Daily Trust: Your tech projects have recently been more focused on agriculture. Why?
Nasir Yammama: My reason is almost sentimental. I’m incredibly passionate about agriculture, and most especially farmers. I grew up around agriculture and nothing hurts me more than the plight of farmers all over the world, who by the way constitute the majority of the world’s poor. It is a cause I am very dedicated to, and for me the best form of advocacy or activism is the one where the activists not only advocate but proffer solutions to the problem. So you may well say I am an “Agtivist”, using everything at my disposal to improve the efficiency of the practice, especially for smallholders who depend on farming for a livelihood but are bereft of all the great offerings of modern agriculture.
In many ways, it’s more than just technology projects. Agriculture is a great school: I’ve been learning so much and I don’t think any of the other ventures I’m into offer me so much to learn both in terms of technology, human behavior, markets and life sciences as agriculture does. I believe these are the main reasons I have been focusing on the agric sector.
DT: How do you choose what aspects of agriculture to develop solutions for?
Yammama: I have a strategy, really, informed by a primary market research in which smallholder farmers are the main target. Whereas smallholders need all the science and technology available to improve yield, the approach has to be right. You can’t just deploy an AI-powered planter and a self-driving tractor to a rural farmer. Agri-Tech as a whole is a new emerging economic sector that deals with sustainable agricultural technology. It is vast and connotes of the biological sciences, mechanical and information sciences, among others. My vision is to enable our farmers to farm with a clear implication of economic, social, and environmental value. So I chose the aspects of agriculture that my innovative technologies can demonstrably enhance through increasing productivity, and improving the efficiency of resource use.
Sometimes, I also consider what areas will yield sustained or enhanced profitability for us and the farmers, as well. We have been doing a lot of digital technology work with crop farmers, we are slowly starting to innovate around quality planting materials, particularly seeds, and will eventually get to other aspects of agriculture beyond crops.
DT: Verdant, one of your more famous creations, is an app for farmers. How is it doing today?
Yammama: Verdant has grown considerably over the years and is no longer an app. It has metamorphosed into an end-to-end platform that connects the agricultural value chain using unique mobile technologies in order to make smallholders more visible to markets and agricultural data. We use it to provide agricultural support for rural farmers numbering up to 10,000. It has been re-engineered to accommodate low-end phones without internet connectivity. It’s doing great as a company.
DT: Have big companies or state governments been keying into your ideas?
Yammama: Yes. I’ve worked with Adam Smith International, and recently the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, with whom I went to the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin sharing my work, using big data to transform smallholder agriculture at a global stage. I’ve also shared ideas with Yara, one of the biggest global firms specializing in agricultural products, at the Xynteo Exchange which held in Oslo Norway a couple of months ago. Most recently, I was at Slush Helsinki where I addressed global entrepreneurs, investors and journalists in Helsinki, Finland on the future of growing food.
Locally, one of my biggest engagements so far, is in my home state Katsina where I’m the lead consultant on a project called Katsina Sustainable Platform for Agriculture (KASPA). It is an all-round initiative of the state government, aimed at connecting the state’s agricultural value chains, using mobile tech to help farmers improve yields and access markets. The project will avail and democratize agricultural information, saving incredible amount of money and time for farmers, agribusinesses, and cooperatives who spend outrageously in managing the risk of doing business.
It will also enable access to quality farm input like improved seeds and fertilizers for the millions of smallholder farmers that are isolated from not only standard input but basic knowledge.
The holistic and farmer-centric approach of KASPA makes it the first of its kind in sub-Saharan Africa, including a state-of-the-art agricultural data center in Katsina. We are hoping that will begin this month. Also, a multi-lingual platform for agricultural extension which goes live for all farmers in the state in time for this year’s rainy season. KASPA will provide over 10,000 direct and indirect job opportunities within two years
I feel it is a great opportunity to bring phenomenal growth to the agricultural productivity of Katsina State, and the Masari-led government has seized it for the people of Katsina. The foresight from the governor, and the dedication of Commissioner for Agriculture/Deputy Governor, in implementing this project represents a true commitment to agriculture, food security, youth development and information technology in the state.
DT: You were pictured talking with HRH Prince Charles during his 2018 visit to Nigeria. What did you discuss?
Yammama: I was invited to the reception by the British High Commission during his visit to Nigeria and I told him about our work, especially the latest project in Katsina, and how it can help in increasing agricultural productivity and reducing environmental damage. He has great passion for agriculture and the environment, and I learned of his role as patron of the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership in the University of Cambridge. It was a really inspiring evening because he was aware of my work through the Queen’s Young Leaders Program, which I had been part of in 2017.
DT: You’re busy, and neck-deep in work. How much time do you have for your personal farm in Katsina?
Yammama: Not much, sadly. However, this year I’m getting my hands grubby on 200 hectares in Katsina, in collaboration with some associates, in addition to about 500 hectares outside the state. It’s an exciting year, and the first time I’ll be stretching myself over multiple farms in various geographical locations.
DT: As a farmer and tech expert, what are the trends that people interested in one -or both – should pay attention to?
Yammama: All indications point to big data and analytics becoming integral to many aspects of the Nigerian society, especially in business, policy and entertainment. Harnessing it for agricultural productivity will propel Nigeria to food security, and agricultural productivity. Investments in renewable energies are also rising, and innovators are venturing in droves. This trend will continue for a while, at least until we achieve an electrification milestone to power farms and factories.