The government of Nigeria has created an initiative, Growth Enhancement Support (GES), using cell phones to cut corruption and improve agriculture. GES sends vouchers via cell phones to farmers so they can buy subsidized seeds and fertilizer. Traditional resource distribution methods often result in “leaks,” leaving farmers with fewer means to grow food. Nigeria’s Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, reports that sometimes less than 11 percent of subsidized fertilizers reach farmers.
“Disappearing” resources is just one of the problems farmers face in corrupt countries. Distribution of poor quality fertilizer and seeds is another. According to the World Bank’s Africa Development Indicators 2010 report, poor regulations caused 43 percent of West Africa’s fertilizers sold in in the 1990s to lack the essential nutrients to make them effective. Sand is sometimes used as a substitute, says Minister Adesina.This kind of corruption can lead to food shortages and exacerbate hunger.
According to Transparency International‘s 2012 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria is one of the world’s most corrupt countries. It ranked 139th out of 176 countries for perceived public sector transparency, and the country’s corruption score is 27 out of 100, with 100 signifying the least amount of corruption.
“The GES scheme provides us with a fair, equitable, accountable and transparent means of distributing farm inputs to our rural farmers,” says Minister Adesina in an AllAfrica article. He notes that cell phones can also improve farmers’ access to important agriculture information, such as weather and market conditions.
In Nigeria, 70 percent of the population is poor, and 70 percent of Nigerians work in agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture hopes that 10 million Nigerian farmers—including 5 million women farmers—will acquire cell phones and use GES in the next few years, but some farmers wonder where the money for the phones will come from because Minister Adesina insists that the government will not directly obtain and distribute them to farmers. According to an article in Nigeria’s Punch newspaper, some members of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria and the Catfish Farmers Forum point out that farmers already have phones but need loans. “What we need are funds not phones,” says Dr. John Akwara, a member of the All Farmers Association.
Improving infrastructure, such as roads and storage facilities, and agricultural education are also some of the investments farmers hope the government will prioritize over the still-unproven GES program.