Mobile Phones For Agricultural And Rural Developments

Table of contents

Introduction

Over the past few years, there has been a substantial improvement in the development of ICT in Africa. Mobile communications technology, in particular, has become the most powerful way to servicing millions of people and extending economic opportunities in Africa. In Nigeria, the diffusion of mobile phones has brought about huge changes in the country’s development. These changes have been felt across various sectors including the Agricultural sector.Agriculture is widely known to have manifold benefits on a country’s economy. For most African countries, it accounts for an overwhelming majority of rural employment (Donovan 2011). Mobile services and applications represent one of the most profound changes in rural Nigeria. With information technology on the rise, its impact in agricultural and rural development can no longer be ignored. In line with this, our analysis examines the impact of mobile phones in agricultural and rural development in Nigeria.

Diffusion of mobile phones in Nigeria

The rural sector in Nigeria has over the past few years seen a rapid diffusion of mobile phones. According to the World Bank report (2011), mobile phones have today become the single most powerful way to servicing and extending economic opportunities to millions of people in Africa.

In Nigeria alone, the use of mobile phone subscription has rapidly increased from as low as 0.33% of the population in 2001 to a record high of 48.9% in 2009 (World Bank report 2011). According to this report, the majority of new mobile subscribers will in the next few years come from rural areas of the developing economies.

How mobile phones help enhance or improve agricultural and rural development programmes in Nigeria

One important aspect to which mobile phone has contributed to rural development is through enhancing rural connectivity. Mobile phones have provided the much need connectivity especially in the rural parts of Nigeria. Over a decade ago, Nigeria only had about 100,000 phone lines with most of the landlines run by NITEL, the state-owned telecoms behemoth (Ogunlesi 2012). Today, however, NITEL is no longer there and the number of mobile phone lines has increased to over 100 million (Ogunlesi 2012). A pyramid survey also projected that the mobile subscriptions in Nigeria will more likely surpass 129 million by the year 2014, making Nigeria Africa’s largest telecom market (Pyramid research 2010)

More recently, the Nigerian government has undertaken a major project which involves the distribution of over 10 million mobile phones to farmers in rural Nigeria (Ebriku 2012). This project is intended at providing farmers access to market information. This will help enhance rural development and make the country’s agricultural sector more tech-friendly; thereby eliminating various challenges facing farmers on a daily basis such as the delay in information dispersion (Ebriku 2012). This massive project which is meant to enhance agricultural and rural development is scheduled for completion by 2013.

The Nigerian government has also launched the ‘Growth Enhancement Support Scheme’ which is expected to provide fertilizer and seed support to farmers through their mobile devices (NADS report 2011). This new scheme is expected to liberalize policies on fertilizers and seed distribution and to shift direction to value chain development (NADS report 2011). That is, the ‘Growth Enhancement Support Scheme’ will help develop a value chain system that supports distribution of farm inputs, particularly seeds and fertilizers to farmers (NADS report 2011).

Among several other initiatives which have been developed by Nigeria’s Ministry of Agriculture to streamline the complex distribution of farm inputs is the Integrated Cassava Project (UNDP report 2012). This initiative enables cassava growers to access market information via their mobile phones. It uses Agri-Business Information Points and trade agents to disseminate market information (UNDP report 2012). Services provided by this initiative include: prices, offers, trainings, trade assistance, technical messages and SMS alerts among many others (UNDP report 2012).

Undeniably, the diffusion of mobile phones in rural Nigeria has enhanced communication between farmers, extension agents, agricultural research institutes, input dealers and transporters. Farmers of today are better placed to receive accurate market information than before. They no longer have to accept the first price but rather can negotiate for a better deal. Mobile phones have also enabled them ease of communication with other farmers, making it feasible to put in place cooperatives that can help them explore new markets. Additionally, mobile phones have enhanced rural connectivity in Nigeria as farmers can easily communicate with friends, families, and other rural inhabitants without the need to travel.

Challenges facing the use of mobile phones in agricultural and rural developments in Nigeria.

