this scenario might lead to a full-blown food insecurity situation.

The truth is that lack of information and knowledge is most limiting to the growth of the sector. This presents a challenge to food security because access to the right information, education, and training enable farmers to make use of new farming knowledge and technologies.

This being the case, farmers’ knowledge and information must be constantly upgraded. Farmers must have access to information about sustainable farming practices to enable them to maintain natural resources to ensure that farmlands are productive for future generations. For Nigeria to have environmentally good food systems, farmers and other stakeholders need to have effective communication technologies coupled with relevant information.

Furthermore, the Nigerian agriculture sector must adopt climate-smart practices and technologies to increase productivity as food production demands increase. Presently, Nigeria like other countries in Africa still relies on rainfall to water farms.

With climate change and reduced rainfall as mentioned earlier, there is the need for intensified water management and alternative sources of rainwater to irrigate the farmlands.

In cities like Florida and California, USA and Beijing, China; farmers have used reclaimed water to irrigate their farms. Reclaimed water is wastewater that has been treated and transformed into a product that is clean, clear and odourless.

There is a need for stakeholders to keep investing in modern ways of farming. The emergence of integrated data sets combining satellite imagery, weather and soil data is a modern approach that can be leveraged by development partners. This will empower farmers with more affordable credit and insurance, better early warning of crop failures and improved farm management. Such practices will cushion the sector from the negative effects of climate change while adapting to sustainable food systems.

In addition to innovation, bridging capital, coupled with the right capabilities is pivotal in transforming the agricultural sector in the continent.

For farmers to benefit from a fully-functional market ecosystem, there is a need for players in the agricultural supply chain to prioritize efficient, transparent and innovative ways of connecting farmers to markets. This is where ICT enabled technologies comes into play. Mobile-phone-based services can ease farmers’ access to knowledge on extension services, market information, weather forecasts and agronomic advice.

Furthermore, they can offer price information services for inputs and outputs, enable demand, and supply aggregation, and facilitate e-marketplaces.

In fact, the Technical Centre of Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) estimates that market linkage solutions deliver, on average, a 73% improvement in farmer productivity (including through access to lower-cost seeds and fertilizer) versus just 23% for digital advisories. Our review of dozens of current market solutions revealed several successful alternatives, but no one-size-fits-all approach. This is a clear indication that agriculture is modernizing.

Unfortunately, domestic agriculture markets in many developing countries remain fragmented and inefficient, making it imperative for digital agricultural innovations to address such situations.

The beauty of digital agriculture is that it could help rural-urban migration and get young people to drive rural development because of the use of technology. The increased use of digital technology in farming and agricultural activities might actually attract and retain younger generations to live in rural communities.

For Nigerian farmers, the adoption of digital agriculture will wholly enable access to various information including information on inputs, weather and soil condition; processing and storage resources: markets and finance; and food monitoring and consumption requirements.

Hopefully, if Nigerian farmers and others in the food supply chain embrace this technology, digital agriculture could help to maximize production and reduce waste; reduce costs of production and increase yields; minimize environmental impact and maximize the quality of agriculture produce.

The cross-cutting nature of the digital solutions will continue to improve interconnectedness among stakeholders in the agricultural value and supply chains. This will improve efficiencies, productivity earnings in the sector while feeding the growing population sustainably and improving the livelihoods of Nigerian farmers.

It is important to note that to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of a world with zero hunger by 2030, more productive, efficient, sustainable, inclusive, transparent and resilient food systems are required – and this can largely be achieved with digital technologies and innovations in agriculture.

Tolu Oyekan is a Partner, BCG Lagos

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Rising Cost of Living and Boosting Living Standards

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Timi Olubiyi Businesses in Lagos

By Timi Olubiyi, PhD

The rising cost of living is impacting globally but differently and it is clearly evident that expenses and bills continue to rise steeply. The cost of food, household consumables and other essentials has skyrocketed in recent times from Cairo to Botswana, Delhi, Shanghai, London, Houston, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Mumbai, Dublin and Manila, name it. This price hike has been on the increase as part of the consequences of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), and this continues to shrink the available disposable income of the majority altogether.

