By Chinenye Anuforo, Lagos
The integration of digital technology in the agricultural value chain has been identified as a major stimulus that would help the county combat the challenges of hunger that may arise as a result of an increase in the world’s human population which is projected to rise to 10 billion people by 2050.
The Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami, stated this in Gombe while delivering his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the training programme organised to absorb an extra 140 youthful farmers into the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA.)
NAVSA is an ecosystem driven digital platform envisioned for the transformation of the agricultural sector in Nigeria. It is designed to help farmers and other agricultural ecosystem players navigate their journey across the agriculture value chain.
The minister explained that with the imminent increase in the population with about 2.5 billion that would be challenges of hunger adding that “any nation that fails to strategize on how to take care of itself agriculturally, then will definitely face a very huge challenge because no country export until it is satisfied.
‘In less than 30 years, the world population will increase by 2.5 billion which is unprecedented and this increase will come with so many challenges and the number one challenge is going to be hunger especially in the developing nation that is still lagging behind when it comes to policies and strategies,’ minister noted.
Citing the example of how the Netherlands became the second-largest exporter of agricultural produce in the world with its relatively small population and landmass, Dr Pantami noted that the adoption of digitization in farming would surely bring about transformation into the sector.
‘The model of agriculture being practised in the Netherlands reduces the consumption of water by 90 per cent, and it increases the quality of production by a minimum of 500 per cent. It also reduces the use of insecticide by a minimum of 99 per cent. Why? Because of the way they deployed modern technology in agriculture.’
He added that ‘climate change and population explosion remain two most dangerous challenges of confronting agriculture and the earlier we use technology to drive the sector the better for us.
‘It is because of this and part of the federal government policy under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy came up with National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy and NITDA has been directed to champion this program on Smart Agriculture in Nigeria.
To appreciate the beauty of digital technology in agriculture, the minister reiterated that digitization is key to economic development and it is no more a luxury but a necessity. ‘You will appreciate that digital technology is a necessity if you look at the COVID 19 pandemic as it completely disrupted the world,’ he added.
The minister who described the consistency in coming up with policies which are geared towards promoting digitization in the country as unprecedented in the history of Nigeria explained that the policies are yielding tremendous result.
‘This programme is one of the policies given to the parastatals to implement. Other parastatals will join in the training. Nigeria Communication Commission may probably join in 2021. They will start organising similar training because we have so many models to deploy in agriculture. So we do hope our teeming youths will grasp the opportunities to become entrepreneurs at the end of the training and support the economy by creating more jobs for our citizens.’
Earlier in his welcome address, the Director-General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, said that the programme is part of the agency’s implementation of the national digital economy policy for digital Nigeria.
He stated that the innovative initiative is meant to transform agriculture business in Nigeria by making it fancy and attractive investment for the youth and increase food production as well as reduce wastage in the sector.
‘In the digital economy, innovation plays a huge role in creating values and prosperity. He described it as the process of taking an idea from inception to impact and coming up with a new business model that would make businesses fanciful.’
Abdullahi said that with the comparative advantage Nigeria has in agriculture, the young people can make money if they venture into it more than any other sector of the economy.
‘Looking at what is happening globally and how digital technology is changing the way we live, the way we work and the way we do business, we see it as a source of inspiration to look at how we can adapt and adopt these technologies in agriculture because most of us in Nigeria take agriculture as our source of income and it contributes more than any other sector to our Gross Domestic Product, GDP,’ he noted.
He said the adoption of digital technology in agriculture and the NAVSA initiative would solve the problems of wastage associated with the sector which are inadequate knowledge techniques to harvest foods, poor post-harvest management and lack of suitable infrastructure and market platform to sell agricultural produce.
‘This initiative would provide a platform for you to share knowledge among yourselves and other stakeholders; in post-harvest management, the emerging technology will help you in preserving the produce and we would create a market platform for you because the world is moving into a platform business. This national platform will help you to get access to all stakeholders in agriculture value chain in the country and it can provide you link to the off-takers that would buy your produce,’ he added.
Beneficiaries expressed their appreciations to the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy and NITDA for the opportunities the NAVSA would avail them. They promised that they would ensure they translate the program to the aspiration of the Agency.
Dignitaries at the event include the NITDA Board Chairman, Dr Abubakar Saidi, the Vice-Chancellor, Gombe State University, Prof Aliu Usman El-Nafati, Managing Director Galaxy Backbone, Prof MB Abubakar, and host of others.