There are, however, a number of challenges inhibiting effective mobile phone usage in the rural areas. One major challenge is the lack of infrastructural facilities. It is a widely accepted fact that insufficient infrastructure impedes all aspects of the economy. In Nigeria, infrastructural inadequacies across the telecom industries have been suggested to result in poor connectivity and limited network coverage in the rural sector (Abel-Ratovo, et.al, 2012).

Despite the increase in mobile phones usage in the rural areas of Nigeria, there remains a huge connectivity and infrastructure divide between the rural and urban areas. The rural sectors in Nigeria lag in terms of roads, portable water, electricity and fixed-line communications (Pyramid research 2009). A large proportion of the Nigerian population, however, continues to live in the rural areas hence making it a sizable addressable market for mobile services (Pyramid research 2009).

Another challenge that impedes mobile application in the rural parts of Nigeria is language barrier and illiteracy. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country with a linguistically diverse population comprising of more than 140 million people (Ofulue 2011). This populous country has about 510 spoken languages and 66% literacy rate (Ofulue 2011).

Given this multilingual society and the relatively low level of literacy rate, it becomes particularly challenging for mobile phone users especially in rural Nigeria to communicate and access market information through these electronic gadgets. Other factors which have been suggested inhibit the use of mobile phones for rural and agricultural developments include: the constant interruption of power supply, unaffordable tariff rates and lack of wider network coverage (Pyramid research 2009).

In addressing these challenges, the Nigerian government is collaborating with mobile operators and international institutions to bridge the connectivity gaps. Infrastructure sharing and a multitude of initiatives have been developed to help these efforts (Pyramid research 2009). The Federal government is also looking to invest in improving literacy levels in order to spur greater use of mobile phones for rural and agricultural developments (Abel-Ratovo, et.al, 2012).

Conclusion

There is no doubt that mobile phones have become the clear choice of communication with most of the Nigerian population using this technology to send and receive information. Not only does this mode of communication facilitate effective interaction and exchange of vital information among the rural and urban dwellers, but it also holds a significant potential for advancing agricultural and rural development in Nigeria.

Yet, despite the increase in mobile phones usage in the rural areas of Nigeria, there exists a huge connectivity and infrastructure divide between the rural and urban areas. Moreover, Nigeria is home to a linguistically diverse population with a relatively low level of literacy. In addition, factors such as unaffordable tariff rates and poor network coverage have made it challenging to communicate and access market information through these electronic gadgets.

In addressing these challenges, the Nigerian government is collaborating with mobile operators and international institutions to bridge the connectivity gaps. Infrastructure sharing and a multitude of initiatives have been developed to help these efforts. The Federal government is also looking to invest in improving literacy levels in order to spur greater use of mobile phones for rural and agricultural developments.

Reference

Abel-Ratovo, et.al, 2012. ‘Ownership and use of mobile phones for agricultural transactions by traders’. Journal of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development. Vol.4 (10), pp. 305-317

Donovan, K., 2011. Overview of ICT in Agriculture: opportunities, access and cross-cutting themes. InfoDev

Ebriku, J.F., 2012. Nigerian government to distribute 10 million mobile phones to farmers. [viewed on 16th December 2012] available from

http://www.communicationsafrica.com/mobile/nigerian-government-to-distribute-10-million-mobile-phones-to-farmers

Nigeria Agro-Dealer Support (NADS) report, 2011. Growing Africa’s agriculture. IFDC

Ofulue, C.I., 2011. ‘Literacy at a distance in multilingual contexts: issues and challenges’. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, vol.12 (6)

Ogunlesi, T., 2012. Seven ways mobile phones have changed lives in Africa. CNNInside Africa. [Viewed on 16th December 2012] available from

http://edition.cnn.com/2012/09/13/world/africa/mobile-phones-change-africa/index.html

Pyramid research, 2010. The impact of mobile services in Nigeria: how mobile technologies are transforming economic and social activities.

UNDP report 2012. The importance of ICTs in the provision of information for improving agricultural productivity and rural incomes in Africa. International Food Policy Research Institute, Addis Ababa.

World Bank report, 2011. Mobile applications for agriculture and rural development. Washington, D.C.

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