Nigeria’s population may hit over 250 million by 2050, according to the United Nations. This implies that more mouths will be fed. Thus, the agricultural industry will have to increase its output to meet demand. To this end, the industry has adopted some technological innovations, known as agritech, to avert food insecurity, DANIEL ESSIET reports.
FEW technologies are being introduced to the agricultural industry. This is so because, according to an international report, AgTech, the technologies known as Global Agritech can improve efficiency and profitability in the $7.8 trillion industry. So far, the industry has received investments worth $2.6 billion.
Also, a report by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation says Africa’s Agritech market is valued at $143 million, with $2.2 billion business opportunities. Besides, Disrupt says Nigeria startups have introduced innovations that have changed the farming landscape.
StartupSouth covener Uche Anchie said the industry is adopting agritech to address its most pressing challenges. His words: “Agritech innovations – which often centre around Internet of Things (IoT) applications – are helping farmers to work faster, smarter, with less waste. Given the challenges facing the industry, these benefits are bound to attract attention.’’
He added: “I think they have mostly innovated around agrofintech. It’s not hard to see why a lot has happened in the fintech space, which is spurring a great deal of investments in that direction. There’s a lot more room for innovation in the core agricultural space – from farm management to input to processing and even distribution.
”For him, Nigeria is riding on the agritech wave to invigorate the business environment to, not just grow local agri-tech firms, but also attract established global players, venture capitalists and accelerators. According to the founder, Start Innovation Hub, Uyo, Hanson Johnson, Nigeria is a fertile ground where great ideas can cross-pollinate, and technology matching, transfer and development happen.
He said what young tech entrepreneurs need is a pro-business environment, that creates a solid foundation for technology transfer and product development in the agritech sector. Hanson noted that if the government continues to groom local enterprises, an environment will be created to uncover a range of promising agritech gems.
Which areas of precision agriculture does he see more startups going into very soon?
He said technologies that help farmers to manage their resources and give access to real-time information through their smartphones, offering mobility and ease of use. “Real-time monitoring and analysis of crops in the farm using unmanned aerial vehicles,” he added.
From leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI) to helping farmers better manage potential risks, establishing farmer platforms, business-to-business (B2B) agriculture market places, rural fintechs, post-harvest technologies and precision agriculture, the agritech sector is brimming with potential.
One of them is them, Beat Drone, uses drones to spray farms, engage in crop supervision, and map farmland to improve yields. Its platform allows a farmer to request a drone and schedule a date, and make payment.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Beat Drone President Confidence Odionye said the organisation was contracted by the Ondo State Government to help it prevent the spread of the virus. Beat Drone supplied drones that aided in disinfecting neighbourhoods faster and more accurately.
He said the organisation’s experience in spraying farmlands was an advantage, having recorded over 20,000 hours cumulatively spraying farmlands. Odionye told The Nation that drones are among the several innovations in the agricultural space, adding that agritech has opened up opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators to help solve problems with food production, including using technology to improve farmers’ access to finance through crowdfarming and online market places.
He wants startups to go into irrigation, crop monitoring and spraying. To solve the problem of land shortages, Samson Ogbole found a solution known as aeroponics, which involves growing plants in the air without using soil. Ogbole first got involved with soilless farming in 2014, two years later he founded PS Nutraceuticals, a company that deploys cutting-edge agricultural technologies to improve food production efficiency and ensure food security. Ogbole explained that soilless farming entails removing the soil component, bringing in substitutes, and applying fertiliser to enable the plants to grow well.
He said with soilless farming, it is possible to promote urban farming in cities where there are no land. He added that there are many advantages to aeroponics, the biggest being that one can grow crops in all seasons. He said the method allows growers to eliminate pathogens in the soil.
He claimed that only 45 per cent of the country’s soil is fertile; thus, to be self-sustaining in food production, technology is needed. He said agritech is the future of the industry as it ensures that food production is not seasonal.
On what kind of technologies the industry needs, Ogbole suggested: “It’s going to probably be a technology that allows for value addition without breaking the bank: Dryers and freeze drying.
What can go to market easily. Then, maybe, Global Positioning System (GPS) marking of land, soil profiling but this is dependent on farmers’ awareness.
Other stakeholders’ response
While agritech has helped urban farms find their way into campuses, rooftops, skyscrapers, and shipping containers; and significantly reducing the quantity of water and fertiliser needed to grow in other parts of Africa, crowdfarming is one of the most common forms of agritech in Nigeria.
Speaking with The Nation, the Country Manager, OCP Africa, Caleb Usoh, said: “For me, a notable innovation that has come out of agriculture is in the area of crowd farming. This has been able to bring a lot of financing to support expansion in agriculture, production and processing. Another technological advancement of note is in using mobile application to request for farming equipment- we call it Uber for tractors, sponsored by Hello Tractors.Such kind of innovations can be used for other equipment to optimise productivity.”
He said farmers have access to capital and information about the best farming practices, pointing out that a well-performing and smartly regulated agriculture sector could cater to rising food demands.”Other possible areas investors can support agritech startups to bring growth in agriculture is in farmers’ data gathering-analystics.
“We need to have information on farm size, get the farm geo referenced, give parameters on the business history on the platform. The farmer will get visibility. Visibility is key because it draws other partners to the farmers such that he can access finance, insurance products, probably access to market,” Usoh added.
OCP Africa has invested in an app called Adogo that links farmers to input, markets, provides training and updates on agricultural practices. He explained: “We want to enhance that. To achieve this, we are working with other partners.
Currently, we are having a conversation which we hope to seal with the Nigerian Institute of Soil Science to enable us carry out extensive soil mapping of farmland across the country.The mapping will provide specific information on nutrients that the farmer can add to boost productivity in different areas. We want to showcase farmers to the rest of the agric value chain players, such that they will be able to access finance, have their farms referenced and productivity captured in such application.
Also, fertiliser recommendations are what can be derived from extensive soil mapping. Technology is beneficial to farmers looking to minimise risks and increase output. Rotimi Williams, a rice farmer, will vouch for that. He is among a small but increasing number of agrarians employing technology to grow food.
This has, in turn, given birth to an ecosystem of small and big firms trying to bring about smart transformations in farming.
In recent years, there has been a growing movement in agriculture to apply information technologies to improve practice efficiencies and yields. According to a 2019 Global Market Insights Inc.’s report, the precision farming market is set to hit over $12 billion by 2025. The market growth is due to a huge support from governments for the adoption of advanced technologies that help farmers in managing their resources, giving access to real-time information through their smartphones and offering mobility and ease of use.
The Acting Commissioner for Agriculture, Lagos State, Ms Abisola Odusanya, acknowledged that Information Communication Technologies (ICT) technologies are changing the shape of the agriculture industry, providing improvements in the quality of production of crops, health of livestock and the quality of life of farmers.
She believes that agritech will help Lagos to achieve its goal of doubling farm income, powering the rural economy, seen as an important engine that will propel Nigeria towards food sufficiency. Right now, low productivity and small farm holdings are the problems. Against this background, she wants agritech startups to come in and improve yields.
She said the government was ready to support early-stage agtech and foodtech firms that demonstrate novel approaches to addressing agriculture, food and nutrition-related challenges.