In the Nigerian context, a loaf of bread that was N350 in 2020 is now about N700, a 100% increase in two years. Similar percentage increases are in the cost of flight tickets, health care, rents, diesel, cooking gas, a bag of rice, a crate of eggs, a kilo of chicken or turkey and many other essentials due to inflation, yet income has remained the same or even less. Nothing is easily affordable, and everything is out of reach of the masses.

Given the country’s current situation and that many people have not seen a growth in their income, this has resulted in reduced or no savings, increased frustration and dissatisfaction in fulfilling basic demands amongst many. There is always the possibility and anxiety of losing jobs or businesses folding up regardless of the length of service put up, experience acquired, or available connection, and these consequences may even be more severe.

Employers, in fact, are hesitant to implement any wage increases for economic reasons. Inflation continues to have a severe negative impact on man’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being, as well as on marriages and livelihoods.

Currently, even with a steady, regular salary, living has become costlier with heightened uncertainty, high inflation, and weak purchasing power, especially for the masses including civil servants, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.

As a result, one of the ways to have protection is by diversifying sources of income and having multiple streams at this time. You have multiple bills; why not have multiple streams of income to support the inadequacy.

Therefore, in addition to salary or business income, it is important to source other income avenues to satisfy the rising needs, poor business performance and inflation. Because if financial capacity is weak and daily expenses continue to rise, individuals, businesses, and even households will be threatened with sustainability. Therefore, there is a need to take action because having multiple streams of income has proven to be priceless.

According to my observations, the majority of people and homes in the country rely solely on earned income, be it salary or daily income from a business, and they are always hoping that nothing bad happens. It is critical to understand that if the salary is the sole source of income, you are on the verge of financial pressure.

With the high inflation, unemployment crisis, and unstable economy, having many sources of income may help spread the risk and guarantee that homes and businesses are stable and financially protected. We live in a world where one source of income is insufficient and becoming increasingly unsustainable. If you ask me, having multiple sources of income is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity.

To be safe, it is never rational to depend on a single income source, full-time job, or a single market. Remember, change is the only constant thing in life, and this change happens rapidly in this period and is always unpredictable. Living on paycheck-to-paycheck, can severely affect mental health, increase anxiety, depression, stress and many are unaware of the implication on their health.

Consequently, having multiple sources of income is the best way to protect yourself, your company, and your family against drastic financial change. The tools for generating these multiple streams of income are readily accessible on the internet or by engaging a professional. We have greater access than ever before to information, people, ideas, and opportunities with social media, so tap into this. If the average billionaire or millionaire has more than one way to make money, it is important for professionals and business owners to think the same way and have stable passive income streams in order to stay on top of financial and economic woes.

While active income will require your full attention and effort, like being available from 8 am to 5 pm daily, passive income is generated with no or insignificant effort and attention; it can work while you sleep. So, to complement active income, passive income such as investing can generate income through dividends, interest, and return on capital.

Depending on the market and your financial circumstances, investing in real estate might provide you with high returns and rental income. But if you cannot construct to generate rent, acquire a piece of land and protect it; no matter how far away it is, it will rise in value. If you have years of experience in your field, you can start giving consultations or guest lectures as a means to earn another stream of income from your regular job or business.

Another reliable way is by acquiring assets that can generate consistent and steady cash flow. Looking inward might just help as well, talents, abilities, and passion can be used to create potentials that can give income streams.

Clearly, research has shown that having multiple streams of income as a plan aids retirement and provides the necessary comfort in old age. Hear this: if a solid retirement plan is your goal, savings alone will be insufficient; instead, the objective should include developing numerous streams of income sufficient to replace your principal active income (salary). The main benefit or advantage of having multiple streams of income is that when one stream is challenged or things are very volatile, there is a backup for extra income to attain financial stability. That can give the necessary hedge against uncertainties in a business as well as during illness, and disability of the entrepreneur.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to live below your means to make room for savings and then investment, no matter how little it helps along with a side hustle. Relying on a salary or daily business income alone is a danger at this time. In an environment where job loss and unemployment are chronic, the decision to create multiple streams of income and secure financial stability is expedient. However, do not let your side-income streams put the primary and full-time job or business at risk unless you can survive without it. Good luck!

