Makurdi — Will cell phones "rebuild the broken walls of Nigeria's agriculture and unlock wealth and opportunities"?
That's the hope of Agriculture Minister Akinwunmi Adesina, who supports a project to arm farmers with mobile devices that can help create a centralized farmers database and a platform for knowledge-sharing.
Last month initial media reports said 10 million cell phones, estimated to cost 60 billion naira (about 75 million euro), would be purchased by the Nigerian government. A 26 January article by Vanguard softened the controversial statement, stating that Minister Adesina said the government would "distribute only two million phones to farmers this year".
According to a 7 February article by This Day Live, the minister said that 71 percent of 426,000 sampled farmers across 13 states did not have cell phones and that "many ... in rural areas are quite poor and are excluded from the benefits of the mobile phone revolution going on in Nigeria".
RNW recently paid a visit to Mike Gbe, a farmer whose upped use of mobile technology brings him more clients, more information and the occasional unexpected visitor. Here's the first half of our two-part story.
I'm on a farm in Benue, a state in the middle of Nigeria, commonly referred to as the country's food basket. The farm is large, spread over an area that could hold 15 football fields. It's beautifully laid out, with lush green plants. I recognize orange, coconut and banana trees. I count nine fish ponds, both earthen and concrete. I see an office, a creatively built round hut for relaxation and other farm houses that are home to quails, snails, geese, ducks, rabbits, fish and an eagle from Finland.
Mike Gbe is the owner here. And he is one farmer who benefits from having a cell phone - two in fact. One is his, as he puts it, "business line"; the other is for "social calls".
"I've been able to network. I have been able to gain materially," he tells me. "Things that ordinarily I wouldn't have known or things that I would probably have only learnt in school or from a library, now at the tip of my fingers. I get materials from all over the world on my cell phone. "
Farmer Mike was using a cell phone even before he became a farmer in 2007. But today he has a Samsung Galaxy S1 and a Nokia E72 and it's from his tablet computer, a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, that he posts on his blog.
"I have a blog," he explains. "I'm better trained and better enlightened through the social media. I am able to trumpet my views, I am able to speak for myself. From nowhere I have received calls, people showing understanding, some people even promising assistance, many customers asking me in reality if what they saw is true because they have been looking for quail eggs for a long time, going to other states as far as 600 kilometres or more."
During a break in our conversation, Farmer Mike switches on his phone. Right away a call comes in. He takes it happily, arranging to reserve a crate of 100 quail eggs for the customer. From this one call alone, he will earn about 22 euro.
At any given point, at least 600 quail live on his farm. Even though Farmer Mike sells off the older ones, their stock is continually replenished because the birds produce 250 to 300 eggs daily.
And what if he never had a cell phone? "I would have taken the eggs to the market and waited till thy kingdom come for whoever would want to come and buy," he says.
Though Farmer Mike admits that his fish bring in more money, he believes his quail and their eggs sell faster than any other product on the farm. A blog post from 27 January reads "we have passed from the era of asking questions about the efficacy or medicinal value of quail eggs to the era of quail farming".
"It gives me joy that through the quail eggs, a few people have been able to get some respite medically," he tells me, adding that one of the food's many benefits is enhancing the "sexual potency of the man". Referring to some particularly satisfied clients, he says: "They even bring their wives to thank me for making sure their homes are better, hahaha."