Spending NGN26 billion to buy 10 million cell phones for rural farmers, is a day-light robbery.

Filed under: National Issues |
Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina.

Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina.

Last night, i invested a chunk of my time researching and gathering information that will help build a strong case. In a more clearer terms, i was looking into the Ministry of Agriculture, with the hope of figuring out why the Minister is bent on spending a whopping NGN26 billion to import 10 million cell phones for our rural farmers, each of whom already owns a cell phone. Comparing the yardstick used by both the ministry and a representing group, triggered a question of sincerity of purpose.

Despite strong criticism that have trailed the proposed purchase of cell phones, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr Akinwumi Adesina stubbornly vowed to proceed with his decision to secure cell phones for farmers in rural areas. During the selection process of ministers sometimes in 2011, Dr Adesina squared up with the lawmakers, propounding realistically valid projections as well as had a better understanding as to what is needed to reshape the Agricultural sector in the country. What went wrong down the road? Today, his ground breaking project is to buy millions of cell phones for farmers.

As a programmer and an IT specialist, i agree with the minister to an certain extend in using mobile phones to impact distribution, get and transfer records of farmers benefiting from the ministry’s scheme, provide valuable information to them as regards “when to”, “when not to” and “how to, in order to reduce or completely erase the endemic corruption dragging down national development, etc. Throwing my weight on his idea is dued to the single reason that mobile technology are today, the world’s fastest growing platform which has placed upon us, a cultural, social, and intellectual paradigm; that effects the way we interact, work, play, learn and teach. That, is where technology is today, and it will not be a bad idea to buy into such advancement.

Be that as it may, what thrives in another country needs a systematic tweek in order for it to work in Nigeria due to her uniqueness. More so, there are other factors to consider before adopting this particular system of the minister. There are still villages with no access to mobile telephone networks; individuals(more especially farmers) who do not understand how featured phones work let alone know the functionality of smart phones. That is the uniqueness of the system i am referring to. We should be able to look within and find out what works for the people in Nigeria, what works for the rural farmers. We should be able to speak the language they will understand.

If you ask a local farmer what he/she needs today in order to enhance their work and increase productivity, you might be surprise to never hear them mention mobile phone. You do hear things like, fertilizers, micro-nutrient supplements, pesticides, tractors etc., and in truth, that’s what a Nigerian farmer needs. A mechanized system of farming with provisions.

The Nigeria Research Council on Agriculture Development (NiReCAD), last week carried out what they call a “mobile statistic analysis” on 652,000 farmers from various local governments areas in 15 states of the federation. They found out that 52.1 percent of farmers sampled have “featured phones” while 29 percent of them have smart phones which some of them say was giving to them by their children for communication purposes.
This analysis and finding countered the claim of the ministry that 71 percent of the 426,000 farmers sampled in 13 states, don’t own a cell phone. Government cannot base her policies on an empty plate, it has to be based on evidence and well analyzed data.

The truth is, there is no amount of cell phone this guy will buy for the farmers that will increase their productivity level. What happen to mechanize farming we were looking forward to him providing these farmers with? What happen to “extension services” he’s expected to enlist in other to help with the provisioning of a more practical data? How about him liaising with the Minister of Works, State governors as well as FERMA to upgrade road network in the rural areas for easier and stress-free transportation of farm produce to urban areas?
Since a large number of these farmers already own a cell phone, why spending billions of money that could be channelled into something else, to buy another phone for them? Is not as if the mobile phones which the ministry is proposing to provide comes with a specialized software that interfaces with the GES Scheme. The essence of the cell phone in the first place is to enable farmers register in the e-wallet platform for their record to be captured and by extension, maintain proper monitoring of these farmers.

Network operators such as Glo, MTN etc., are yet to enter rural communities, and places where they have, network access is very limited. If they can’t get networks and can’t access the so-called GES Sheme, the aim has been defeated; The value of food items in the market are very expensive due to the cost and stress involved in there production. An acres of land will take a machine less than an hour to clear, but will take an industrious farmer weeks; The minister said that without mobile phones, the farmers cannot benefit from the GES Scheme, yet he said that farmers who do not have cell phones will be issued paper vouchers to enable them have access to the scheme…hello minister? Don’t you sense an error somewhere? If those without a cell phone can be giving a voucher to access the scheme, why can’t same vouchers be giving to all farmers while the NGN26 billion is channelled to something more productive?

Some members of the National Assembly few days ago, on AIT programme, Focus Nigeria, expressed shock at this Agriculture Ministry’s proposal that was never in the 2013 budget they submitted to the house, otherwise the minister would have been quizzed on it.

Unless the minister explains the real place where that money is to go to, am not buying whatever it he’s selling to the public.