Friday, 4 January 2013

Jonathan Tanner: Oxfam has it right, it's time for aid organisations to see Africa differently.

Jonathan Tanner was spot on in this article, Oxfam has it right, it's time for aid organisations to see Africa differently. I certainly share his thoughts that " we need to move past the stereotypical images of poverty and helplessness." Kudos too Oxfam too. But my question is whether other international charities and donor agencies will wake up and smell the coffee? Of course they have got roles to play in reshaping those bogus stories they have portrayed, or fueled about Africa and its people. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Empowering farmers through mobile phones

Last year Nigerians started off the New Year with the federal government’s (FG) decision to remove fuel subsidy. This year Nigerians kicked off the year with the FG’s initiative to empower 10 million farmers in the rural areas with mobile phones. This initiative has started generating resentments similar to, but milder than, the fuel subsidy removal, from the public, especially on the how much (NGN60bn) the FG has earmarked to spend in procurement of those phones. Amidst those resentments, one thing that is very clear is people’s lack of knowledge on the perceived end product of the initiative. But this is not surprising as we have in Nigeria too many educated, but ignorant, people when it comes to public issues.

Naomi J. Halewood and Priya Surya (2012) on Mobilizing the Agricultural Value Chain in the World Bank report examined how service provided on mobile phones and other mobile devices can “potentially lead to greater efficiencies, reduced transaction costs, and increased incomes” to farmers. In that report, they portrayed mobile networks as “a unique and unparallel opportunity to give rural smallholders access to information that could transform their livelihoods.” They did not just paint the big picture of mobile phones in empowering farmers; they also examined “the key challenges mobile service providers are facing in scaling up their operations to reach critical mass and to ensure sustainability for the development of a whole ecosystem of different stakeholders.”

However, success stories abound on how mobile phone services have improved and are still improving agricultural productivity and earnings of farmers. Caspar van Vark, a guardian professional, on the article Empowering farmers through SMS wrote vividly on how mobile phone services have improved farmers’ agricultural yield and profit through advisory services on crops, weather and market prices. These success stories spread across countries. We saw it in India- through a pilot project that saw fifty thousand farmers benefit from SMS advisory services. In pipeline is the proposed interactive voice response system for illiterate farmers; an initiative that will help Indian farmers receive weather-related information and advisory services in their areas. Also we saw the success story in Rwanda- both farmers and consumers welcomed the idea of mobile phone operator when it was introduced in February 2011 as it gives them access to market prices and allows them to keep track of market crop prices. Nigeria is not and will not be an exception.

The benefits of this great initiative cannot be over emphasized. Beside the ones highlighted by the FG, farmers bargaining power will greatly be increased. This is not rocket science. This is how it works. Farmers are producers of agricultural products and the end products go to the consumers through the middle men- the distributors situated in various local markets. The first person a distributor wants to speak to is the farmer. Distributors know how much they can pay farmers for their products as they move from one market to another making purchase. Technology, which is where the mobile phones come in, creates the playing ground for farmers in remote areas to participate. With their mobile phones in hand they can get correct prices for the products they want because they have got the technology that gives them powers and offers them information that has potential to impact their pricing as they now have variety of prices to choose from. They can now negotiate for better prices. The distributor buys the products cheap (don’t forget the 50% subsidy given to farmers) from the farmers; he gets the products to the market; and sells at cheaper rates to consumers.  

As the FG has pointed out that with its support to the mobile network providers through the Ministry of Communication and Technology the mobile network providers will expand their network coverage to the rural areas where networks do not exist and expand their networks so people can have access to mobile networks and communicate. Majority of farmers in rural areas do not have mobile phones, and even those who have experience fluctuations in networks while they converse owing to poor network coverage. This initiative will enhance further the already existing competition among mobile network providers to spread their networks and it will be a boost and facilitator to infrastructure (for example broadband services) and the IT industry as a whole. It will create a platform for state governments, technologists, private firms and even donor agencies to work together to leverage mobile technologies for better recognition of rural and poor communities in their area of operation.

Amidst the good side of the FG’s initiative to empower farmers with mobile phones, there are challenges that need to be overcome too. For me, though it is necessary to provide farmers with mobile phones so they can gain from the perceived benefits there-from, it is not sufficient. Farmers need information on management practices and even on the seeds they cultivate and among other things. Over the years we have had situations where several research studies are produced and weather forecasts given, but important information generated do not reach the farmers. Farmers need to be trained and educated. Also, this initiative is information-intensive and as such the FG and state governments need to examine their roles in creating enabling environments to tackle the challenges resulting there-from. IT innovators would have to be engaged to develop specific ICT strategies for the agricultural sector to help guide both the public and private sector in creating this enabling environment.