How may you obtain advice or further information on the article?

Dr Timi Olubiyi is an Entrepreneurship & Business Management expert with a PhD in Business Administration from Babcock University Nigeria. He is also a prolific investment coach, seasoned scholar, Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment (CISI), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) registered capital market operator. He can be reached on the Twitter handle @drtimiolubiyi and via email at drtimiolubiyi@gmail.com for any questions, reactions, and comments

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Imperatives of Adopting Extra-Curricular Nation Building Approach

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Extra-Curricular

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

A path-breaking study has shown that globally, governments are resource and bandwidth-constrained and hence, need to prioritize productivity-enhancing policies.

To do so requires information on the nature and magnitude of market failures on the one hand, and government capacity to redress them successfully on the other hand.

This piece, however, believes that the second responsibility (capacity to redress market failures) remains the greatest challenge in the country’s leadership discourse as it abbreviates development and breeds policy decisions that perpetuate poverty and consolidate powerlessness.

Despite these observed leadership shortfalls, which daily distort social justice and economic empowerment, my recent conversation with one well foresighted and quietly influential Nigerian based in the United States of America (USA), however, reveals that all hope for building a Nigeria of our dreams is not lost.

He argued that the holistic and sustainable solution to Nigeria’s problem is for the leaders to stop copying the people who handed over the country to us.

“We should stop copying London to have a better society,” he stated, submitting that Nigeria and Nigerians should look for practical solutions rather than reading books and following curriculum. We should be extra-curricular in our approach.

On the nation’s education sector, he stressed that the educational system is faulty just like every educational system is faulty. The United States’ educational system is faulty, but if there is no fault in any system, then, there is no improvement. What we call fault is a challenge and that is the basics of development. Now, our educational system is not faulty. Our educational system is still very sound. It is still the most applauded and encouraged all over the world because parents in Nigeria still train their children up to educational level. America doesn’t do that. Germans don’t do that. Nigeria is one of the countries where people still train their children up to the university level. So, we still have one of the best educational systems in the world.

Regardless of what the outcome is, we are being judged by the outcome, we are being judged by how many people get employment. Having worked with the medium industries in the United States, I keep employing people who have a bachelor’s degree in Chemistry as people who end up as cashiers.

I have employed many people who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in medicine or doctorate degree in Law and they were employed. So, Americans have got used to it, that is why they are pursuing their education, they can just get a job that Nigerians have not gotten because everyone that graduates in Nigeria with a bachelor’s degree in engineering wants to work in an oil company. And anyone who graduates with a bachelor’s degree in education or biology wants to teach.

That is not what they are supposed to do. Bachelor’s degree in education is just training to have the ability to listen to research. You just need your education to know where they are selling high and buying low. The truth of the matter is that our children have to know that working for multinational oil companies is not the best result for studying engineering. And they have to know that teaching is not the best result for studying education or biology. You will just have a bachelor’s degree because you will have the ability to research and your research could be knowing where palm kernel can be sold for N4,000 and knowing another place it can be sold for N10,000.

To Nigerian youths, he captures it this way; “this is what I tell the youth because I am very happy that I started as a youth. Anywhere you are in Nigeria, you can be successful. You don’t have to come to America; you don’t have to get to Lagos Agbor or Asaba. At the age of 17, I was taken to Abuja and I remember I was living in the village of Kubwa. I remember that at 17, when my brother went to work, I usually as a young boy come to the Abuja/Kaduna expressway to watch.

“And it was then I discovered that even tankers carrying petrol carried baskets of tomato as well. That is when I discovered that the South consumes so many tomatoes. And the only thing I did was to go to the Zuba market and meet with people selling tomatoes and start collecting rotten tomatoes. At 19, I told my brother I was leaving Abuja and I went back to Delta State and started farming tomatoes. And at the age of 20, 1990, I made my first million from selling tomatoes. Then that was when I decided that I wasn’t going back to Abuja. By 1992, I had made over N5 million farming/selling tomatoes.

