Digital technology, agriculture and the increasing population
By Inyene Ibanga
TECHDIGEST – Agriculture is going through a revolution. As the world’s population estimates increase from seven billion to ten billion by 2050, the demand for food and agricultural produce will certainly continue to be on the ascendance.
While demand for food is growing, the supply side faces the challenges of changing environmental and climatic conditions, dwindling water supply, shortage of arable land and farming inputs, the rapid rate of urbanisation thats reducing available land for agriculture, and a host of other problems.
To mitigate these challenges, farmers must continue to innovate and embrace digital technology to improve productivity to meet domestic and external demand. Hence, the need for the transformation to digital or smart agriculture.
Digital agriculture refers to practices that digitally collect, store, analyse, and share electronic data and information along the agricultural value chain.
It is the use of digital technologies, integrated into one system, to enable farmers and other stakeholders to improve agricultural production from the farm to the consumer.
Technologies such as mobile telephony, robotics, remote sensor technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence, and many others, provide the agricultural industry the tools and information to make more informed decisions and boost productivity.
Digital technologies can be part of the solution because they have the potential to provide farmers with the information and ability to address challenges and harness opportunities for growth.
Significant economic, social, and environmental benefits are delivered through the application of digital technologies, thereby transforming agriculture by offering new opportunities to improve efficiency, policy, and the performance of the agricultural value chain.
Digital technologies help to improve the traceability of agricultural products and increase value for farmers across the four main branches of livestock production, crop production, agricultural economics, and agricultural engineering.
For instance, the spread of mobile technologies and remote-sensing services are helping to improve the access of smallholder farmers to information, inputs, markets, finance, increasing productivity, while reducing operational costs.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) reports that achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goal of a world with zero hunger by 2030 will require an urgent transformation of the current agri-food system.
The FAO notes that the next wave of technological efforts to sustain the fast-growing global population will leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the precision and sustainability of farming techniques.
For this reason, the global agri-food organisation, in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), developed the E-agricultural Strategy Guide to assist countries in developing their national e-agricultural strategy and master plan.
Agricultural activities provides livelihoods for many Nigerians. These are important activities for the country’s economy after oil and gas. Between July and September 2021, the agricultural sector contributed almost 30 per cent of the total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria.
Although digital transformation has impacted key sectors of the economy, the same cannot be said about the agricultural sector. Sadly, the incessant insecurity in many parts of the country has worsened by the fare of farmers.
In the face of these challenges, the Ministry of Communications and Digital Economy, through its’ agencies, has introduced several initiatives to create opportunities that attract younger persons to gainfully engage in the agricultural ecosystem.
One of such initiatives is the recent partnership between the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and three federal universities in Nigeria to advance research into and the application of digital technology in farming to speed up the actualisation of the country’s food security.
The pilot schemes are slated to commence at the Federal University of Technology, Akure (FUTA), Federal University, Dutse (FUD), and University of Abuja (UNIABUJA), as part of the strategies to digitally transform activities along the agriculture value chain in Nigeria.
Speaking on the partnership, the Director-General of NITDA, Mallam Kashifu Abdullahi noted that the application of digital technologies in farming would reduce the quantity of water, fertilisers, and labour required, while also increasing yield and creating sustainable wealth.
“Using technology in farming will help the country optimise this sector, improve production, reduce waste, facilitate access to markets, and thereby put Nigeria on the path of food security and substantial income generation.”
The NITDA boss expressed optimism that digital agriculture would attract Nigeria’s younger population to farming and boost the country’s National Digital Economy Policy and Strategy to properly position a leading player in the global digital economy.
Agriculture remains a critical source for livelihoods and employment and the transformative power of digital technologies is bringing agriculture back to youths.
Additionally, the Nigeria Digital Agriculture Strategy (NDAS; 2020-2030) provides the policy direction for collaboration among key stakeholders in the agriculture value chain to boost domestic food security and gain access to global markets.
There is no doubt that digital agriculture is here to stay. So, NITDA should redouble efforts towards effectively bridging the digital divides by promoting rural digital literacy, gender inclusion, and the Nigerian Agricultural Platform initiatives as outlined in the NDAS.
Inyene Ibanga is Managing Editor TechDigest and writes from Wuye District, Abuja; email: [email protected]