...Redifining Journalism for Development

Smart Farming: A pathway for agricultural revolution in Nigeria? (I), by Professor MK Othman



The world population in 2018 is slightly more than 7.6 billion from the population of 2.5 billion in 1952, a whopping increase of 5.1 billion people over a span of 66 years. This analysis is made from the information obtained from Worldometers
Worldometers is one of the respectable organizations, which presents estimated world population based on statistics and projections from the most reputable official organizations such as the United Nations Population Division, World Health Organization (WHO), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Bank. The global annual increase of world population in 2018 is 1.09% moving to give an estimated population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. Many countries have annual increase rate of population much higher than the annual global average. As at the time of writing this piece, Sunday, April15th, 2018, the population of Nigeria is 194,772,354 based on the latest United Nations estimates. Nigeria population is equivalent to 2.57% of the total world population.
Currently, Nigeria ranks number 7 in the list of countries by population.The population density in Nigeria is 215 per square Kilometer with a total land area of 910,770 Kilometer Square. Nigerian population is predicted to be 450 million in the year 2050 and will make it to be the third most populous country in the world after China and India. Production of food to feed teeming population is the most enormous challenge of many developing countries like Nigeria especially as more than half of Nigerian population (51%) lives in urban areas. This makes farming even more difficult due to competing demands of land at the urban areas.
Globally, the agricultural sector will certainly face enormous challenges to feed this ever-increasing population. According to experts, food production must increase to 70% by 2050, and this has to be achieved in spite of the limited availability of arable lands and the increasing need for fresh water by many competing issues (industries, domestics and Agriculture).
Agriculture consumes 70 per cent of the world’s fresh water supply. This is because to produce one kilogram of meat, it requires between 5,000 and 20,000 liters of water and similarly to produce a kilogram of food crop, it requires between 500 and 4,000 liters of water depending on the climatic condition of the production environment. In addition, agriculture faces other less predictable factors, such as the impact of climate change, which, according a recent report by the UN could lead, among other things, to changes of seasonal events in the life cycle of plant and animals.
Nevertheless, a lot of efforts are being made to develop agriculture at all levels globally, in spite of these efforts to achieve food security over the past decades, there are still about 800 million undernourished and 1 billion malnourished people in the world. At the same time, more than 1.4 billion adults are overweight and one third of all food produced is wasted. At the same time, global food consumption trends are changing drastically, for example, increasing affluence is driving demand for more meat-rich diets, this is evident even in Nigeria when one considers the diets of average household twenty years ago and now.
An easy pathway for the world to achieve food sufficiency is through massive adoption of improved technologies. The most potent technologies that could address the production constraints and increase the quality and quantity of agricultural production are the so-called “precision agriculture” also known as “smart farming”.
Smart farming is not a rocket – science technology, it is already being adopted in some climes, something is happening, as corporations and farm offices collect vast amounts of information from crop yields, soil mapping, fertilizer applications, weather data, machinery, and animal health for the development and perfection of smart farming.  In a subset of smart farming, Precision Livestock Farming (PLF), sensors are used for monitoring and early detection of reproduction events and health disorders in animals. Thus, smart farming can help to improve food security for the poor and marginalized groups while also reducing food waste globally.
Generally, a smart farming can be viewed from two angles; climate smart agriculture and smart farming technologies. Climate smart agriculture (CSA) is the practice that constantly increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes Green House Gasses (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals. In this definition, the principal goal of CSA is identified as food security and development while productivity, adaptation, and mitigation are identified as the three interlinked pillars necessary for achieving the goal. This means that CSA systematically integrates climate change into the planning and development of sustainable agricultural systems. Specific examples of CSA include sustainable soil management practices, drought-tolerant maize, dairy development, intensive farming of catfish, and carbon finance to restore crop fields, waste-reducing rice agricultural machinery, rainfall forecasts and incentive system for low-carbon agriculture.  In Africa, the Drought-tolerant maize for Africa (DTMA) project released over 160 drought-tolerant maize varieties between 2007 and 2018 to reduce vulnerability and improve food security. In Nigeria, Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) is in the forefront for breeding and releasing drought-tolerance maize. These varieties of maize are tested on-station and on-farm and found to be promising from both research and on farmers’ fields. Report indicates that DTMA technologies are disseminated to farmers in 13 African countries through national agricultural research systems and private seed companies. Although, these CSA technologies are being promoted in Nigeria, but their impacts are not noticeable largely due to the comatose condition of the Agricultural Development Projects (ADP) nationwide. Aggressive promotion of CSA and injecting the ADP system with life reviving intervention will certainly popularize the CSA technologies among our farmers in this country.
Now back to smart farming, what are the smart farming technologies, which could interest Nigerian farmers and create a pathway to agricultural revolution in the country? There are several, let us start with the simple and readily adoptable ones. The first is production of Liquid organic fertilizer through rabbit farming.
Rabbit farming is similar to poultry farming, caged with feeds, water and medication but recently it was found that rabbit farming is very lucrative not because of the prolific nature of rabbits in terms of multiplying and easy feeding but the urine is a top class organic manure. In far away Kenya, the income of rabbit farmers exponentially increased, as rabbit urine becomes additional earning to the income from the sales of rabbit. Rabbit farmers in Kenya claimed to have found a ‘minefield’ in rabbit urine. Already, the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture is rendering unflinching support to this local innovation. An online newspaper, Standard Digital quoted a top ministry official, Senior Assistant Director of Agriculture in the Ministry of Agriculture, Philip Makhetiwho said the project by the national government of Kenya is under the Affirmative Action Fund, which is aimed at helping small-scale farmers to rear rabbits to benefit from the sale of the urine.“ Many people often think of the rabbit’s meat, and then life ends at that. We need to think further of new solutions and ways of adding value to whatever we have in our farms,” Makheti said. He further said the market has a scarcity of organic fertilizer, and the addition of the rabbit’s urine extra organic liquid manure will help farmers reduce over-reliance on inorganic fertilizers. The official was quoted during the commissioning of a plant for collection of rabbit urine for the production of organic fertilizer at Kegoye Secondary School, near Nairobi. www.standardmedia.co.ke/business/article/2001235713/rabbit-farmers-to-benefit-more-from-sale-of-urine
The average urine production per rabbit is 2.5 milliliter per day and each milliliter can be mixed with ten litters of water to make the liquid organic fertilizer. Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute has already validated the efficacy of the organic fertilizer on crops production.  This simple innovation has high potential in Nigerian environment as a means of income generation to small-scale farmers, enhancement of soil fertility and a viable alternative to inorganic fertilizer, which is expensive and sometimes adulterated.
Professor Othman is the Executive Director of National Agricultural Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS), ABU Zaria.

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