Re: Press Release by Minister of Agriculture

More than often we are left at the mercy of someone who knows somebody that in turn knows somebody, to find out what our government agencies are up to. The Minister of Agriculture- Mr. Akinwumi Adesina has recently reacted to the public outcry on the issue of mobile phones and the 10 million farmers via an online link, confirming my fears that a ministry spearheading this e-revolution for farmers does not have its own website or public domain with contact details.  I hope the ministry will soon deem it fit to pinch out N100, 000 from its proposed N48billion capital expenditure in its 2013 budget.

Once the press release was out, a lot of people assumed the government was no longer buying mobile phones for the farmers; they probably read only the first paragraph and nodded along.

This should have been a private email to the Minister of Agriculture but one can’t afford courier serves in the absence of an email and direct online access to the ‘transformation’ ministry. I would also advice that next time; the ministry should ensure that the SA to the Presidency desist from representing its interests on social media specifically Twitter, as this will only yield catastrophic results.

This is a paragraph-by-paragraph reaction to the press statement which will possibly spurn an increased interest in what the Ministry is really up to.

 

 

Minister of Agriculture

My attention has been drawn to the issue of 60 Billion Naira to be spent on phones for farmers, reported in some media sites and papers. The information is absolutely incorrect. My Permanent Secretary was totally misquoted out of context. There is no 60 Billion Naira for phones anywhere. As a responsible Minister, who takes public accountabilty and probity very seriously, there is absolutely no way in the world that I will even contemplate or approve such expenditure. All our focus as Government is on creating jobs in Nigeria, not exporting jobs elsewhere.

The opening paragraph is very emphatic: N60billion Naira will not be spent on phones for farmers. Such expenditure can’t be approved by the minister because he finds it unrealistic in this world and because he is responsible and accountable. He states that the transformation agenda is to create jobs in Nigeria yet my understanding of this opening statement however contradicts the body of the press release.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Reaching farmers through phones:

The policy the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is promoting is to get mobile phones to farmers, as part of its agricultural transformation agenda, to connect farmers to information, expand their access to markets, improve their access to savings and loans, and help them adapt to climate change dynamics that affect them and their livelihoods. We are also rapidly modernizing agriculture, and have moved away from agriculture as a development program to agriculture as a business, so we must modernize and use new tools to reach our farmers

In the second paragraph the ministry explains what reaching farmers through mobile phones is all about and the advantages are clearly spelt out. Who would not want our farmers to join the 21st century agricultural best practices? The agricultural transformation agenda seeks to change the direction of farming in Nigeria. And the minister confirms that the ministry is promoting a policy to get mobile phones to farmers. Can there really be smoke without a fire in all this? The Permanent Secretary definitely did not just cook up a statement on 10 million phones for 10 million farmers and this paragraph confirms that the ministry has at least a proposal on its table as regards this. What needs to be clarified is the funding and direction.

 

Minister of Agriculture

The Power of information:

Agriculture today is more knowledge-intensive and we will modernize the sector, and get younger (graduate) entrepreneurs into the sector, and we will arm them with modern information systems. Whether small, medium or large farmers they all need information and communication systems. Connecting to supermarkets and international markets require that farmers know and meet stringent consumer-driven grades and standards. In today’s supply chains, the flow of information from buyers to farmers must be instant, to meet rapidly changing demands. Unless farmers have information at their fingertips, they will lose out on market opportunities.

Our goal is to empower every farmer. No farmer will be left behind. We will reach them in their local languages and use mobile phones to trigger an information revolution which will drive an agricultural revolution.

The ministry is bent on getting information across to farmers and younger graduates who are tech savvy by arming them with modern information systems. It is very clear that the ministry believes mobile phones will bring about significant change and that to empower every farmer; they need access to   information at their fingertips. Mobile phones are hoped to therefore replace agricultural extension services and trigger an information revolution.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Why cell phones?

Nigeria has 110 million cellphones, the largest in Africa. But there is a huge divide: the bulk of the phones are in urban areas. The rural areas are heavily excluded. For agriculture, which employs 70% of the population,  that means the farmers are excluded and marginalized. In today’s world, the most powerful tool is a mobile phone. As Minister of Agriculture, I want the entire rural space of Nigeria, and farmers, to be included, not excluded, from advantages of mobile phone revolution.

