Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Akinwumi Adesina, has described the story making the rounds that his ministry intends to spend 60 billion naira on ten million cell phones for farmers as a misrepresentation.
In a statement signed by his Special Assistant on media and Strategy, Olukayode Oyeleye, the minister said his Permanent Secretary was quoted out of context adding that "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."
He said the project will be financed "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."
Reaching farmers through phones:
He said the distribution of phones to farmers is in line with the ministry's agricultural modernization drive aimed at connecting farmers to information, loans, market and make them adapt to climate change.
The statement read in part, "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 finger tips, 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."
Why cell phones?
The minister added that the cell phones distribution also aims to bridge the huge gap in access to telephone between the farmers who are 70 percent of the country's population and the non-farmers.
He said, "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.
"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.