Technology: New vista for smallholder farmers

Technology is essential for the development of agriculture and more beneficial to the smallholder farmers. JULIANA AGBO examines the need for them to embrace technology as a crucial element in the success story of agriculture in Nigeria

AGRICULTURAL technologies are elixir to poverty in most developing countries. This is so because technologies are regarded as the foundations of rural economic growth and development.

For this reason, many governments and aid agencies constantly introduce technological innovations to rural farmers with the view of empowering them.

However, the rate of adoption of these technologies has remained low in most countries. Daily, farmers are confronted with arguments from anti-technology groups on whether there is the need for smallholder farmers, which are in the majority in Nigeria, to use technology to step up their agricultural production in order to ensure bumper harvest at the end of each farming season.

Farmers in more developed climes use sophisticated technologies such as robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial images, drones and GPS technology. These advanced devices, precision agriculture and robotic systems allow farming to be more profitable, efficient, safe and environmentally-friendly. Yet, in Africa, smallholder farmers are in faced with the ambivalence of using or not using the technological devices.

‘Portfolio farmers’ (those who claim to be farmers but actually do not own farms) who always speak on television or radio about what the rural farmer should or not do, have been doing everything possible to discourage our farmers from accessing what could change their fortune.

On the other hand, agriculturalists, including plant breeders, entomologists and other researchers across the agricultural production value chain are, in most cases, too busy in the laboratory or in the fields to argue with this group of arm-chair critics.

As a result, people are pressured to accept the numerous lies being peddled by anti-technology critics as truth. Some of those lies include messages that suggest that “it is better to continue to use the hoe and cutlass just like our grandfathers did and that, hybrid crops are tasteless, farmers will be dependent on owners of technologies for life and technologies are meant to enslave farmers, among others.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation, about two-thirds of the developing world’s three billion rural people live in about 475 million small farm households, working on land plots smaller than two hectares. Many of them are poor and food insecure and have limited access to markets and services. Their choices are constrained, but they farm their land and produce food for a substantial proportion of the world’s population.

In Nigeria, more than 80 per cent of farmers are smallholders. Agriculture is a major contributor to Nigeria’s gross domestic product (GDP) and smallholder farmers play dominant roles in this contribution. A smallholder farmer depends on his efficiency in the utilisation of basic production resources available to him. He makes a significant and important contribution to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), about 99 per cent of total crops output. The smallholder farmer is the main producer of the food consumed in Nigeria.

Agriculture is a major contributor to Nigeria’s GDP, the smallholder farmer plays a central role in our economy.

They deserve life-changing technologies

There are many scientific and technological innovations being applied in agricultural production. However, the pressure on farmers to produce more with finite resources has never ceased. A major way to improve traceability, sustainability, and quality of goods from a farm is through the adoption of technology.

African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) maintains that the agricultural sector is a key foundational pillar as Africa consolidates its economic growth and carves out its new position as a major global economic powerhouse and the next global growth market.

AATF came into being to respond to the need for an effective mechanism that would facilitate and support negotiation for technology access and delivery and formation of appropriate partnerships to manage the development and deployment of innovative technologies for use by smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The organisation supports farmers in Africa, especially smallholder farmers in their quest for access to best agricultural technology by uniting key stakeholders and technology transfer as a priority for Africa’s agricultural progress.

AATF believes that better access to agricultural technologies will boost the productivity of smallholder farmers. Through its activities, it aims at reaching 16 million smallholder farmers by 2022.

Already, farmers in Nigeria have tasted the benefits of technological interventions with the commercial release of SAMPEA 20-T, the Pod Borer Resistant (PBR) Cowpea that has been described by some farmers as the greatest development to have happened to beans farming.

The new cowpea variety developed in collaboration with the Institute for Agricultural Research, Ahmadu Bello University, has many qualities that are lacking in the existing cowpea varieties.

It has resistance against the deadly pod sucking insect called Maruca that has been the nightmare of cowpea farmers over the years. The PBR Cowpea matures quickly, as it needs just 60 days. It also needs just two applications of fertiliser pesticide as against the usual eight to 10 applications for other varieties. This translates to better health for farmers.

Need to adopt technology

On the need to adopt technology in the agriculture sector, a female farmer in Niger State, Mrs Halima Abu, who spoke to The Nation said digital technology has opened vast untapped potential for farmers, investors and entrepreneurs to improve the efficiency of food production and consumption in Nigeria.

Mrs Abu said from precision farming to an efficient food supply chain, technology could bring major economic, social and environmental benefits.

“Technology has been helpful to some farmers who have adopted the method. There is a need for every farmer to adopt technology because we are gradually moving from our old system of farming to a sophisticated system.

“AATF is also leading research into the production of NEWEST rice in Nigeria and other African countries; a rice variety that can withstand drought, utilise less nitrogen and which can be grown in all parts of Nigeria under its Nitrogen Use Efficient Water Efficient Salt Tolerant (NEWEST) NEWEST rice project that is being carried out with the National Cereal Research Institute, Badegi in Niger State.

“The NEWEST Rice when available next year, is expected to significantly cut down Nigeria’s dependence on foreign rice by half,” she said.

On the Cassava Mechanisation and Agro-Processing (CAMAP) project implemented in Southwest, a cassava grower in Oyo State, Ayodeji Adewale said the project has opened a new world of opportunity for many cassava farmers.

“Cassava farmers in the country were hitherto producing less than 10 tons per hectare but with CAMAP, the story changed as cassava farmers in the Southwest who participated in the project are now producing about 30 tons per hectare.

An expert, Mr Jide Olajuwon who spoke on the place of technology in the agriculture sector, said the place of technology can never be overemphasised as they strive to feed the huge population.

“Deploying technology to modern agricultural production will help in feeding our huge population, even amid various challenges such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, drought and climate change.

“AATF is showing real promise and is a problem solver in bringing innovative technologies to smallholder farmers in an accessible, sustainable form,” he added.

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