The Future of Farming in Nigeria: What Crop Producers Can Learn from Space
Chidindu Mmadu-Okoli (Lead Writer), Joshua Agama, Gabriel Eze
In Nigeria, agriculture contributes (via cropping) about 85% to GDP, with smallholder farmers accounting for about 90% of agricultural output. The population of Nigeria which is currently the 7th largest country in the world, is expected to double by the year 2050. To meet the ever-changing food demands and to improve livelihoods and the economy, Nigeria needs to embrace and improve on technology-driven food production. Experts predict that by 2050, farming will need even more data and information technology skills to help achieve food security. Hence, channeling solutions that create the shift from traditional to digital, large-scale crop production requires an understanding of the farming workflow processes.
Traditional vs. Precision Crop-Production Workflow
In a typical farming season, the crop-production workflow follows the order of planting, cultivating, harvesting and post-harvesting activities. Just before the farming season kicks off, farmers scout for a suitable site for growing their choice crop. The criteria for site selection would include accessibility to markets and traders, soil suitability, nearness to water sources, vulnerability to pests and diseases, etc. If successful, this is followed by land preparation, involving clearing the site and removing unwanted vegetation via activities like tree felling, stumping, plowing, harrowing, ridging, etc. Then comes the pre-planting stage of seed selection, fertilizer and pesticide requirements. The planting, cultivation and harvest phases involve sowing seeds, applying fertilizers/manure, irrigation, weeding, crop protection, harvesting and storage.
Engaging in these activities using traditional farming methods gives room for a hit-or-miss work process which relies on human efforts and creates major challenges like drudgery, low productivity and income. Rural poverty hinders proper pre-planting decisions like choice of crop varieties, crop and soil wellbeing as well as fertilizers best suited for the crop and soil. In the planting and cultivation stages, more farm inputs may be wasted because of the lack of insight needed for precise application, often putting a potential risk on the environment.
Precision farming overrides these challenges by enabling farmers to leverage information technology to make better, error-free choices, giving room for minimal input and optimal output in their crop-production process, when compared to traditional farming methods. With this new method, combined sensors allow for soil mapping to determine the health and productivity level of the soil and how it meets the crop requirements. Landscape variability, weather patterns, site-specific nutrients, chemical recommendations for crop protection, crop quality, seed density and variety, ground and surface water, artificial drainages, the possibility of leeching, and growth factors are other relevant information that precision farmers are armed with. That way, farmers can plant and harvest optimally, with reduced environmental impact. Additionally, farmers can leverage GPS or computer-guided machinery for tillage, planting, nutrient and crop protection, manure application, irrigation, fertilization, crop monitoring and yield forecasting, soil physical and chemical characteristics, weed/pest mapping, etc.
From 1850 to 2015, new technologies have disrupted the agricultural industries in countries like the USA. An outlook on the agricultural sector shows a reduction in employment in farming, by about 55% in the last 150 years, with most employees moving to new jobs in other related sectors like trade, telecommunications, professional, business and repair services. The use of advanced heavy machinery for farming, together with artificial intelligence, is shaping the future of agriculture. The Goldman Sachs report reveals that a $240 billion market exists for precision farming to meet a 70% of the global food production by 2050, with further findings showing that farmers who don’t use precision fertilizer technology are over-fertilizing 40% of their fields, yet suffer yield loss on 10% of the fields.
Capture™: Feeding Nigeria’s Future through Precision Crop Production
Addressing the gaps of guesswork in the old workflow process and uncertainty in the outcome of agricultural operations, Capture™, an e-Extension tool, has helped over 6,000 farmers spread across 300 under-served communities in 9 countries. The tool uses a proprietary algorithm and satellite data from remote sensing, to generate insights on every stage of crop production.
In the planting stage, which typically involves ridging or broadcasting, farm inputs (seeds, water and fertilizers) are often wasted during the application process. Capture generates information on nutrient distribution which, in turn, informs the farmer on variable-rate application of such inputs for precise utilization. By constantly generating and updating these insights, farmers have an accurate source of knowledge on several factors that influence their yield (weather, nature of crop, soil type, suitable seeds, fertilizers, etc).
- Remote Crop Monitoring
Farmers can monitor the progress on their farms at a glance without being present everyday to scout their large areas of land, doing the same things that yield little/no results. Capture™ provides crop watch and analytics which includes monitoring the health and yield potential of a crop, the soil suited for the growth based on its properties, and ways to match up growth, by leveraging the right amounts of farm input. There is also a predictive analysis on the days for optimal planting, growing degree and optimal growth.
- Smart nutrient management
Capture™ provides the information needed for a highly precise fertilization approach by creating intelligent fertility maps on soil health, so that drones can apply only the right amount of fertilizers in the right places, needed to fix nutrient defects. These real-time maps allow farmers to know what parts of their farmlands are most suitable for achieving a target yield. Additionally, they can redefine crop spacing, making sure that the right amount of seeds are maximized for the high fertile areas.
- Weather Analytics
With Capture™, farmers are aware of the weather conditions at any place and time. Farmers become proactive to these unforeseen events by accessing weekly and seasonal weather forecasts, so they are resilient to changes in temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, optimal planting/harvesting dates, most suitable crops to grow based on ecological advantage, and know the best time to apply pesticide/herbicide. This tool is also important for smart irrigation, helping farmers ensure all-round water availability.
- Farm risk assessment
Capture™ provides registered farmers with personalized risk assessment reports showing detailed data on farming and viability history, likelihood of risks or hazards, impact and cost of solutions. Important factors like topography, soil condition and quality, access to markets, terrain, elevation, pH levels, water stress, crop adaptability and protection, profitability, climatic requirements, biotic factors (pests, organisms, weeds, animal invasion and diseases) are considered during the pre-planting stage. The assessment also checks for cost of acquiring and clearing the land, accessibility to water, supplies, equipment and the market, as well the state of security and political stability. With these relevant pieces of information, farmers can decide early on to kick-start their journey into profitable crop production, instead of going with the flow without any knowledge of what to control.
The future of farming is one that presents us with all-round availability of food varieties from increasing yield potential, in spite of environmental variations. With precision tools like Capture™, data from physicochemical parameters of crops and soil are continuously generated and updated for optimal growth, whilst reducing potential environmental risks. By embracing precision farming methods, farmers will enjoy a dynamic, diverse and simplified crop production process, which results in a healthy expense sheet, where they save more, keep costs to a minimum, experience higher quantity and quality of crop yields, less waste and more time on their hands to concentrate on the business operations.