Makurdi — It was February when I first visited Zukutiv Farms here in Nigeria’s food basket state, Benue. As I reported then, owner and lead farmer Myke Gbe has enjoyed the benefits of using mobile technology to promote his farm and its diverse yield.
Thanks in part to the exposure, last spring he was selected by the United Nations Development Programme to conduct an on-the-farm training so that new, less experienced farmers could become more like him. The four-week session commenced in June and I stopped by Zukutiv in its third week to see what the social media-savvy farmer and his trainees were up to.
Thirty participants are undergoing the training here. They look very happy and enthusiastic to be learning new methods in SMART farming. The SMART approach – its acronym stands for ‘smallholding management of accessible and adaptable rural technologies’ – emphasizes modest input and easily accessible tools used to achieve greater output.
But alongside this system, which, concretely speaking, might integrate the farming of livestock, aqua culture and crops all on one land, Farmer Myke promotes another kind of ‘smart’: the use of mobile technology and social media.
The trainees have been jointly selected for the course, at no cost to the students themselves, by the state Ministry of Agriculture and the association of small farmers. With the exception of two participants in their 50s, Farmer Myke’s captive audience comprises youth. They come from across the state and many express eagerness to implement new ways of being both SMART and smart.
Cletus Ikese Otokpa, 27, hails from Ado. The Zukutiv training has shown him the “SMART way of farming”, which, in his words, is a means to “create a synergy among [livestock, crops and aqua culture] in order to yield better profit and also to improve my income and earn more money”. According to Otokpa, who keeps a small house farm with goats, “farming now goes beyond carrying a hoe to the farm”.
What’s more, he sees the value of social media for his work. He says he is active on Facebook, Twitter, BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp, 2go and now the Google Group SmartHood, which Farmer Myke created to enable easy information sharing by trainees.
“With all these, it gives me an edge to get information anywhere in the world,” he says about the various platforms.
Twenty-eight year-old Mike Otache, from Apa, has gained insights, too. He says that before the Zukutiv training session he had learned about quail just from documentaries, but now he’s convinced that Farmer Myke’s proud source of eggs is also worth his attention.
“Where I come from a lot of people have series of health issues and I believe that these quail eggs are going to help them get out of those problems,” he says.
But quail isn’t the only new pursuit the session has encouraged.
“We are enlightened more about the breakthrough the boss [Farmer Myke] had towards his farming through the social media,” says Otache. “I think it’s something I really want to go into fully now.”
He seems optimistic that social media will improve his business, as something that’s conducive to “networking, getting across to people who even don’t know me” as well as providing a way to display his produce.
“In this part of Nigeria, a lot don’t know much about internet facilities,” he says. “But they do have phones down to the local areas, so my intention is to call those living in the rural areas…Those who are into internet stuff, I can also get to them through the net.”
Mercy Ujinu, 30, is from Agatu. She says she’d like to apply some of what she’s just learned about fisheries to poultry farming, and notes that social media can help her troubleshoot along the way.
“Through that,” she says – in reference to Facebook, which she already uses – “I can be able to tell somebody about my farm, ask questions like the ones we did here. When you have problems, you can always send an email and see how someone can put you through.”
Being able to connect with others by mobile device seems equally crucial to Patience Kiekwe Amonger. The 27 year old from Vandeikya isn’t yet a practising farmer, but she’s ready to get started.
“The issue of telephone now is very important for customers to get in contact with your goods,” she notes. “If a customer requests for my goods, I can simply text to the next farmer if I don’t have enough, in order to keep the relationship between me and my customer.”
“I have learnt a lot,” she says, though cites “time consciousness” as a top priority for running a successful business. Amonger says that although she is not on Facebook, she, too, has just been subscribed to SmartHood.
“I have learnt many things from this SMART farming,” says Uko Isaac Edeh, from Oju. “The other one,” he says – in reference more traditional farming, which doesn’t emphasize the application of new media and technology – “we are doing it locally and there was not much gain in it.”
Edeh, 51, hopes to use social media for improved communication about his yam and orange farms. His current cell phone has internet capability, though he had not known about browsing the web with his handset.
“I have been practising, getting into the internet and Google, but seeking advice from them [fellow trainees] to help, advising me on how to do this on the farm,” he says. “It attracts me to jump into it and, by the grace of God, I can do it.”