Nigeria: Minister of Agriculture releases statement to clear the air on $382m phony phones

Nigeria: Minister of Agriculture releases statement to clear the air on $382m phony phones

 

PRESS STATEMENT

60 BILLION NAIRA TO BE SPENT ON CELLPHONES FOR FARMERS NOT TRUE

 

My attention has been drawn to the issue of 60 Billion Naira to be spent on phones for farmers, reported in some media sitesand papers. The information is absolutely incorrect. My Permanent Secretary was totally misquoted out of context. There is no

60 Billion Naira for phones anywhere. As a responsible Minister, who takes public accountabilty and probity very seriously,there is absolutely no way in the world that I will even contemplate or approve such an expenditure. All our focus asGovernment is on creating jobs in Nigeria, not exporting jobs elsewhere.

Let me clarify and explain our policy.

 

Reaching farmers through phones:

The policy the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting is to get mobile phones to farmers, as part ofits agricultural transformation agenda, to connect farmers to information, expand their access to markets, improve their accessto savings and loans, and help them adapt to climate change dynamics that affect them and their livelihoods. We are alsorapidly modernizing agriculture, and have moved away from agriculture as a development program to agriculture as a business,so we must modernize and use new tools to reach our farmers.

 

The Power of information:

Agriculture today is more knowledge-intensive and we will modernize the sector, and get younger (graduate) entrepreneurs intothe sector, and we will arm them with modern information systems. Whether small, medium or large farmers they all needinformation and communication systems. Connecting to supermarkets and international markets require that farmers know andmeet stringent consumer-driven grades and standards. In today's supply chains, the flow of information from buyers to farmersmust be instant, to meet rapidly changing demands. Unless farmers have information at their finger tips, they will lose out onmarket opportunities.

Our goal is to empower every farmer. No farmer will be left behind. We will reach them in their local languages and use mobile phones to trigger an information revolution which will drive an agricultural revolution.

Why cell phones?

Nigeria has 110 million cellphones, the largest in Africa. But there is a huge divide: the bulk of the phones are in urban areas.The rural areas are heavily excluded. For agriculture, which employs 70% of the population, that means the farmers areexcluded and marginalized. In today's world, the most powerful tool is a mobile phone. As Minister of Agriculture, I want theentire rural space of Nigeria, and farmers, to be included, not excluded, from advantages of mobile phone revolution.

Below are some of them:

Access to inputs:

First, the mobile phones will be used to scale up the access of farmers to improved seeds and fertilizers to millions of farmers,directly. The federal government succeeded in 2012 in getting seeds and fertilizers to farmers, via the Growth EnhancementSupport (GES), which used mobile phones to reach farmers with subsidized inputs. The system ended 40 years of corruptionon fertilizers and cut off rent seekers and middlemen who - for decades - have entrenched massive corruption of the fertilizersector. Government succeeded. The GES system reached over 1.2 million farmers in 120 days in 2012.

We succeeded because we used mobile phones to reach farmers directly and cut off the middle men and those who havecheated farmers for decades. We empowered the poor farmers, with many getting subsidized seeds and fertilizers fromgovernment for the first time ever. We brought transparency into what was perhaps the most corrupt system in Nigeria. Weended fertilizer corruption of four decades, in 90 days, because of mobile phone tools we deployed.

 

Revolutionary tool:

This is a revolution. Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop such a system. The system has garnered internationalacclaim. Other African countries now want to learn from Nigeria. Major donors, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,

DFID of the UK Government, USAID, World Bank, IFAD and the Africa Development Bank, want to scale up the GES system toother countries.

How we will operate:

From 2013, government intends to distribute 10 million phones, so we can reach more millions of farmers with the GES schemefor subsidized inputs. We expect to reach at least 5 million farmers in 2013 with GES for access to subsidized inputs. So,farmers who get mobile phones will be registered and we will use their biometric information to reach them with electronicvouchers for seeds and fertilizers.

 

Second, mobile phones will allow farmers to have financial inclusion, as financial institutions such as commercial banks andmicrofinance banks will be able to reach them with affordable savings and loans products. The phones will make the financial

inclusion of the CBN in rural areas possible.Third, the phones will make market price information available to farmers nationwide. Farmers lose a lot in marketing theirproduce. Middle men make all the profits. Farmers end up selling their products at very poor prices. This is because farmers donot have access to market price information. There is asymmetry of market price information. For many farmers their onlysources of market price information are the middlemen. Mobile phones will allow us to get market price information to farmers ,improve market access and empower farmers. This will allow farmers to have countervailing power in the market place.

 

Fourth, we will use mobile phones to provide extension information to farmers, as part of our total overhaul of the extensionsystem in the country. With a "Farmer Help Line" it will be possible to connect extension workers, colleges of agriculture,

faculties of agriculture, and other experts to provide free extension services to farmers by interactive voice mail. This willinclude when to plant, what to plant, agronomic practices etc. At the dial of a number, the wealth of knowledge of experts will beconnected to the farmers, anywhere they are in Nigeria - free of charge. Such a "Farmer Help Line" system is already in use inKenya by poor farmers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

Fifth, the phones will allow the dissemination of real time weather information to farmers. It will be possible to alert farmers ondrought or floods and reduce vulnerabilities to shocks. In case of the floods we witnessed last year, simple alerts over mobilephones would have saved many lives and helped farmers to know what to do.

 

Finally, the expanded number of phones in rural areas will support the expansion of rural telephony. Presently, the rural areasare not being served well by mobile operators, and are marginalized. With the expansion of mobile phones to millions offarmers, mobile phone operators will expand the number of base stations they have in rural areas. This will reduce the digitaland communications exclusion of rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and jobs. The cost of calls in ruralareas will also decline.

 

How will this be financed?

The distribution of the phones will be supported through an MoU signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry ofCommunications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs. Out ofthe 10 million phones, 5 million will go to women. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which supports expansion ofmobile operators into rural areas, through a tax, will support this initiative, in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural

Development. We intend to work with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.

 

Dr. Akinwumi Adesina

Débísí Àràbà Ph.D (DIC)

Personal Assistant and Technical Adviser on Environmental Policy

Office of the Honourable Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development

No. 1 Capital Drive, FCDA Complex, Garki Area 11,

Abuja, Nigeria

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