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We can't bank on town criers to convey information to farmers, Minister says of plans to provide mobile access

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By Olubunmi Adeniyi

Akinwunmi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture
Akinwunmi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture

Lagos. February 11, 2013: Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture, says the importance of enhancing agricultural productivity in the country by supporting farmers to own cellphone under the Ministry’s Growth Enhancement Support (GES) scheme will improve transparency and accountability in the agricultural sector. 

The Minister, who made the observation at a recent meeting with Editors in Lagos says the policy of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is to enable Nigerian farmers have access to mobile phones as part of its agricultural transformation agenda.

“I cannot be superintended over a sector that do not have access. We cannot rely on town criers to pass information to our farmers they need access,” Adesina says underscoring that the aim of this new system to improve transparency and accountability  in the agricultural sector.

According to him, “When I came on board as Minister of Agriculture in July of 2011, I found a corrupt and totally inefficient fertiliser sector. The government was spending huge amounts of money on direct procurement and distribution of subsidised fertiliser, but less than 11 per cent of farmers got the fertilisers.”

He explains that in the need to stop corruption in the sector, the Ministry came up with the GES scheme with clear directive, support and determination from President Goodluck Jonathan.

According to the Minister, the GES scheme delivers inputs (fertilisers and seeds) to farmers directly by using farmers’ cell phones, adding that “we created an electronic platform (e-wallet) on which we registered farmers and agro dealers who own shops that sell farm inputs all over the country.”

He adds that, “To date we have registered 4.2 million farmers and about 900 agro dealers. We developed the first ever registered data base of farmers in Nigeria, which we will upgrade every year. For the first time ever, we can now base policy decisions on data, not guess work. We now know and can identify our customers, the farmers.”

This singular effort to get inputs to farmers directly resulted in the addition of an estimated 8.1 million metric tonnes of food to the domestic food supply noting that, “This addition helped to mitigate the effect of the flood on the nation’s food supply and we were able to avoid a food crisis.”

Speaking further on the usefulness of mobile phone to farmers, Adesina states that, “From data we collected based on farmers’ use of cellphones to access fertilisers and seeds last year, we found that the total number of transactions done by phone with respect to the GES scheme was 4.9 million.”

Of these, 1.2 million were in English, 620,000 were in Pidgin, 2.2 million were in Hausa, and 854,000 were in Yoruba and 344 were in Igbo. From this data, we have no doubt that our farmers are well able to use cellphones,” he adds.

In order to empower the rural farmers, the Ministry was reported to have earmarked huge sum of N60 billion for the purchase of 10 million mobile phones to be distributed to farmers across the country.

 In his reaction, the minister said there is no plan to spend N60 billion on procurement of 10 million cellphones for farmers under the GES scheme.

“There will be no direct procurement of phones by the Federal Government. We are also not going to give anyone contracts to import phones from China or anywhere else. Let me also state loud and clear: there is no N60billion  anywhere to be used to buy cellphones,” Adesina says.

According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Communications Technology are partnering to provide the cellphones to the farmers through the Growth Enhancement Scheme (GES).

He said that the phones would be sold directly to the farmers by local Mobile Service Providers.

Adesina notes that “of course we cannot get 10 million phones to all farmers who do not have phones this year. This is impractical to say the least. Our plan is a gradual scale up. We intend to get about 2 million phones to farmers who do not have phones this year.”

To be entitled to a phone, the Minister says the farmers must be registered on the e-wallet platform. The paper vouchers will be issued to farmers who do not have phones.

“The government will provide a subsidy to the farmer through the voucher to buy the phone. The farmer takes the voucher to the local mobile phone operator and pays the balance which is the difference between the value of the voucher and the cost of the phone.”

Once a farmer buys a phone and a SIM card, his new phone number will be updated on the e-wallet database and he will be able to receive his e-wallet voucher which will entitle him to purchase fertiliser and seeds at subsidised rates, Adesina says.

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