Vanguard (Lagos)

Nigeria: Cell Phones for Farmers - Misplaced Priority

opinion

IT is a matter of great concern to note the announcement by the Federal Government to spend N60b to purchase ten million phones for farmers.

I dare say that the policy which gives impetus to this project can be compared to putting the cart before the horse.

It is a misplaced priority project policy, aimed at nothing than to further plunder the resources of this country. If government's efforts in empowering Nigeria farmers are to follow this way, are not encouraging and certainly not the best way to give value for the money that is intended to promote agriculture in the country.

By calculation, the average cost for each telephone is higher than the rate in the market. It simply means that, to procure 10 million cell phones for ten million farmers, at the cost of N60 billion, a cell phone would be purchased at the cost of N60, 000!

This is ridiculously annoying to hear. It is also important to know that when we get involved in a huge contract of this nature we are not going to develop the ongoing electronic wallet system for fertilizer distribution.

Again, it is good to ask for the record, if any research has shown that there are 10 million farmers who need cell phones?

Government authorities should know that there are 110 million cell phones in Nigeria and most of those willing and capable of using it already possess them. Has our government asked the farmers whether they want free handset which most of them already have or some other enabling arrangement such as subsidised or free air time?

Finally, has government considered what N60 billion can do in areas of storage facilities, farm implements, roads, pest control and other agricultural infrastructure, before deciding to use such huge amount through a mega contract that will only benefit those giving out the contract?

It is worthy of note that the use of cell phones by farmers is not new. Small scale farmers in Ghana, Senegal, Rwanda, and many other African countries, are making use of it in disseminating information on extension services and market information and details. Even in Nigeria, it is already in use by some farmers.

For instance, in Dawanau grains market in Kano, (the biggest in West Africa), farmers and traders use cell phones to have access to market information. Such a specialised package for information dissemination is been used across West Africa.

It is such programmes for farmers' benefit that government should place its attention, rather than purchase of cell phones.

It is this misplaced priority of government that has attracted wide spread criticisms.

Even the minister of agriculture is yet to issue a satisfactory clarification on the issue. It is only for the sake of dousing the tension that followed the announcement that he said his permanent secretary was misquoted and that neither he nor the President has approved N60 billion for the purchase of cell phones for 10 million farmers.

Yet, he said that Government policy 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 saving and loans, and help them adapt to climate changes and other dynamics that affect them and their livelihood".

According to him the bulk of the 110 million cell phones in Nigeria are in the urban areas, and concluded clearly that as from 2013, government intends to distribute 10million phones to farmers which will be financed through a Memorandum of Understanding, MOU, signed among the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Communications Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, as well as the Ministry of Women Affairs.

He also said out of the 10million cell phones, five million will go to women. His statement clearly showed that the contract for the purchase of the cell phones would go ahead.

This plan by the Federal government to spend N60 billion to purchase 10million phones shows clearly government's lack of focus and initiative to administer the affairs of the farmers in the country.

It shows the limitation of government's approach to policy making. Little wonder the policy has been greeted with stiff opposition and condemnation by the general public.

This policy has not been thought through by government before its present attempt to implement it. It is imperative for government to give more depth and thought to the relative value of the policies it makes, and their beneficiaries, particularly, when execution is with public funds, before it jumps to large contract award.

When proposing a policy of this nature, government must seek wide spread views particularly from stake holders. Spending such huge amount on mobile phones for farmer's by a ministry with only a meager allocation in the 2013 budget is totally inept.

No one can tell exactly what happened to the WB rural telephony project. The reason for that project was exactly what is currently been propose in this new policy. A huge amount was invested in the last decade, on the failed WB rural telephone project.

Mr. JOSEPH ATSEYINKU, a rights activist, wrote from Sapele, Delta state.

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