Nigeria: Cell phones for farmers to cut corruption

Telecoms

Nigeria's agriculture minister on Monday responded to a barrage of criticism about the planned distribution of cell phones to the country's poorest farmers.

Opposition politicians attacked the idea, and news articles and editorials criticized it as ill conceived. Yesterday, for example, the widely read Punch newspaper, said farmers need fertilizer and other goods, not phones. The paper quoted a farmers' association member saying the funds government approves for agriculture are "hijacked" before reaching farmers.

That's precisely the point of the new initiative, say agriculture ministry officials. The scheme replaces a government-controlled programme that purchased fertilizer and seeds with one that supplies farmers through the private sector, using vouchers distributed via mobile phones.

At a press conference on Monday at State House, Agriculture Minister Akinwumi Adesina, a prominent agricultural economist who joined the cabinet a year-and-a-half ago, said that government procurement and distribution of fertilizer "led to massive leakages" and had been subsidizing corruption, not farmers. "A new system had to be found that would address the corruption by reaching legitimate farmers directly," he said.

Part of an ambitious strategy to transform agriculture, the Growth Enhancement Support (GES) initiative has registered 4.2 million farmers and 200 agricultural dealers, according to ministry records. The scheme uses farmers' cell phones as electronic wallets – distributing vouchers amounting to a 50 percent subsidy for purchase of fertilizer.