“Then I was about 22 years old. So, if I go back to Nigeria today, I would be in my village and I would be making on average about N50 million a year.”

Away from the youth unemployment challenge to the nation’s health sector, he again queried; “do you know that to have improved healthcare in Nigeria, we don’t need doctors?”

More people, he observed, collapse when they are at a burial ceremony or at the church than when they are in the hospital. People don’t collapse in the hospital. So, why do we have to keep training doctors on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)? We should gather some personnel and train them to revive people anytime somebody collapses, it might be in a compound and the man is the only one available. They should train every pastor, or better still, make it part of the qualification for ordaining pastors, to know how to do the cardiopulmonary resuscitation. So, if someone fails in the church, they (Pastor) will know what to do.

There are in fact, more people who have the telephone numbers of their pastors than the phone numbers of their doctors. In a similar style, he said, the government should train pastors and our local religious leaders on economic development strategies/policies. Rather than waiting for professors of economics particularly as evidence has shown that People respect their religious leaders more than professionals.

So, religious leaders have become our primary healthcare system, they have become our primary stand, our primary economy, and even our leaders.

Take, as an illustration, if some pastors tell their members to close their eyes while walking on the road, they will do so. That is the difference between America and Nigeria. The American government will call all the pastors and train them and now tell them to develop the nation. That is why you see churches in America preaching the same thing because they realized that people believe more in their pastors than in their leaders. So, you have to give the pastors more incentive to make the country develop.

Thus, what I tell the federal government as a holistic solution is that they have to understand the people who are ruling the people. Not to just understand that the law is what is guiding the people. You have to know the people in the motor park. You have to understand the pastor is running their lives and you have to train the pastors so that they can inculcate the development of the nation into the people. So, the federal government has to figure out who is ruling the people. Is it the pastors, Nollywood/movie industry or the music artists?

On the prevailing spate of ritual killing in the country, he has this to say; the truth of the matter is that our youths who are listening to prescriptions are not educated. Most of these ritual killings are prescriptions from uninformed people. And, once we increase our level of education and they understand how useful they (youths) are, they won’t be involved in ritual killings.

What the youths need to recognize is the fact that if you don’t have a job in Nigeria does not mean that nobody is looking for you in Spain. Somebody may be looking for you in Spain, Poland, or France and somebody who needs you more may be looking for you in Canada. They have not been able to exploit all the available resources. That is why they give in to the local prescription of ritual killings. That is just it. Ritual killings are a desperate attempt to gain power and success, he concluded.

I think there exist some ingrained lessons that both states and the federal government must draw and domesticate from the above admonition.

Jerome-Mario Utomi is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), Lagos. He can be reached via jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374

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Economics, Politics: Error in Development Projects

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rural market error

By Nneka Okumazie

Error is a dominant canopy of development projects in several countries. It is guaranteed that whatever they really need and whatever they actually do, diverges to a larger degree.

The problem is not lack of finance – local or external, but the absence of their ability to learn from errors and rid of them.

In many developing countries, what problems do people complain about? Those problems, whatever the sector they fall in, have poverty of options, in what and how with ways against all possible errors.

Errors have dominated some societies that directions that people follow are errors, even though they are the acceptable ones. These errors drive individuals against meaning, into what can be displayed.

The development of any country is in the hands of everyone in that country, with varying responsibilities. The market woman who can’t read may have a lesser role to play than an administrative staff in some office. The boss in a department has a higher role to play – in how to minimize errors or make some effort to take things forward.

There are things that people get to shield themselves from the discomfort of society, or some just leave, but what it really means to escape is the ability to know the ways to solve those problems, or those in one’s work, that could advance true development.

There are stories many are convinced about, which they tell themselves, as reasons for their choices, but are stories of errors which they have chosen to believe or as an act for a personal interest.

There is nothing in a society of error where there is not enough resilience to fight back. Errors grow and expand, becoming entrenched.

It is an error that becomes so powerful that elections become for the wrong people or government, institutions and others have no difference existing or not.

[2 Chronicles 15:19, And there was no more war unto the five and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa.]

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