19 February 2013

Nigeria: What a Cell Phone Can Do for a Nigerian Farmer, Osprey

Photo: John Gushit
John Gushit from the University of Jos' department of science in Nigeria nearly lost his eye in an accident with chemicals and then started a project to teach "peasant farmers" how to protect themselves while using pesticides and herbicides.

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 second half of our two-part story (read part 1 here).

Amidst the quail, geese and ducks that normally reside on this farm in Benue State, another winged creature is visiting. Farmer Mike says it would have ended up "in a big black pot for Christmas" if he hadn't intervened. And if weren't for his Nokia E72 cell phone and Samsung Galaxy tablet computer, he might not have learned in time that the visitor was an osprey, which only eats fish.

"It was on a Sunday morning, the 23rd of December," Farmer Mike recalls. "I was here on my farm and my mechanic called me... He saw some people with a bird, trying to sell it... It had a ring on it. Once I heard the word 'ring', I drove straight to the place."

"That word 'ring' attracted me," he says, referring to the coded aluminium tag that indicated the bird was being tracked by researchers. "Some peasants were making a show of a catch," he explains, "and there was frenzy of haggling about the price."

As it soon became clear, the auction item was an osprey, also known as a fish eagle. The bird was sick. It was being offered for 5,000 naira (about 30 US dollars). Straightaway Farmer Mike offered 6,000 naira, bringing the bidding to a close.

Making contact

On the farm, the bird is kept in a cage. The ring, around its right foot, has an inscription reading: 'RETOUR Museum ZOOL Helsinki Finland, M-61683'.

"It hasn't started feeding itself - we feed it - but it came here very weak and almost dying," Farmer Mike points out. "Yan a tsenda a tsenda ambi," he adds, referring to the bird's watery faeces.

But thanks to his mobile devices, he could find helpful information online. "I browsed [the internet] immediately and found out from the Embassy of Finland that it feeds exclusively on fish. Luckily, there's a fish farm here," he says. The embassy, in turn, put him in touch with the responsible ringing centre, located at the Finnish Museum of Natural History, which is affiliated with the University of Helsinki.

"They also asked me to make contact with the Nigeria Conservation Centre in Maiduguri," he explains. "They've shown interest that I should help them...they will expect me to release it when it's fully recovered."

New heights

Farmer Mike plans to let the osprey go as soon as it can feed on its own.

"I thank God I have been able to revive the bird," he says. "It was almost dying, now you can see it is alive. It couldn't stand on its feet. Now it is walking around in the cage and...you can even see right now it's attempting to escape...that means it is recovering."

There's no doubt: the cell phone has been a springboard, taking Farmer Mike to heights fellow farmers may not reach for years. In this case, handheld technology may also be responsible for letting an osprey soar on its intended mission.

Read part 1 of this story here.

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