In 2019, the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) initiated the National Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) initiative.
NAVSA is an ecosystem-driven digital platform, envisioned for the transformation of the agricultural sector.
It is envisaged that the programme would assist the farmers and other stakeholders in the agricultural ecosystem to navigate the journey across the sector value chain, involving farm production and management of their produce.
The main thrust of the programme is the integration of digital technologies and innovations to improve productivity and the income of farmers and other ecosystem players.
At the lunch of the pilot phase of NAVSA in 2020 in Jigawa, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Pantami, said that “the way agriculture is practised needs to be modernised and transformed to encourage young talents to set up agriculture enterprises and position agriculture as a major means of economic diversification and growth.’’
At an empowerment programme organised recently in Ekiti for 140 farmers, Pantami stressed that “digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth.
The empowerment programme took place under the supervision of the Federal Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy in collaboration with Ekiti Government and carried out by NITDA.
Pantami stressed that requirements to succeed in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) necessitates digitalisation to be at the core of any nation’s development policy and strategy.
Pantami explained that the 4IR deals with emerging technologies like the 3D printing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotics, among others.
He said that these are relevant tools that can be deployed for easier and modern-day farming, hence driving the digital economy agenda of the country.
“The digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness, growth and there is no doubt that digitisation of the economy is one of the most critical issues of our time.
“Traditional industries are being reshaped by business models that have never existed before.
“Digitisation has proven impact on economy and society by reducing unemployment, improving quality of lives and boosting access to knowledge.
“It is transforming the world in almost every aspect of life in the last few decades.
“The access to the internet, increase of people using mobile phones, social media and other digital services have changed the way people interact, communicate, learn and work in almost every country,’’ he said.
The minister said that the drive towards a digital economy was the reason President Muhammadu Buhari unveiled and launched the National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy (NDEPS) for a digital Nigeria on Nov. 28, 2019, with a vision to transform Nigeria into a leading digital economy.
He said that the idea was to provide quality life and digital economies for all, to build and institutionalise digitisation in every sector of the economy.
Pantami asserted that the potential benefits of digitising the agro-food sector are convincing, but it would require major transformation of farming systems, rural economies, communities and natural resource management.
`This is a challenge which requires a systematic, technology-driven and holistic approach to achieving the full potential and benefits.
“Smart agriculture is part of promoting digital innovation and digital entrepreneurship, and agriculture has been very significant to our economy as a nation and it continues to remain very relevant in our country.
“However, we discovered that the output we generate from agriculture compared to our efforts and resources being spent has no justification, hence to save cost and time, we came up with Smart Agriculture.”
Pantami said that the Federal Government in collaboration with relevant stakeholders, will continue to support the NAVSA initiative, in order to ensure its implementation at state levels.
This, he hoped, would culminate to massive job creation, improve income for farmers and the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
He called on the private sector, development partners and state governments to support the initiative.
The minister also called for partnership with the Federal Government in the areas of finance, farm inputs, research and development, capacity building, smart solutions, green energy, among others.
The Director-General of NITDA, Mr Kashifu Inuwa, in his contribution, said leveraging digital technologies and innovations would attract youthful population into agriculture, create new digital business models across the agriculture value chain.
Inuwa also said it would make Nigeria a leading nation in food security and exporter of standard agricultural produce to the rest of the world.
He recalled that the programme was first piloted in Jigawa, adding that the project was initiated to systematically involve farmers across the 774 local government areas in the country to equip them with skills for smart agriculture.
“This initiative is geared towards supporting the Federal Government’s digital economy agenda in order to bring into reality the economic diversification of President Buhari and ensure attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Two, aimed at ending hunger and achieving food security by 2030.
“AgricTech is revolutionising agriculture by promoting indoor vertical farming in the urban areas, which use up to 70 per cent less water than traditional farms, encourage farm automation that automates crop or livestock production cycle.
“Agric-Tech is also improving livestock farming technology, makes tracking and managing livestock data-driven and much easier to modern greenhouses that are technology driven and data-driven.
“These enhanced farming use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, autonomous tractors, drones and robotics innovation, among others,’’ he said.
He revealed that the empowerment programme will provide Smart Devices, seed fund of N100,000 for enterprise inputs, digital Agripreneurship training and skill acquisition, connectivity which includes one-year internet access and Closed User Group calls for adopted farmers.
Other provisions for the farmers are: NAVSA Platform (mobile app), financial inclusion through digital wallets (open and close wallets for each adopted farmer, input suppliers and off-takers), e-extension services, agric as a business and agro business models’ opportunities and continuous reinvestment model.
He said: “We will start piloting the deployment and integration of smart technologies such as IoT, geo-information system technologies and geospatial analysis, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, blockchain, among other emerging technologies to promote smart agriculture solutions that address different challenges on NAVSA’s platform.
“We will be introducing modern greenhouses, farm automation, precision agriculture among others. These solutions will be targeted at high performing farmers.’’
Gov. Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti, who also spoke, said “agriculture is the next oil for the country, bringing about the creation of jobs, assuring citizens of food security in the country.’’
Represented by Dr Olabode Adeoyi, Commissioner for Agriculture and Food Security, Fayemi added that technology would enable “you to do things at ease without stress, bringing about increase in productivity, creating jobs, better performance and increase revenue.
“The programme is to address issues of land management, use of digital technologies to drive agriculture, changing the mindset of our youths, bringing out the various potential embedded within them.’’
With the potential of boosting food production and generating employment, stakeholders should heed Pantami’s appeal and support the initiative to ensure implementation in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.
By Ijeoma Olorunfemi