Monday, 31 December 2012

New Year Resolution

I just want to take out a moment to thank in a very special way everyone, known or unknown, who added value to my life in the year 2012. I also thank those who did not add value too!

In every New Year’s eve, as a teenager, there was nothing I enjoyed doing more than throwing bangers, which we notably called “knock outs” in the air and watching them explode noisily. Then I would tell my gullible parents that I was going to attend the New Year’s eve church service, but would end up hanging out with my friends terrorizing churchgoers with bangers. We often bought bangers with monies we pinched from our parents. My parents had nothing to be stolen. You would never find a reasonable amount in my mother’s purse and my father’s pockets were always as empty as a man’s testies after a night in a bordello. But my friends’ parents were well-to-do. So I was always the chief planner and advisor on how they would run down their parents’ pockets. With the amount we needed in our pockets, we would set out to hit our targets. And our targets were mostly those girls who turned us down when we asked them out. It was really a reveling experience, especially when we threw the bangers in-between them as they walked together. And walla! The bangers would explode and the sudden sounds would send the girls running for their lives!

This is that time of the year when people engage in that thingamajig: New Year Resolution. Every New Year’s eve comes with a thoughtful reminiscence of how the concluding year has run thus far. But what baffles me, remarkably, is that one hardly finds people who have resolved to love Mondays! One reads often those catchy resolutions like I will quit smoking, stop womanizing (for men) or at least have one girl friend or sugar mummy, stop being sluttish (for women) or at least try to maintain one boy friend or cash cow, stop drinking alcohol or drink less, lose 20 pounds, find a job, eat healthy, attend church service(s) frequently, and the list continues.

Most people have this ‘wrong’ notion that once they have technically made their New Year’s resolutions on New Year’s eve or New Year’s day, as if they are in technical rehearsal, that things will begin to fall in place abruptly in their lives. Let’s say I was a smoker, and on New Year’s eve or day I technically resolved to quit smoking. For the fact that New Year’s eve is just like any other night; and New Year’s day an annex of the New Year’s eve, I, the smoker, who had been on a smoking spree or roll with fellas on the eve with my system thus inundated with nicotine would not be expected to hastily stop smoking on the stroke of New Year’s resolutions. What if I was as fat as a pig? Dieting on New Year’s day with the mindset that I would lose whatever considerable amount of pounds I had listed on my resolution list would be wonky. There is no way I can eat reasonably; rather I can eat freely whatever essential I need to eat in a snail’s pace so I can peter out my relics. As Mark Twain rightly said, “now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

At this time of the year you will never fail to read people’s entertaining wishes for the New Year. Watch out you’ll never miss such wishes like God please make my bank account fat and my body thin, and most importantly do not mix things up like you did last year. Some would even wish God to calculate all their future earnings for the next 50 years and pay them up front in January because life is too short; YOLO!

I have been asked severally whether I make New Year’s resolutions. Frankly, I used to, but stopped when I realized the vanity in making a January resolution that will be abandoned by February. I quite agree with Sophocles’ that “men should pledge themselves to nothing; for reflection makes a liar of their resolution.” But if it is your take to make resolutions always remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, “always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.’’

To wrap up this year, I think that the most significant lesson I have learnt, not necessarily in 2012, but over the little times I have spent on this planet, is how much the ‘friendly relations’ that I have worth to me, and how much I value my family. The feelings come with adding more numbers to my age and getting older. Lest I forget, I have resolved in James Agate’s words, “to tolerate fools more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time.”
Happy New Year in advance!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Reflection on today’s gospel 7

Today’s feast of Holy Family is not just about Jesus, his mother; the blessed Virgin Many, and his father; Joseph, rather it is about our family. Today’s gospel, Luke 2:41-51 is all about the spirit of togetherness as a family. The message is very simple. So I will be very pithy. My take on today’s reading is the importance of education in the family. Education that I mean is not about acquiring degrees. It is bringing to reality the teachings of Christ. The onus is bestowed on parents. Parents must educate their wards through the teachings of Christ, who is the source of wealth and wisdom. Parents owe as a duty to themselves and society in general to bring their children into reality- the ways of Christ. But it is only parents who believe in and live this reality with a meaning can bring that about. Parents need to make greater efforts to ensure that, not only today but beyond, it is essential that their families strongly uphold this reality, which God has entrusted on them.
Give your family, especially your child (ren), that time you have deprived them to share with you. The time you failed to share with your children today has an adverse effect on what they become tomorrow. Remember that what you did not teach them at home can be taught to them elsewhere and they can learn, but with great difficulty. Your failure to do the needful today may be difficult to remedy tomorrow. Children need examples to grow. If these examples are not given by their parents, the children will be very unfortunate. Jesus learnt from the examples as were continually practiced by Joseph and Mary. Set your examples and they will follow!

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