 

In order to drive home the agenda, the minister employs figures to back up his statements. He states that Nigeria has 110 million cellphones. According to the NCC, there are approximately 110 active mobile lines in Nigeria, what is the difference between 110 million cellphones, 110 million active lines and 110 million subscribers? Is it possible that half of the Nigerian population uses mobile phones? If the population of Nigeria is put moderately at 150million (which is debatable; I doubt our census statistics are without a high margin error) and 85 million Nigerians have active mobile lines, it is possible to have 110 million cellphones. Due to erratic power supply and poor service from service providers, Nigerians are known to have multiple phones and SIM cards. This ensures that they can switch between networks when services are down. The minister alludes that the bulk of these phones are in urban areas and the rural areas are heavily excluded. Take note that the bulk of 85 million subscribers would be about 50 million subscribers. His statement implies that about 50 million subscribers reside in urban areas. The minister goes on to state that agriculture employs 70% of the population i.e. about 105 million Nigerians. I wonder where these 105 million Nigerians employed by the agricultural sector reside: urban or rural areas. What percentage of those employed via agriculture are actually farmers? Of the 70% employed by agriculture, how many of them use mobile phones? If those excluded are farmers and Nigerians residing in rural areas, where does 70% of Nigeria’s population actually reside? The whole idea of what a rural area is may be subject to clarification, the minister’s statistics will never add up. A farm owner cannot be classified along with labourers who work on farms. If this high numbers of Nigerians are engaged in direct farming, what is the clamour on having more young people go into farming? The Ministry should be more concerned about the productivity of the existing farms; the US with 2.2million farms employed approximately 1.2 million workers in 2010. Improved and mechanized farming will not bring about more jobs if we get it right, only subsistence farming can employ millions with lesser productivity.

I spent a few days with a friend who resides in the United Kingdom last summer; he has farms in the Oke Ogun region of Oyo State with local staff strength of 30. He visits Nigerian once a year due to the hectic nature of his schedule in the UK but the few days I spent with him, revealed his management style. He makes an average of 3 calls per day to his farm manager and head of labourers. If individuals who run farms from the diaspora have access to their farms via mobile phones, one should wonder about which farmers the ministry must buy mobile phones for.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Access to input:

First, the mobile phones will be used to scale up the access of farmers to improved seeds and fertilizers to millions of farmers, directly. The federal government succeeded in 2012 in getting seeds and fertilizers to farmers, via the Growth Enhancement Support (GES), which used mobile phones to reach farmers with subsidized inputs. The system ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers and cut off rent seekers and middlemen who – for decades – have entrenched massive corruption of the fertilizer sector. Government succeeded. The GES system reached over 1.2 million farmers in 120 days in 2012.
We succeeded because we used mobile phones to reach farmers directly and cut off the middle men and those who have cheated farmers for decades. We empowered the poor farmers, with many getting subsidized seeds and fertilizers from government for the first time ever. We brought transparency into what was perhaps the most corrupt system in Nigeria. We ended fertilizer corruption of four decades, in 90 days, because of mobile phone tools we deployed.

 

The minster moves on to outline his achievements noting that in 2012, the government through its GES programme ended 40 years of corruption on fertilizers. Kudos to the minister and his team, such a feat is very rare under the transformation agenda of President Jonathan and I hope other sitting duck ministers take a cue from him. In 120 days, the programme reached out to 1.2 million farmers- these figures would need to be further verified.  Did the Ministry promote or by any means facilitate the provision of free mobile phones to any of these 1.2 million farmers? If yes, where were the funds sourced from. If No, does that imply that the 1.2 million farmers could afford their own mobile phones? These questions are every germane as to understanding a scheme that put an end to 40years of fertilizer corruption. It is a transformation agenda that must be properly documented. Who is a farmer? Are we talking about subsistence farmers or has production capacity been used for categorization?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Revolutionary tool:

This is a revolution. Nigeria is the first country in Africa to develop such a system. The system has garnered international acclaim. Other African countries now want to learn from Nigeria. Major donors, including Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, DFID of the UK Government, USAID, World Bank, IFAD and the Africa Development Bank, want to scale up the GES system to other countries.

