As the world grapples with the complex challenges of food shortages, conflict, price rises and climate change, smart innovators are using tech solutions to disrupt the agricultural sector, and potentially deliver a sustainable food security landscape.
With Nigeria still determined to hit ‘zero hunger’ by 2030 the nation is taking every opportunity to embrace science, technology and innovation. The raw materials are there; after oil, Nigeria’s agricultural industry forms the largest proportion of the country’s economic output, accounting for approximately 30% of total GDP and 35% of total workers.
The challenges are also sobering. Nigeria currently lacks the ability to produce enough food for its fast-growing population. And their ability to finance importation of food to augment its domestic food shortage is declining due to a dwindling foreign reserve.
Nigerian entrepreneurs and scientists have confidence that this new revolution in disruptive farming technology can solve the numerous problems the sector is facing in the country, without sacrificing sustainability or getting trapped in red tape.
There doesn’t seem to be a week that goes by without the announcement of another partnership between global investors and Nigerian innovators.
In 2021, Nigerian agri-tech start-ups raised over $147.8 million in funding from external investors, but how can the fledgeling entrepreneurs ensure that they’re teaming up with partners who offer more than just money?
One initiative that successfully pairs up like-minded companies is Feed the Future Agribusiness Investment Activity, a USAID-funded project connecting thousands of small/medium sized enterprises and producer organisations with high-performing commercial actors to improve the agribusiness investment climate in Nigeria.
Soilless Farm Labs is another recent success. This Nigerian company utilises hydroponic farming tech, and have recently partnered with the Mastercard Foundation to provide training to 12,000 young Nigerians in soilless farming methods, equipping tomorrow’s farming generation with the skills needed to implement technology across the agricultural sector.
Injections of capital is only part of the accord; To instil trust and instigate autonomous success, USAID backed funding is also directly targeted towards initiatives such as skills development, investment promotion and scaling up to realise potential.
"We’re working to ensure that Nigerian farmers grow a maize hybrid that will boost food security and also ensure adequate exports." Prof. Rabiu Adamu, Head of Research, AATF.
While governments muster support and momentum to transform agricultural policies and overhaul neglected infrastructure, agile companies are blazing a trail for innovative, precision solutions that make fast differences.
The success relies upon plugging startups into networks of NGOs that can fast-track finance while also laying the groundwork to cultivate continued success.
The African Agricultural Technology Foundation is a non-governmental organisation that has established, supported and implemented various agri-tech projects across the African continent with the support of USAID, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, as well as other international partners.
The Nigerian branch of the organisation recently developed a hybrid crop known as ‘TELA maize’ to successfully address issues surrounding the loss of crop yields from pests and worm attacks.
This hybrid crop reduces the need for farmers to use constant pesticide and chemical sprays throughout the year and is expected to boost maize production across the country by 43%. TELA maize is also resistant to drought, allowing farmers to grow crops that are less dependent on volatile weather patterns caused by climate change.
The use of technology can often seem like a daunting prospect for farmworkers, but by successfully engaging local organisations and allowing locals on the ground to lead efforts, it is clear that such changes can help boost the economic prospects of farmers while conserving the much-needed arable land and surrounding environment.
"Nigeria is now a reference point for biotech products in Africa and we must continue to scale up tech production to make it available to farmers." Prof. Ishiyaku Mohammed, Executive Director, IAR.
Agri-tech has the capacity to not only transform the means of food production in Nigeria, but also improve the livelihoods of farmers that form the backbone of the agricultural industry.
The relationship between this technology and agriculture has grown increasingly interdependent, and it is clear that Nigeria’s agricultural future will require technological innovation support from both government and international partners in order to effectively support the industry’s evolution.
The success of this positive dynamic shake-up will ultimately not be decided by how many millions are invested in new startups, but by how effectively this new tech and its benefits can be dissipated, embraced and propelled by those who need it most - the farmers themselves.