Enhancing Agritech Innovations For Food Security and Youth Empowerment
By Inyene Ibanga
Agriculture has undergone rapid transformation, from the era of the industrial revolution, when farmers depended on manual labour to carry out their operations. Direct labour was deployed during the process of clearing the land, tilling the soil, planting the seeds, and eventual harvesting the crops.
Mechanical tools were later developed for farming as part of the evolution in agricultural practices. Machineries such as tractors, land mowers, burrowers, threshers, and sprayers are used in mechanised farming operations. These machines help to reduce manual labour and the use of crude implements.
Currently, agriculture is making tremendous contributions to the growth of national economies and development. This growth is becoming manifest through the disruptive impact of various cutting-edge technologies that are deployed into farming practices.
The integration of agriculture and technology into agriculture technology (agritech) is gradually becoming the reality in several emerging African economies like Nigeria, South Africa, Egypt and Kenya. Agritech innovations are being used to augment output and efficiency in agriculture.
In Nigeria, Agritech companies are offering digital innovations and solutions that cover the produce, products, services and applications within the agricultural value chain, from the farm to industry, where produce are processed for the final consumer.
There are several agritech start-ups/companies operating across the spectrum of the agriculture value chain. Some of them include Farmcrowdy; Groupfarma; Farmkart; Payfarmer; and FarmSponsor. Others are Kitovu Technology; Ewagric; Releaf; Fresh Direct Nigeria; Fresh Direct Nigeria and Babban Gona.
These agritech start-ups/companies are among those that have started offering digital solutions to address the challenges confronting smallholder farmers. They help to provide smallholder farmers’ access to financial services, improved seedlings, fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides, and equipment, as well as provide logistics and marketing services to farmers.
Agritech covers a wide range of technologies and applications, such as the use of drones; satellite photography and sensors; robots; temperature and moisture sensors; and GPS technologies.
Also, it involves weather forecasts; automated irrigation; light and heat control; intelligent software analysis for pest and disease prediction, soil management and biotech.
Essentially, agritech companies aim to use cutting edge technologies to, among other things, support rural and local farmers for increased yield production; and provide access/link and connect rural customers and producers in the agricultural market in order to accelerate Nigeria’s agricultural-based industrialisation.
Progress in the agricultural sector can be used as a standard for measuring a successful state or society and the capacity to feed its population. So, the level of productivity in agriculture, the capacity to feed the population and food security, are among the strong indicators of a thriving economy.
In fact, the rising level of food insecurity in Nigeria has compelled more smallholder farmers to leverage on new technologies to improve food production and become competitive in the agricultural market.
At a recent workshop for review of the National Digital Agriculture Strategy (NDAS), there was a renewed call for youth to leverage technologies and innovations and become more involved in agriculture.
Developed by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), the NDAS is aimed at engendering digital-enabled agriculture and food industry. It is geared to building a vibrant digital agriculture sector that leverages technologies and innovations.
Consequently, digital innovations will attract young adults to build and invest in new digital business models across the agriculture value chain, create millions of jobs, increase productivity and profitability, and enhance the sector’s contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
This means the country’s extremely energetic and creative youths would shift their attention from the quest for dwindling white collar jobs and become engaged in agricultural practices that are driven by sophisticated technologies and innovations.
As the leading driver of productivity, technology possesses the compelling capacity to attract more youths to productively venture into agricultural practices. Young people have a tendency to drift towards technology because they offer fresh and easier approaches and tech innovations to ease farm work.
From all indications, the deployment of emerging technology will drive youth inclusion into the agricultural sector. It will enable the youths to effectively monitor and manage natural resources, while also giving them (young producers) greater control over plant and animal production, processing, distribution, and storage.
With greater deployment of innovative digital tools and applications, youths will be in the vanguard of building greater efficiencies, safer growing conditions and safer foods for Nigeria’s booming population.
This reality is succinctly acknowledged by Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, the Director-General of NITDA, in the following statement:
“This has become imperative as the population of Nigeria continues to grow with a large demographic of young adults, especially people migrating from the rural areas to the urban areas. It will make Nigeria a leading country in food security and exporter of standard agricultural products to the rest of the world.”
Partnership between agritech companies and mobile network operators (MNOs) will go a long way to drive the scale and build sustainable business models. Agritech companies are likely to gain more traction as the MNOs help attract investors and vital fundings.
Going forward, young tech enthusiasts should be challenged to come up with more agritech innovations to address those barriers to agriculture that are peculiar to certain regions of the country.
The collaboration between the Federal Ministries of Communications and Digital Economy and of Agriculture and Rural Development should be adequately empowered to ensure that the ‘Smart Agriculture’ initiative translates into a tangible increase in food production and economic growth.
Established agritech companies can create hubs where budding innovators, investors and start-ups have access to network and exchange ideas on innovations that have capacity to create disruptions in the agriculture.
Without doubt, the youth have a pivotal role to play in the current effort to position the country among leading agricultural-driven economies where technology is strategically deployed to ensure food security and industrialisation.
The country’s agricultural jigsaw puzzle may never be completed without the active participation of her teeming youth as a vital component for achieving our target of food sufficiency for domestic consumption, industrial raw materials and revenue earner through exportation.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor, Techdigest magazine, Wuye District, Abuja. Email: [email protected]