When the ministry says Nigeria is the first in Africa to develop such a system, what is the minister trying to say? Are we really the first to use mobile technology to connect farmers? Is the ministry familiar with the Grameen Foundation Village Phone project in conjunction with Google and MTN Uganda or similar projects in Kenya and Ethiopia? Of course these other programs come with modifications but the primary objective was to use mobile phones to connect with farmers. With the Google search page and information database being so easily accessible, the ministry should be careful with such misleading statements. It would be interesting to look at these case studies which extend even to India where we have to ask if their government gave out free phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How we will operate:

From 2013, government intends to distribute 10 million phones, so we can reach more millions of farmers with the GES scheme for subsidized inputs. We expect to reach at least 5 million farmers in 2013 with GES for access to subsidized inputs. So, farmers who get mobile phones will be registered and we will use their biometric information to reach them with electronic vouchers for seeds and fertilizers.

Alas the minister confirms that the government intends to distribute free phones, the only missing piece in this complex puzzle is the cost of acquiring the phones which he denounced in the first paragraph. There will be a distribution of phones and in 2013 alone, 5 million phones will be up for grabs by farmers and we can now confirm that they will surely get mobile phones.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Second, mobile phones will allow farmers to have financial inclusion, as financial institutions such as commercial banks and microfinance banks will be able to reach them with affordable savings and loans products. The phones will make the financial inclusion of the CBN in rural areas possible.

The mobile phones will allow financial inclusion, quite interesting. Are mobile phones the reason why less than 50% of Nigerians don’t have a bank account?

 

Minister of Agriculture

Third, the phones will make market price information available to farmers nationwide. Farmers lose a lot in marketing their produce. Middle men make all the profits. Farmers end up selling their products at very poor prices. This is because farmers do not have access to market price information. There is asymmetry of market price information. For many farmers their only sources of market price information are the middlemen. Mobile phones will allow us to get market price information to farmers, improve market access and empower farmers. This will allow farmers to have countervailing power in the market place.

Access to market price is very helpful to farmers but the cost of farming differs from region to region. Will farmers in the North increase the cost of Tomatoes just because they have an idea of how much   a basket of tomatoes goes for at Ketu market in Lagos? What is the cost of storage and haulage as regards price input? I am all in for farmers being empowered to make the best out of their sweat but I do not see how middle men will go away when it comes to sales of market produce. What about access to the farms as well as cost of production? The road networks amongst other things which do not fall under the control of the ministry of Agriculture are as important as these mobile phones, that is if they are not even the priority.

 

Minister of Agriculture

Fourth, we will use mobile phones to provide extension information to farmers, as part of our total overhaul of the extension system in the country. With a “Farmer Help Line” it will be possible to connect extension workers, colleges of agriculture, faculties of agriculture, and other experts to provide free extension services to farmers by interactive voice mail. This will include when to plant, what to plant, agronomic practices etc. At the dial of a number, the wealth of knowlege of experts will be connected to the farmers, anywhere they are in Nigeria – free of charge. Such a “Farmer Help Line” system is already in use in Kenya by poor farmers, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Fifth, the phones will allow the dissemination of real time weather information to farmers. It will be possible to alert farmers on drought or floods and reduce vulnerabilities to shocks. In case of the floods we witnessed last year, simple alerts over mobile phones would have saved many lives and helped farmers to know what to do

Great

 

Minister of Agriculture

Finally, the expanded number of phones in rural areas will support the expansion of rural telephony. Presently, the rural areas are not being served well by mobile operators, and are marginalized. With the expansion of mobile phones to millions of farmers, mobile phone operators will expand the number of base stations they have in rural areas. This will reduce the digital and communications exclusion of rural areas, where agriculture is the main source of income and jobs. The cost of calls in rural areas will also decline.

Will the Ministry also build a base station in the rural areas? What will attract what? Will farmers purchasing mobile phones make a telecommunication company build a base station, powered by generators and personal security or will this work the other way round? We must not forget that these 10 million farmers are not even in a specific cluster or zone so, what is the attraction to build base stations in the rural areas? Surely, not simply free phones being used by a number of farmers.  I recall the arrival of GSM service to Nigeria- customers procured mobile phones and SIM cards once the telcos announced they were connecting their cities or towns. In line with the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) approved strategic management plan (2013 – 2017), the agency intends to accelerate mobile phone expansion by subsidizing the costs of deploying base transceiver stations in underserved and unserved communities in Nigeria which the market will not ordinarily reach. It is suffice to say the USPF understands that the expansion of mobile coverage will naturally result in residents of these areas acquiring mobile phones for connectivity.

