by Ikemesit Effiong
I used to think that the Agriculture Minister, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina was a smart man. I may have to reverse that opinion. Until he furnishes a cogent explanation for his ministry’s recent actions complete with facts, figures and a timeline, he stands the danger of entering into the Hall of Shame of glorified misfits that includes the Petroleum Resources Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke; the Education Minister, Ruquayattu Rufa’I Bala Mohammed; the Information Minister, the ‘affable’ Labaran Maku and Femi Fani-Kayode.
You may all know by now the reason for my tirade, but for the benefit of those non-Nigerians who bear Nigerian citizenship, I will briefly summarise.
On or about New Year’s Day, the news started making rounds in social media circles (as they always seem to do these days), that the Ministry of Agriculture plans to equip 10 million Nigerian farmers with cell phones. The reported cost of this exercise would be N60 billion. Of course, it got everyone’s juices running.
Definitely not BlackBerrys.
To his credit, the Minister has released a press statement discountenancing the N60bn rumor and also had the permanent secretary in the Ministry hold a press conference. While the press conference and the statement sounded on the whole impressive, I’m still not sure this is the right time for this drive or that it should be the arrow pin of our agricultural policy. I will explain.
Firstly, is it me or does the Goodluck government possess a notorious habit of coming up with silly policy decisions at the start of the New Year? A handy solution would be to join the rest of us and take an ‘actual’ holiday during the Christmas/New Year period.
I would also be especially gutted if those farmers are given BlackBerrys. No offence meant but every serious techie I’ve spoken with are of the consensus that ‘BBs’ are the ‘dumbest’ smartphones around. Even when compared with their Android cousins, BlackBerrys have been found to consistently underperform, suffer more technical glitches and errors not to mention their legendary poor battery holding capacity. Every BB user secretly wishes that what they were holding was a Samsung Galaxy or a Nokia Lumia 920. In short, BlackBerry should be officially declared the PDP of smartphones.
Mobile phones, better farming and Kenya
Back to the issue at hand, I am at a complete loss to understand, rationalize and hence accept the intelligence of this thrust to digitalise Nigerian agriculture. To be clear, I’m not castigating any attempt to modernize our ancient agrarian ways. What I’m advocating is a measured and holistic agricultural policy that – and this is the key point – takes account of everything.
Are we trying to play catch-up with Kenya? For the uninformed, Kenyan farmers are some of the most telephonically connected in the world. Tea, coffee and sugarcane growers are kept up to date on the prevailing global prices of the crops they grow mostly through a mobile app designed in part by Google.
Indeed, it has enhanced productivity and ncreased their bargaining power and hence earning capacity on the world’s markets. If this is how we want to implement a similar strategy, it is no wonder that we are no good at long distance running.
The One Million Dollar Question
For one, it is going to be bloated, expensive and another executive wet dream. For another, it is not our most urgent agricultural priority. I watched an Al Jazeera news report on the 30th of December, last year about a Kogi farmer who lost at least a million dollars in unrealized revenue due to the deadly floods of the summer of 2012. According to a similar Channels Television news report, the floods affected 10 of Nigeria’s 36 states, destroying farmland in the heart of Nigeria’s agricultural heartland. Getting close to 16 million subsistence farmers back to the field is our Number One priority, not teaching people, most of whom cannot read or write, how to ‘ping’, ‘follow back’, ‘like’, or ‘favourite’.
A sizable proportion of our farms are lying fallow, unused or unusable in the near term, or underwater. Revitalizing them, adequately compensating farming families for loss of property and in some cases life, providing seedlings and subsidized fertilizer – which has already started in Niger State – and taking a hard look at subsidizing our agricultural production, processing and marketing are more sensible outlets to pursue. If all this has to cost N60 billion in the end, I would heartily support it.