Push for technology-driven growth in agriculture

Source: The Nation

THIS position resonates with those of agriculture and economic development experts, who unanimously argue that technology is key to driving growth in the agriculture sector and, by extension, the economy generally.

So, when Prof. Chiroma Maigana of the Department of Soil Science, Faculty of Agriculture, University of Maiduguri, Borno State, reiterated his position that achieving accelerated agricultural growth and improved livelihoods are only possible if technology is integrated throughout the agric value chain, he sure spoke the minds of other experts in the sector and, indeed, ordinary Nigerians.

The agriculture expert told The Nation in an interview last week that technological innovations in agriculture are crucial for boosting productivity and achieving scale, while at the same time optimising yield and reducing waste. He said the adoption of technology in agriculture, more popularly called agritech, would help in solving several challenges across the spectrum of the traditional agriculture value chain; that for Nigeria to feed itself, significant reforms, particularly those that favour the adoption of advances in technology, are needed across the sector.

Aligning with Maigana, a business development consultant, Kenneth Obiajulu, said greater attention should be given to building production capacity in the agricultural sector as well as higher value agro-processed foods by riding on the back of technology.

According to him, there are structural challenges inhibiting the agricultural sector from reaching its full potential. He listed some of them to include limited access to technology, credit and marketplaces, among others.

Obiajulu said the challenges in the sector have made technology-led interventions to disrupt the market imperative. He noted that there are lots of agritech opportunities, ranging from the offer of credit to the marketplace of inputs to logistics to transport the harvest. He maintained that the agric sector holds tremendous potential for technology adoption, considering the sheer size of the population.

Obiajulu is right. According to the United Nations (UN), the world will need to produce 70 per cent more food in 2050 to meet the growing demand, and technology can help in increasing agricultural output.

The import of the UN projection and recommendation are obviously not lost on stakeholders and the authorities in the agric sector, where the push to turn to technology to achieve a more robust and resilient food system has gained significant traction. Not a few agriculture and economic development experts believe that a total and radical revamping of the agriculture sector, through the use of technology (agritech), is required in the way food is produced, consumed and how waste is managed.

A common thread that runs through their presentations at various fora is the recognition of the fundamental role and opportunity in the agricultural sector to not only guarantee food security, but also enhance economic development.

They, however, recognise the existence of a multitude of challenges and barriers to the sector’s growth such as poor market information, lack of infrastructure, poor policy and regulatory environments, and climate change, among others.

But, the good thing is that leveraging technology, according to them, could help get round the challenges. Obiajulu said, for instance, that he anticipates a future with significant advances in farm mechanisation and automation, including farm robots taking over labour intensive tasks and reducing drudgery.

He said Nigeria needs a strong innovation climate and supporting infrastructure to make it well-positioned for agri-food technologies to take root.

For the Country Manager/Deputy Managing Director, OCP Nigeria, Caleb Usoh, applying modern technologies to the agricultural sector will help enhance food production, efficiency and revenue. He said the sector holds a huge potential for agritech start-ups.

With Nigeria  forecast to have a population of about 250 million by 2050, Usoh said overall demand for food will increase, and policy makers, farmers and investors  will have to  look to new agriculture technologies to produce better crops and  increase yields.

He supports the use of precision technology and big-data analytics by agro-entrepreneurs to drive innovation in farming, admitting using crop monitoring technologies to analyse the fields, along with smart irrigation systems, digitalised farm management systems and drone technology to map out the crops and to oversee the distribution of fertiliser and pesticides.

An international consultant in rural agriculture and Senior Lecturer, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Prof. Kola Adebayo, noted that multiple start-ups are already trying to change the agric landscape with the use of innovative business models.

According to him, some of them are working on various technologies that not only create a viable business, but also help improve income, noting, however, that the major problems faced by farmers include lack of information on farm inputs, unorganised credit and absence of market linkages.

Adebayo noted that various agritech companies have come into play to help farmers provide best value for their produce.

Indeed, a number of innovative start-ups operating in the food technology and agriculture technology sectors have merged. Some of the agritech start-ups, The Nation learnt, are working to enhance supply chains, using big data analytics and artificial intelligence to optimise farm management.

