The EYE Africa Conference Series: Data and Agricultural Decision Making by Nasir Yammama

The EYE Africa Conference Series is an online conference on Agriculture, organised by Emerging Young Entrepreneur Initiative (EYE Africa). The event held on the 30th of November, 2017 on WhatsApp is the 2nd in the series which was graced by two of some of the youngest big entrepreneurs in Agritech in Africa: Lilian Uwintwali from Rwanda and Nasir Yammama from Nigeria.

Nasir Yammama is a creative technologist whose award-winning company Verdant AgriTech offers innovative solutions to farmers and other stakeholders, for improved food production using novel technologies. He won the British Council and Virgin Atlantic’s Enterprise Challenge in 2014 which earned him the mentorship of Sir Richard Branson. In 2015, Nasir was listed among 50 Global Entrepreneurs by MIT, based on his entrepreneurial potential. His company, Verdant, won the 2016 Award for Global Innovation in AgriFood.

Yammama’s discussion was on ‘Data and Agricultural Decision Making’ and he started with a statement of fact.

“Better data leads to better decisions by governments, donors and farmers, which ultimately leads to lives for farmers on and off the farm. So Better Data + Better Decisions = Better Lives.”

He went further to educate users on the importance of data in decision and policy making in Agriculture and the society at large, using the Green Revolutions as a case. The Green Revolution refers to a set of research and the development of technological transfer initiatives that occurred between the 1930s and the late 1960s; it increased agricultural production worldwide. Below is the compilation ofYammama’s chats in the conference.

Agricultural data is non-existent in most Parts of Africa

“I will attempt to explore some of the areas of decision in agriculture that are directly dependent on quality data; a lack of which has been the bane of our agricultural under-production.However, bear in mind, in most parts of Africa, agricultural data is non-existent, and if better data leads to better decisions, then what does ‘no data’ lead to? This is why our budgets are not right, our interventions are bad and our predictive analyses are not even close to accurate. However, it’s not all that bleak; I am only showing you this, so you can see how data is crucial.”

The Green Revolution

“If you’re conversant with agricultural history, you’ll remember that there was a time when many countries, especially developing nations, embarked on the green revolution; which was basically an effort around doubling or tripling food production by input intensification and agricultural land expansion, so more land was dedicated to agriculture. More money was put into breeding of many kinds, more fertilisers were produced, and boom, there was suddenly more food than ever; and prices stabilised, economies lifted and many people lived better.”

“However, there were adverse effects on not only the agricultural sectors, but the environment, the food markets, and more importantly the future, which is now. More fertiliser meant more atmospheric nitrogen converted, more land meant more trees cut down and biodiversity lost, more cash produce in circulation meant prices will go down and so forth.”

“So obviously, nobody thought these things would be bad, because it’s agriculture. However, if they had stimulated, calculated and decided off of data, all of this would’ve been done better. But then, it was a time when data technologies and information technologies were not prevalent.”

“Now, we are at a similar curve in history as that which prompted the green revolution, just worse. We have more people to feed, and a sick planet, and we need to somehow get through migrations, unrest and all of that. You see, we either make perfect decisions now, or we will be risking too much.”

Data in Agricultural Value Chain

“The only way is to make informed decisions;  precise or near precise decisions that translate to efficiency in the farms, the markets and the kitchens.So I’ll quickly go through how everyone in the agricultural value chain can decide better, with data. I hope you all see why this is essential.”

“Starting with the farmers, who are basically the most vital entities of the agricultural value chain; farmers need to decide better. If you’re a maize farmer, you need your weather, your quality planting material and farm input information for a better season. If its poultry, you need data, fisheries too. Heck, if you’re a snail farmer, you need some basic information to decide well.Thankfully; we have the internet, mobile phones and some awesome platforms for all of this.”

“Secondly, apart from farmers, you have other stakeholders like research agencies. For instance, to develop new seed traits, a lab needs to harness data to measure, map and drive information into better seeds or whatever products they develop faster and safer. Governments, more than most, need data to decide on so many things!”

“We need data to know how much food is produced and lost in the continent; farmers and policy makers need more and better data to make smart investments. They need facts, based on accurate data from their country and region to make smart decisions.”

“There is an inexhaustible list of stakeholders in the agricultural value chain that is impossible to cover all, and the application of data in what they decide. But I’m sure we are an imaginative lot, and I hope that I’ve been able to show you the need for data; all you can do now is remember that we must practice agriculture with a clear implication of environmental, social and economic value. To do that, we must use a simple notion or tool or whatever you want to call it. I’ll let you guess what that is, one word – Data.”

Answers to questions from Participants

Nasir in response to questions from participants of the , added that to collect reliable and timely data, “You need to position yourself under a specific area of the agricultural value chain; are you a farmer, an Agro business, a buyer, processor or banker? Based on that, you ‘source’ data from specific places”. He further advised them to “document everything, use notebooks, mobile apps, software, etc. don’t leave a thing for granted.”

However, “We must build technologies to support smallholders and foster data collection and usage among them, because they constitute a greater percentage of all farmers. There are solutions, look up Verdant,” he added.

In response to another question, Nasir Yammama explained that “any bit of information on agricultural practice, farming history, activity, occurrence and transaction can be considered agricultural data” and added that mobile phones can be used to collect data from illiterate farmers   “as most people who are illiterate or not savvy still use mobiles to talk to their loved ones.; it can be done. Voice and text technologies is the realm with the next one billion users!”