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Embracing technologies as panacea for youth involvement in farming

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Charles Maduabueke writes on why innovations and technologies are needed tools in the quest to eliminate hunger through agriculture.

Nigeria is projected to be the world’s third most populous country by 2050, according to a report entitled, World Population Prospects: The 2017 version, released by UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Consequently, food demand of the country is expected to balloon along with the forecast and the implication is that the nation’s agricultural sector faces a huge challenge to produce not only the food crops but also sources of protein and micro-nutrients needs of the country.

A facilitator at AGCO Agribusiness Qualification (AAQ), John Agboola, while reacting to this, said, “Feeding an accrued population by 2050 is a big concern as this demographic uptrend is a threat to food security.”

Explaining challenges facing the sector, Co-founder of PS Nutraceuticals Int. Ltd, Samson Ogbole, told The Guardian that agriculture in Nigeria is still “too people-driven.”

In countries like the United States of America (USA), he said, less than 10 per cent of its population is involved in farming, whereas in Nigeria, over 70% are reportedly involved in agriculture but hunger seems to persist.

Developments in the advanced countries show that they have moved beyond mechanised farming to technology-driven farming, Ogbole said, while in Nigeria, hoes, cutlasses and other rudimentary farming appliances are still used.

The government did import farming machineries, but some of these implements are not climate smart, Ogbole added, as carbon emission from these machines has an adverse effect on the environment.

Hence, more emphasis should be placed on importance of adopting innovative and high-tech solutions to farming to achieve Social Development Goals (SDG) of zero hunger and no poverty, Agboola suggested.

This is an avenue to attract youths to agric as we now have remote controlled farms, automated farms, climate smart farms, soilless farms, urban farms, drone technology, among others, Ogbole said.

“Smart or soilless farming, be it hydroponic, vertical farming, aeroponics or aquaponics have been heralded as innovations that could ensure constant and enhanced food production,” Agboola opined.

Climate smart farming is part of modern approach to environment-friendly agriculture, attracting the interest of youths, Agboola added.

An agronomist, Abimbola Omole, while speaking with The Guardian, said, “There has been an explosion of interest in this environment-friendly farming system.”

She described hydroponics as the practice of growing plants in solutions containing required special nutrients, in contrast to conventional farming where soil is involved.

Aeroponics, she said, is the practice of growing plants with their roots fully exposed to the air in some conditioned boxes.

Benefits of climate smart tech-based farming.

Agboola said both mechanised and innovative farming are inter-related, as their goal is to enhance productivity, but one edge the latter has is that it allows for all seasonal production since hunger is not seasonal.”

Soilless farming, Ogbole said, permits maximising planting space as crops are planted closer, use of very little fertiliser (800g/plot), no weeding or herbicide, sterilised medium of growing, crops with higher level of phytochemicals and anti-oxidants and enhanced plant maturity in comparison to conventional farming.

Plants in hydroponics medium, Omole added, grow faster than their soil-grown counterparts as nutrients go directly into the plant root with none lost in the soil, thus allowing for a larger harvest.

Also, crops can be grown in areas where soil-based farming is impossible, and water management is easier as water is recycled and thus sustainable, she said.

Agboola said this medium is effective in combatting land holding issues, as it could be practiced in sheds, stores, cargo containers and urban centres, and with good farm management, one could harvest more in a plot in contrast to an acre in conventional farming, Ogbole added.

Omole said: “The medium supports low pesticide use as the enclosed environment helps keep pest out as opposed to field grown crops where pesticides are the first line of defence.

“It is not labour-intensive and one can also set up this urban soilless farm close to the market, thus substantially reducing the need for transport,” she added.

Sensors, Ogbole said, are used for monitoring pH levels, moisture and temperature, among others, all enabling farmers to improve their yield and product quality. Smart farming IoT devices not only assist in data collection, but also enhance good practices, hence, making it cost-effective and reducing wastage, Agboola added.

Sustainability

Climate smart farming is one of the most sustainable models of farming, as all year-round production is guaranteed and this has been successfully implemented in some sites.

Although vegetables are the major crops grown using the hydroponic system, Omole said, there has been a growing demand for it to be used in producing seed yams, which will in turn be used by local farmers to grow yam tubers.

Smart farming is an emerging approach in Nigeria as International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), PS Nutraceutical Ltd, BIC Farm Concepts, Fresh Direct Nigeria and Gartner Callaway, to name a few, have either adopted or heavily invested in it, Agboola said.

The PS Nutraceutical boss said, “We have actually grown over 200 crops ranging from tomato, onions, carrots, rice, ginger, yam and flowers, among others, using soilless farming medium.”

This, he said, had been successfully done by the firm in Ogun, Lagos, Abia, Kaduna, and Oyo states, as well as in Abuja.
Need for capacity building

Agriculture is a serious business, hence having capital is not enough, Ogbole said, as most people set out in search of funds and investment without having the requisite know-how.

It is easy for stakeholders to talk about technology and its application to agric, but a lot of work goes into its conception, execution and implementation, Agboola added.

“Unfortunately, we have a generation who wants wealth without creating value; who wants to earn without learning and others who delve into agriculture after attending seminars or reading a few things online and this is worrisome,” Ogbole bemoaned.

“As an intending smart farmer, the basic is to first seek knowledge. People must be willing to learn and gain hands-on experience,” Ogbole suggested.

One should be knowledgeable about the sector, area of interest, existing problems, funding agencies and sustainability of the tech-based farming techniques and all these require training from professionals, Agboola added.

Omole, therefore, called on relevant stakeholders and government agencies to prioritise capacity building of farmers, increased investment in infrastructure and improved resource management, as technologies could help transform the food sector.

Stakeholders’ involvement

To encourage adaptation of technologies in farming, Agboola called for advocacy.

The power of social, traditional and print media, he said, needs to be harnessed so as to get the message across to youths, potential investors and different stakeholders.

“The government needs to initiate programmes and empowerment initiatives that are targeted towards climate smart farming across the states.

Also, private sector involvement cannot be over-emphasised in accelerating the adoption of climate smart farming system, Agboola added.”

Hence, massive investment in this sector would guarantee food security and help alleviate poverty, Omole said.

Population growth presents increased opportunities in agribusiness, and with technology inclusion, youth involvement could be assured.


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