Others are focused on farm finance, storage monitoring and digitalisation of local markets. In Nigeria, food agritech firms are said to have drawn about $50 million in investment.

One of them is Farmcrowdy Limited, Nigeria’s first and leading agritech company founded in 2016 by five young Nigerians led by Onyeka Akumah. Farmcrowdy has raised $15 million for 25,000 farmers.

Akumah said agritech was becoming more and more mainstream. While pointing out that sustaining Nigeria’s growing population requires increasing agricultural production by 2050. He said this will require adoption of technologies to improve outcomes. He maintained that there is a need for a strong digital footprint to help farmers and agro-businesses find a competitive edge, enabling them to meet the changing needs of both growers and end customers.

From the outset, Farmcrowdy Limited was purely a crowd farming platform trying to solve the problem of farmers’ access to finance. Today, the organisation has taken an integrated approach, trying to disrupt whole supply chains with digitalisation.

In the light of opportunities in the agriculture value chain, Akumah said the company will focus on the use of technology to build tools and resources that farmers will need to boost food security through six business focus — Farmcrowdy Structured Finance, Farmcrowdy Insurance, Farmcrowdy Marketing, Farmcrowdy Tech and Data, Farmcrowdy Foods and Farmcrowdy Aggregation. He said  the  businesses were set up to serve individuals across the entire agriculture value chain, prioritising stakeholder access to better yields, lower costs, and smarter marketing.

Akumah said Farmcrowdy Foods is a one-stop e-commerce platform for fresh food and groceries. He said since inception in April 2020, Farmcrowdy Foods was able to complete over 3,000 orders in its first 90 days, through its  mobile app on the Google and IOS app store.

He stated that Farmcrowdy Foods is set to launch its e-commerce platform where consumers can purchase fresh foods and get value for their monies, adding that its Trader platform, a one-stop-shop, was created to provide major processors and international buyers the opportunity to purchase commodities directly from farming clusters and aggregators by optimising the market access to African farmers and improving their income and boosting their yields.

He said Farmcrowdy Trader has a mobile application that enables easy farmer’s data profiling, advisory services, procurement, agency banking, insurance, and microcredit for small-holder farmers.

This year, Farmcrowdy acquired Best Foods Limited to offer a wider livestock production and processing solution to the meat market. With the acquisition, Farmcrowdy took a majority stake in Best Foods, an agribusiness group formed 16 years ago and focused on the processing of livestock and marketing of agricultural produce.

Akumah said the acquisition provided Farmcrowdy the opportunity to continue to grow its livestock value chain with an improved process for livestock production and processing to reach the desired high standards fit for local consumption and export where necessary. He stated that Farmcrowdy’s vision is to empower the food industry to grow its comparative advantage through digital technologies. To this end, the company, he said, aims to build an ecosystem that connects all parties on the value chain, bringing together food domain expertise and technology.

The Nation learnt that when the company started in 2016, establishing two start-ups in the agritech space was a challenge, but today, there are over 30 start-ups in the space even as more are cropping up every day.

According to Akumah, an ecosystem has already emerged for entrepreneurship in the space, with Farmcrowdy amassing a network of over 300,000 farmers, cultivating across 17,000 acres of farmland and rearing three million broiler birds and deploying funds for farming projects across Nigeria.

In April 2018, Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, visited Farmcrowdy at their Office in Lekki, Lagos, as a part of his tour to start-ups and tech hubs across the country.

During the visit, Akumah presented Osinbajo with a certificate of sponsorship for his 10 maize farms on Farmcrowdy platform.

Farmcrowdy’s Co-founder & Chief Growth Officer, Ifeanyi Anazodo, said through collaboration with government agencies, the company was working to develop localised supply chains. He expressed his belief that bringing innovative technological solutions to agricultural practices holds enormous economic potential.

Perhaps, to underscore the growing agritech space in Nigeria, the Agricultural and Rural Management Training Institute (ARMTI) said it has acquired considerable experience in the area of agricultural training for industry executives and   farmers.

ARMTI Executive Director Dr. Olufemi Oladunni said agriculture technology  has become more important than ever before, adding that the use of modern technologies to increase yield, improve food quality and promote sustainability in the agri-food value chain will encourage more youths to venture into agriculture.

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