Chukwuemeka Fred Agbata Jnr.
The government has been vocal in calling on the masses to consider taking up careers in agriculture as the days of our dependence on crude oil sales is already numbered. In the modern age that we now live in, farmers need to receive the right information at the right time in order to plan their cultivation well, from the clearing of land to the actual harvest and sale of farm products.
Information required by these farmers includes government policies on agriculture, new technologies that can be applied in farming, processing techniques and weather forecast. Weather forecast is necessary as the weather cycle has changed from what we used to know it to be, as kids, due to the effects of the depletion of the Ozone layer.
The tendency to succeed as a farmer these days is high if farmers are exposed to Information and Communications Technology.
“Over the phone, we can get all the information on agriculture that we need to obtain a good harvest”, stated a rural farmer, who is now part of a network that educates farmers using mobile devices.
Testimonies abound from rural farmers on what a mobile phone can do in transforming their old agricultural processes into the modern-day farming system. The use of a phone is just one of the positives that technology has brought to farming. If it can be applied more in the agricultural sector, as it has been done in other industries, we will, then, witness more rapid development of that sector and this will manifest in a bumper harvest that will get us closer to our objective of self-sufficiency in food production and supply in Nigeria.
There has to be a revolution in the way we store and market our harvested products too. This is why young ICT professionals are encouraged to take part in innovative challenges, which require them to develop ICT solutions that can solve food storage and marketing challenges. These challenges are being tackled in different parts of the African continent and this is an indication that ideas, experiences and thoughts from agricultural experts from diverse cultures and communities can be accessed with ease by users instantly and in real time, across multiple platforms.
The role of the Internet comes with great potential in transforming the sector. It offers multiple choices, especially among the farmers living in rural communities to stay updated and get information about the market and industry. The Internet is a platform that facilitates communication and sharing of valuable information among policymakers in the agricultural sector, agricultural development agencies, research institutes, experts in the industry and even, the farmers, among themselves. The challenges of language barrier and location are solved in one fell swoop, as the search engines can be accessed from any location, with the choice of language by the inquirer.
Despite the advances in technology mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is still quite unfortunate that a large number of the African population involved in agriculture lack the simplest of communication devices necessary to access vital information. Most times, the lack of information, as at the time it is required, can be very costly to the farmer. This is because information is time bound.
The importance of agriculture as a major sector, once again, cannot be overemphasised, as a large section of the population of a country live s in rural areas. What the government needs to do is to provide the enabling environment for the ICT operators, such as those in the telecom sector, to establish their equipment in these rural areas to facilitate the use of ICT products, such as the mobile phone. This will also encourage the rapid development of the rural areas and stem rural-urban drift.
The growing demand for agricultural products also offers a myriad of opportunities for farmers to improve on their level of cultivation. This, however, requires the availability of a huge amount of resources for it to be achieved. Information and Communication Technology also plays a vital role in addressing issues that can serve as a setback to the financial standing of these rural farmers.
The availability of mobile phone services in the sector has surely enabled farmers to effectively pull their products through to the market, in wholesale quantity, contacting the buyers directly, thus, circumventing the middlemen. This has enhanced the income and profitability of the farmers. The use of television and radio cannot also be overemphasised, irrespective of how traditional they appear to be. They are still in use by agricultural extension workers and various stakeholders in the sector, to pass information on innovative technology as they emerge in the industry.
With ICT application, the agricultural sector is strengthened, as a result of access to current information, such as the release of new crop varieties, pricing control, the emergence of disease and its control, weather forecast, genetically engineered animal breed, among others.
The continual increase in the integration of the food market has caused an increase in competition in the industry. Sometimes, this can often prove to be a challenge. In developing countries, especially, in this part of the world, the agricultural sector gets exposed to challenges like climate change, lack of infrastructure and price fluctuations. The efficacy of technology can, however, transform the sector, by addressing these issues, inching towards global standards.
ICT puts farmers in a position where they are better represented, when it comes to the negotiation of both output and input prices, with agencies, market buyers and other stakeholders. ICT broadens local communities’ perspectives, in terms of global growth and development, thus, opening new frontiers for them in terms of new opportunities for business, both locally and internationally
In concluding this piece, it is pertinent to note that the agricultural sector in Africa has really come of age and the application of ICT to its operation is absolutely necessary for the growth and development of the industry. ICT must be taken as a priority. In this regard, we look up to the policymakers and stakeholders in the agricultural sector in Nigeria to put heads together and work towards making this happen.