Mobile Phones For Rural Farmers Not a Priority
Mobile Phones For Rural Farmers Not a Priority
By Adeola Soetan
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recently came with a proposal to give mobile phones to ten million rural farmers. Depending on the choice of the Agric officials, the cost is put between forty to sixty billion naira only!
As reported in the media, the permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry, Mrs Ibukun Odusote, threw the bombshell when she informed the startling public of her ministry’s intention. She declared that: “We are talking about 10 million handsets, each handset would be costing, maybe N6000 or N4000 because it is in large number. We are not going to buy in pieces like that. We will buy directly from the manufacturing companies. We have agreement with some organizations in China and some in the United States; they are going to provide all these handsets for us because they are also interested in investing in the agricultural sector in Nigeria”
The government claims that it wants ten millions and more farmers to have easy access to markets and marketing of their products promptly. According to the proponents of this handset bonanza, farmers will also have easy access to their bank accounts and bank transactions. The ministry can also communicate freely and easily with farmers on inputs supply and monitoring, such as fertilizer and seeds. Of course, it also enables farmers to communicate back to the ministry – feedback as at when due.
Agriculture is not abstract; the success of any government in agriculture is measured not only in how many proposals or new ideas rolled out, but in how good and healthy food is more available, affordable and accessible by the people. Agriculture should be made viable to create wealth, employment opportunities and guarantee food security to say the least.
The arguments against this “new technological route” to agricultural development are vehement and varied. But all to conclude that using such huge amount to purchase handsets for poor farmers cannot be a priority of any serious government that is really interested in turning around agriculture and the fate of rural farmers in Nigeria.
Speaking in the Punch Newspaper of January 13, 2013 John Akwara, a member All Farmers Association of Nigeria in Delta State, sum-up the view of the average farmer. He said, “What we need are funds not phones.. If government really wants to help farmers, they should help us with better access to funds. Some of us need funds to set up our farms and others need funds to expand. Bank interest rates are too high; average farmers can’t get loans from banks. So, government should make sure we get these funds.”
Rural farmers need enabling environment to farm and get their products out of their villages on time to avoid post harvest waste which is currently put at over forty five percent. In this regards, a truly pro-poor farmer government would have started with provision of rural infrastructure such as good roads network, boreholes and deep well for water supply, good and well equipped primary health centres to enhance the health of farmers and their households who are primarily the farm hands. Farmers need prompt access to agric credits, cheap and improved seeds, irrigation system, storage and processing facilities. Many of these must be in place before government can start thinking of buying handsets for rural or urban farmers.
The obvious fact is that most of these rural farmers don’t even have bank accounts since they bank with their cooperative societies and commodity groups so the argument that farmers can check or transact business with banks does not hold water.
The reality however is that like most of such initiatives this “cell phone for farmers” initiative is designed as another conduit to siphon public fund. This is confirmed by Akwara who should know being one of the farmers, who are at the receiving end of monumental fraud in the ministry of agriculture.
In his words, “We also need to see some sincerity in the people who are in the ministry of agriculture because they are fond of ‘cornering’ things meant for farmers for their personal useâ€¦All the money government approves for agriculture does not get to farmers. Politicians and those in the ministry of agriculture end up being the beneficiaries.” (Punch January 13, 2013)
However, it is not enough to call for “some sincerity in the people who are in the ministry of agriculture”. The farmers and their associations as well as trade unions and pro-masses organizations must agitate for adequate funding of agriculture with open democratic control of the agriculture ministry and agencies by the elected committee of farmers and agricultural workers. The banks, seeds and fertilizer concerns have to be nationalized, under democratic control of workers and farmers, in order to provide farmers with cheap credit and supplies.
No doubt, this will not be accepted by the capitalist ruling elite as it threatens huge public resources that they set aside to loot. The anti-poor neo-liberal philosophy of cuts in government spending provides them leverage to loot. Workers and poor farmers have to chase out of power the corrupt, capitalist politicians and put in place a workers’ and poor peasant’ government that commits public resources, with democratic management and control by the working people, on social infrastructure and basic needs (food, education, jobs, health, housing, etc) for all.