Food is one of the most essential parts of human existence; so obvious that the human race may likely be extinct if this essential part becomes a scarce commodity.
Over the years, various forms of innovation and support, either, by the government, or private institutions, have been set in place, to ensure that food availability gets guaranteed.
In Nigeria for example, there is the Ministry of Agriculture under the Federal Government that oversees various programmes, for optimum crop production.
This includes the provision of vital information for best agricultural practices, especially, for rural smallholder farmers, who lack access to them.
There are, also, NGOs pushing the narratives of the Sustainable Development Goals, around “No Poverty” and “Zero Hunger”.
For a country like Nigeria, where agricultural practices are highly confined to the rural areas, there is a necessity to encourage the sustained economic development of smallholder farmers, by achieving higher levels of productivity, through innovative information technology, (IT).
This informed CFAMedia to have a time out with Olusegun Adegun, Co-Founder and CEO, Rural Farmers Hub, a private e-Extension service provider, helping farmers make better farming decisions and also, providing linkages to farm inputs and markets.
Rural Farmers Hub supports farmer organisations and Extension Agents, in assisting their farmers with better farming decisions, via satellite remote sensing, or in-person.
Through its proprietary technology, the Agri start-up leverages modern scientific methodology, while making them backward-compatible, with ordinary mobile phones.
Olusegun Adegun took us through the journey of how Rural Farmers Hub has been helping smallholder farmers ‘live large’.
With a vision of delivering innovation and access to every farmer in Africa and the mission of doing everything possible, to improve farmers’ livelihood, the Journey began in November 2018.
“With this dream in mind, we started innovating around the market access segment of the agric value chain, by creating a Smart aggregation tool, to help aggregate the produce of smallholder farmers and provide access to input via SMS”, said Olusegun
He explained that, with more research and discussion with renowned experts in the industry, it was discovered that one major problem of smallholder farmers is yield productivity.
For obvious reasons, this challenge will not enable smallholder farmers to get premium value for their produce in the market.
“This led to our focus on improving extension service delivery, a sector that has lacked a lot of government support of the years now”, added Olusegun.
Focus on Rural farmers
Rural Farmers Hub is focusing on smallholder farmers because they constitute about 80% of the farming population in Africa and in terms of land ownership, these groups of individuals, still hold the largest portion, of a minimum of 0.05 hectare.
In Nigeria alone, almost half of the population resides in rural areas, where the primary occupation is farming.
On a weekly basis, they are challenged with walking through several hectares, in detecting diseased crops. This already comes as a discouragement for potential youths, who dream of plying their trade in agriculture.
In most cases, these rural farmers would have to wait for government extension staff to come up with solutions to these ailing problems.
Many of these extension workers fail to show up and when they do, they likely offer inadequate solutions.
“As a result, millions of farmers are not able to access quality advice, as well as the latest, authentic information on best farming practices, leading to their inability to improve yield, manage pest attack & stubborn weeds, and access premium market for their harvest”, Olusegun stressed.
Rural Farmers Hub uses Capture, an e-Extension software that leverages remote sensing tech, to provide “near” realtime, data-driven and personalized advisory and extension service to rural farmers, through SMS, robocall, or in-person, via a Village Agent.
Capture generates automated advice that can cater to the needs of millions of smallholder farmers, simultaneously and remotely – without human intervention – in their respective local language, regardless of where they are geographically located.
Basically, Rural Farmers Hub provides:
- e-Extension service
- Remote crop monitoring
- Soil mineral evaluation
- Farm risk assessment
- Sustainable rural development
- Increased farmer’s yield and income
Extension role in rural farming
On the importance of agricultural extension practices, especially, for Smallholder farmers, Olusegun commented that these farmers have the desire to increase their income and a definite way to get it done is, through a yield increase.
To increase farm yield, according to Olusegun, farmers must adhere to the tenents of good agricultural practices, which include:
- the right application of fertilizers and chemicals
- areas of the farm, to plant-based on soil fertility
- how to control weed and pest infestation
“All these make agricultural extension services an integral part of the economics of production, when engaging in commercial farming activities”, added Olusegun.
Challenges on deployment of solution
On the reception of technology by the rural farmers, Olusegun acknowledged that, quite a large number of smallholders, especially, in the northern part of Nigeria, are still illiterate and are gradually adapting to the use of technology in farming.
He, however, stated that Rural Farmers Hub is committed, to continuous training and retraining of these individuals and their extension agents, to achieve the goal of tech adoption.
Asides that, some smallholder farmers are not willing to pay for extension services, so, Rural Farmers Hub, moved its business model from a B2C to B2B.
Agri start-up has, thus, began working with farm organisations and cooperatives that can pay for the services, on behalf of these farmers, so that, in the end, it is a win-win situation.
Collaboration with Federal Government Agencies
Olusegun stated that Rural Farmers Hub is in collaboration with some government agencies.
The agri start-up is, currently, working with the National Agric Extension Research Laison Services, (NAERLS), in Zaria, to support public extension agents with its e-Extension delivery bot called, CAPTURE. This pilot project is expected to benefit a total of 1,000 farmers in Kaduna and Niger State, under the AGRA CBA project, with plans to scale up in 2020.
According to Olusegun, Rural Farmers Hub is, also, in discussion with the Federal Department of Extension Services, (FDAE), to support the Federal Government’s Farmer helpline project that provides advisory services to farmers, across the country.
“Similarly, we are in talks with different State Agriculture Development Programs, (ADPs), to extend our e-Extension delivery tools to their different programs”, stated Olusegun
Rural Farmers Hub Milestone
It is being two years since the agri start-up began its initiative and according to Olusegun, all the farming communities that Rural Farmers Hub have worked with, have seen about a 35% increase in yield and a 17% income increase.
“Rural Farmers Hub, currently, have a pool of 5,000+ farmers, who are benefiting from our services in northern Nigeria and we are currently piloting new projects in Burkina Faso and Mali, with Gab Sofitex Grow, for me in Ghana and PASEC in Niger”, concluded Olusegun.
Featured Image: Olusegun Adegun, Co-founder/CEO (Left), Gabriel Eze, Co-founder/COO (Right), flanked in the middle by a rural farmer
Don’t miss important articles during the week. Subscribe to cfamedia weekly digest for updates.