 

Minister of Agriculture

How will this be financed?

The distribution of the phones will be supported through an MoU signed between the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, with the Ministry of Women Affairs. Out of the 10 million phones, 5 million will go to women. The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF), which supports expansion of mobile operators into rural areas, through a tax, will support this initiative, in partnership with Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. We intend to work with existing mobile operators in Nigeria through a public-private partnership.

So we finally arrive at the crux of the whole debate- the source of funding for the mobile phones. With the words used so far, I know that when the Nigerian government uses the words promote and distribute they really mean freebies. There is no doubt that the Ministry is actively involved in a policy which seeks to give free phones to farmers though it is not a 2013 budget item for the ministry. Since we have not seen the final 2013 budget hurriedly passed by the National Assembly which I suspect is in agreement between the legislative and the executive, as long as the Senators and Honourables continue to enjoy the secrecy of how much they actually earn in allowances.  The ministry of agricultures’ total allocation in the proposed 2013 budget was N 81,683,474,280, recurrent expenditure stood at N 32,953,474,280 and total capital allocation was N 48,730,000,000. There is no way the ministry would be able to afford 5million phones in 2013.

The partners in this project are listed as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Ministry of Women Affairs.  Who exactly is funding the 5 million phones to be distributed in 2013? The Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF) does not have a provision for buying mobile phones in its listed projects from 2013 to 2017; it will be focused instead on investing in base stations. Should the USPF be coerced into funding these mobile phones? It must be noted that it is a government agency under the NCC and this in turn means the government is actually funding the free phones. If these funds are being made available under the guise of donor funds, aid money or concessional financing/assistance, Nigerians must know that it is another form of debt. “The Ministry intends to work with existing mobile operators” but intent is no confirmation that there is an agreement in this direction to fund the provision of these mobile phones in 2013.

 

Conclusion

  • The Minister denies the cost of the phones to the tune of N60b
  • The Ministry of Agriculture will distribute 5 million phones in 2013 and another 5 million phones subsequently
  • The source of funding for these phones and the actual reasons for it are not clear
  • The Minister and the Ministry are being economical with the truth as regards the funding of these free mobile phones.
  • The total cost of 10 million phones at the end of these project may be more than N60b

 

 

 

Links

Minister’s Press Release

https://www.dropbox.com/s/vosm4tz2lstximm/PRESS%20STATEMENT%20-%20Phones%20For%20Farmers.docx

Nigerian Communication Commission

http://ncc.gov.ng/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=125:art-statistics-subscriber-data&catid=65:cat-web-statistics&Itemid=73

Universal Service Provision Funds

http://uspf.gov.ng/index.htm

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6 thoughts on “Re: Press Release by Minister of Agriculture

  1. Apparently the minister’s hiding some info and why does keep emphasising on “poor farmers”. will the 10 million phones suddenly transform the farmers to “rich farmers”? The minister said something about the cost of call rates declining in rural areas, are calls in rural areas charged at a higher cost than urban areas? I hope these 10 million phones is not another scheme to rob Nigerians. Oluwa is not involved in this one!

  2. How will the installation of base stations in rural areas by telcos reduce the cost of calls? Is there a special calling tarrif for rural areas?

  3. I sincerely didn’t understand the Minister’s “refutal” when I read it. Your analysis of the first and last paragraph echo my thoughts exactly and those were all I came to read, since that was exactly where I was having distress. Surprising, how much of the doublespeak seems to have flown over people’s heads.

  4. Very well put my brother. My concern is not just the money laundering this project will lead to, but the disturbing thought pattern of our leaders. This issues is an obvious case of misplaced priority. The minister of agriculture is sounding like the minister for communications. Are my wrong to say he does not know anything about agriculture? Neither does he understand his job descriptions, if he ever got one.

    • The Minister of Agriculture is one of the best hands in the world and we are lucky to have him. I wonder if the Nigerian factor is not messing with his policies.

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