The IITA Youth Agripreneurs’ (IYA) ICT unit has established its own businesses by making use of ICT tools, like drones. The members also give ICT trainings with the aim to enhance agriculture and sensitise rural entrepreneurs.
Just as there is e-commerce, e-banking, e-learning, there is now “e-agriculture”. It refers to the use of ICT to provide solutions to problems encountered in the agricultural sector. E-agriculture is attracting youths to agriculture and some have identified opportunities for income generation through enterprises that deliver ICT empowered services to farmers and to other actors in agriculture. In other words, the advent of ICT in the agricultural sector has changed the face of Africa’s agriculture and now forms part of what is attracting young people into the sector.
IYA is a group of young graduates established by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in 2012, which foresees a bright future for e-agriculture in Africa. The youth who are from diverse educational backgrounds have embraced agriculture as a business. They are involved in several profitable agribusiness enterprises from involvement in the production, packaging, and marketing of farm produce. The goal of this IITA youth-in-agribusiness programme is to reorient youths towards more productive engagement in agriculture through expanded opportunities in agribusiness, service provision, and market-oriented agriculture, for example by making use of ICTs. It conducts agribusiness incubations and offers training and mentoring to other youth. Furthermore, it creates and develops promising collective enterprises and stimulates the involvement of youth in agribusinesses for the benefit of the larger rural community through employment, out-grower opportunities and income generation.
Investing in drones
IYA’s ICT unit has started its own business to help farmers adopt to modern farming methods. For example, it adopted the use of drones for capturing aerial pictures and video documentation of field activities, monitor crop performance, and perform other research-related functions. Starting the drone delivery services within IITA, the group first had to sensitise researchers to ensure that the technology became widely accepted among researchers who can use it for data capturing.
Using a Phantom 2 vision + drone the ICT unit could earn about US$1,000 every month from the services rendered to research scientists. With an aggressive marketing strategy, and through sensitisation and awareness on the usage and benefits of the drone, the youth agripreneurs managed an increase in their drone business activities and revenues, even resulting in a long waiting list of clients. The ICT unit could purchase another sophisticated DJI Inspire 1 drone from their earnings and now provide more research-related services to scientists depending on duration, location, and intensity of the work.
Another group of clients emerged at the same time. Local farmers in the Joga-Orile in Nigeria learned about the benefits of using drones and were eager to hire the services of the youth entrepreneurs. Although drones are becoming cheaper, smallholder farmers in Nigeria are still not able to afford the technology and do not have the necessary knowledge and skills in using the technology and analysing the data. Therefore, the majority of farmers prefer working together with the entrepreneurs from IYA’s ICT unit.
The expectation is an increase in demand for the drone service in the future and high return on investment for the youth entrepreneurs, which could result in competition with other entrepreneurs involved in using drone technology in agriculture who could enter the market in the near future. However, the youth agripreneurs of IYA are not afraid of competition. They have built an extensive network of scientists, researchers, and local farmer communities that could secure further expansion of their business activities.
Empowering youth entrepreneurs
IYA is also taking up the challenge of training other young agripreneurs in Ibadan, Abuja, and Kano, on the use of a ‘smart tractor’ developed by Hello Tractor. The Smart Tractor is a versatile machine with eight attachments to serve farmers throughout the farm production cycle. It has attachments which include those for tilling, ploughing, threshing, haulage, irrigation pumping and sprinkling, iron wheels for wet paddy rice production, and other vital farming needs. The tractor is also fitted with a GPS antenna, local SIM card, hard drive and telematics capabilities, which enables them to connect the Smart Tractor to the powerful cloud software of Hello Tractor, even in rural environments with low connectivity. Its connectivity feature enables Hello Tractor to pair farmers in need of tractor services with a Smart Tractor owner within their vicinity through a simple text message service.
Hello Tractor sells its Smart Tractors to entrepreneurs, farmer organisations, and individual farmers that provide agricultural mechanisation services to farmers in Nigeria for US$4,000. However, it has to train these entrepreneurs in maintaining the tractors and promoting their services. IYA now is involved in training the entrepreneurs. It gets paid by Hello Tractor for delivering trainings for them. So far IYA has received nearly 3,000 applications for the trainings.
IYA is also finalising and launching an e-commerce platform for the sale of agricultural produce. The platform will link farmers to buyers and create a level playing ground for all the players along the value chain to benefit. The application is being developed by the GreenWealth Agripreneurs, who are currently running an incubation programme in IYA. The Incubates get stipends for up-keep and are expected to be at the incubation centre for 18 months after which they establish their own agribusiness enterprises with loans that are based on a bankable business plan.
Some of the “incubates” have seen the opportunities that come with establishing firms that could create solutions to agricultural problems using ICTs, and in turn create job and wealth for themselves. However, major challenges to e-agriculture remain such as high costs of acquiring the skills and the tools, and the level of reluctance shown by farmers in adopting innovations. Convincing the older farmers to make use of these tools is difficult as many of them prefer to do agriculture the conservative way. However, the young farmers who are taking over from the ageing farmers will find ICTs more interesting and will develop better skills over the years.
IYA and within it the ICT unit, is committed to encourage ICT entrepreneurship in agriculture. With its incubator programme, trainings, and by establishing entrepreneurial activities themselves, they give the youth the opportunity to learn, understand, and increase confidence in becoming an ICT entrepreneur. This will change the dynamics of rural entrepreneurship in general and will create unlimited opportunities for youths to successfully run agriculture as a business through innovative ICT service delivery and trainings.