• Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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Alarming food crises: Now is the time to adopt full digital agriculture

Alarming food crises: Now is the time to adopt full digital agriculture

The food crisis in Nigeria has reached an alarming proportion. By government admission some weeks ago, 32 million Nigerians are facing extreme food and nutrition crises across the country. The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) put food inflation at 34%.

These are scary figures, especially considering the security implications. And the figures are projected to get progressively worse in the coming months. To stem the tide, the government has introduced a potpourri of policies and initiatives designed to reverse the trend. These include the release of critical commodities from the National Strategic Grain Reserves to needy Nigerians, the introduction of subsidized farm inputs for farmers, the distribution of palliatives, and enhanced protection for farmers, among others. Last week, the South West governors announced plans to establish large farming communities in the region and provide enhanced security for farmers.

Read also: Nigeria needs collaboration to drive sustainable food production Edokpolo

However, in the face of this daunting challenge, technology remains a critical factor to help address both the security and the food production lapses. By integrating advanced technologies into agricultural practices, digital agriculture holds the potential to boost crop yields and ensure the sustainability and resilience of our food systems.

Digital agriculture as a beacon of hope
Digital agriculture, smart farming or precision agriculture, leverages modern technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), big data analytics, and blockchain to optimize agricultural processes. These technologies enable farmers to make informed decisions, manage resources efficiently, and enhance productivity. As a country, we need to take our farming beyond the supply of tractors and farm inputs to farmers and begin to consider how to fully digitize our farming practices not only to improve food yields and supply but also reduce the environmental impact of farming. Today, digital agricultural practice in Nigeria is at its basic level; the use of mobile devices by farmers to engage with their stakeholders. Digital advisory services remain the most developed and deployed digital solution. This is followed by agri-finance, marketing, and supply chain. We must go beyond these as a nation.

For perspective, let us consider how modern technologies can help the country navigate these critical food crises. Precision farming involves the deployment of GPS technology, sensors, and drones to collect real-time data on soil conditions, crop health, and weather patterns. This data-driven approach allows farmers to apply fertilizers, water, and pesticides more accurately and efficiently, reducing waste and environmental impact while maximizing yields.

The Internet of Things devices and sensors placed in fields provide continuous monitoring of soil moisture, temperature, and nutrient levels. This real-time information helps farmers optimize irrigation schedules, ensuring that crops receive the right amount of water at the right time, which is crucial in the northern parts of the country prone to droughts.

AI-powered tools can analyze vast amounts of data to predict pest outbreaks, disease risks, and optimal planting times. Machine learning algorithms help in developing crop models that can simulate different scenarios, assisting farmers in making proactive decisions to protect their crops.

Aggregating and analyzing agricultural data from various sources enable farmers to identify trends, forecast yields, and manage supply chains more effectively. This data-driven approach enhances transparency and traceability in the food supply chain, ensuring food safety and quality.

Blockchain offers a secure and transparent way to track the journey of food from farm to table. By recording every transaction in an immutable ledger, blockchain ensures the integrity of the food supply chain, preventing fraud and improving consumer trust.

Enhancing food production
There are documented evidence of the significant potential of digital agriculture to boost food production. Yields as high as 25% have been recorded where precision farming techniques were employed. By optimizing resource use, farmers can produce more food with fewer inputs, which lowers production costs and minimizes environmental impact.

Moreover, digital tools facilitate the adoption of sustainable farming practices. For example, precision irrigation has been shown to reduce water usage by up to 30%, addressing the critical issue of water scarcity. Similarly, precision application of fertilizers minimizes nutrient runoff, reducing pollution and preserving soil health.

Read also: Cheap credit, policy consistency needed to boost food production Obasanjo

Guaranteeing food security
Food security is not just about producing enough food; it also involves ensuring that food is accessible, affordable, and safe for everyone. Digital agriculture plays a crucial role in achieving these goals: By increasing efficiency and reducing costs, digital agriculture makes food more affordable for consumers. Also, the enhanced productivity can help stabilize food prices, making it easier for low-income families to access nutritious food.

Digital tools enable better coordination and management of the food supply chain. For instance, blockchain technology can reduce the risk of disruptions by providing real-time visibility into the movement of goods. This transparency helps in identifying bottlenecks and ensuring timely delivery of food products.

With advanced monitoring and traceability systems, digital agriculture enhances food safety by quickly identifying and addressing contamination issues. Consumers can have greater confidence in the safety and quality of the food they consume, which is vital for public health.

With a youthful population, the government can easily entice young Nigerians into the agricultural sector if digital agriculture is fully adopted. And this is where government’s Agriculture Demonstration Project initiative will find relevance. The aim of the initiative, according to the Minister of Communications, Innovation and Digital Economy, Bosun Tijani, is to “identify and mainstream market-ready innovations that leverage Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) technologies like UAV, IoT, AI, and Blockchain to enhance productivity and sustainability in the agricultural sector.”

Digital agriculture represents a transformative approach to enhancing food production and security. By harnessing the power of modern technologies, government can create more efficient, sustainable, and resilient agricultural systems.