Author Archives: Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu

About Uwagbale Edward-Ekpu

An Industrial Chemist, Science Communicator, Digital Technology Commentator, Social Media Strategist, Entrepreneur and a Researcher with a huge interest in Food Chemistry and Technology.

How Millions of Naira are Wasted by Nigerian Tertiary Institutions During Recruitments

“All applicants are required to submit 15 copies of their application, curriculum vitae and credentials” is a traditional statement in recruitment adverts of tertiary institutions in Nigeria. It is a statement that also shows how tertiary (mostly government-owned) institutions in the country are wasteful and unprogressive.

Nigerian tertiary institutions which are supposed to be vanguards of innovation and societal advancement still largely depend on papers, envelopes and the post office as the medium for recruitment in this age of internet. Most institutions have refused to adopt use of emails or online forms to receive job applications in a time when recruitment interviews are being done using Skype or WhatsApp. Mail by post is still the only method through which most government-owned tertiary institutions receives job applications.

Recruitment and promotion processes in these institutions causes huge waste of money and time. The processes generates large volumes of paper waste and results to a big waste of money for staffs and applicant of jobs in these institutions. The sad part of the story is that while authorities in these institutions know of these wastage from experience, they are still holding on to the practice.

For instance, according to myjobmag the newly established Maritime University in Delta State of Nigeria, is currently recruiting academic staffs from Graduate Assistants all the way to Professors into about 38 departments, and each applicant is required to submit 15 copies each of their application, curriculum and credentials. The vacant positions for Graduate Assistant requires a minimum of 10 sheets of paper documents and that for Professors can attract paper submissions of about or more than 50 sheets of paper documents (which includes volumes of publications).

Graduate Assistant positions as such will attract 150 sheet of papers at a cost of N1,500 (10 documents x 15 photocopies at a cost of N10/photocopy) and Professor positions can attract about or more than 750 sheet of papers at a cost of N7,500 (50 documents x 15 photocopies at a cost of N10/photocopy). If they are to recruit at least one person per academic rank (7 ranks) from Graduate Assistant to professor in the 38 departments each, only 266 persons will be accepted, and if there is to be an average of 10 persons per department only 380 persons will be accepted.

In 2014, 125,000 job seekers applied for 4,500 jobs with Nigeria’s immigration service. In 2016, the boss of the Nigerian Federal Inland Revenue Service, said that the agency received 700,000 applications (2,000  graduates with first class honors degrees) for only 500 advertised positions. The same year the Nigerian Police Force said it received almost a million applications for 10,000 listed positions. In this context and considering also the high unemployment rate among M. Sc. and even PhD holders in the country, there will certainly be a similar application rate, especially for positions with B. Sc. and M. Sc. as minimum requirements. There is a high possibility that more than 10, 000 applications will be submitted.

Since applications are requested to be submitted at the office of the Registrar inside the premises of the institution, they will be delivered by hand or post. This must also be put into consideration. So in a case where as much 500 out of 10,000 submitted applications are accepted (assuming 150 sheet per person) and assuming most of the applicants are from the same region with the institution and used the cheapest postal services of NiPOST (SPEED POST ECONOMY = N820  for 1Kg), there would be 1,425,000 (9,500 x 150) wasted paper at a cost of more than N14. 3 million on photocopy and more than N7.8 million (9500 x 820) on postage.

A fortune of more than N22.1 million will be wasted on the job application process in that institution in less than two months and this burden will be on the applicants.  Paper, time and money are also wasted during staff promotion as academic staffs of most tertiary institutions are required to submit copies of all their credentials (which are voluminous because of publications) every time they are due for promotion, instead of submitting only the ones acquired after the last promotion.

This bad management culture is evident in most processes that has to do with communication and information. Information flow in Nigerian tertiary institutions are still mostly or basically paper-based though some of these schools have IT units, internet and online portals. Their portals are mainly fee payment systems and as such are required to capture student’s data, aside that, daily information flow from person to person or department to department is still paper based.

In some cases, money is wasted to repeat these online processes offline for implementation and execution because there is either no connection between the IT units of the institutions (which in most cases are run contractors) with the academic or administrative departments; connections between the computers in the various departments in these institutions; or because staffs have not been trained to effectively use online systems.

The backwardness in academic and administrative processes in our tertiary institutions is simply an evidence of how backward and unprogressive majority of the administrators who run education in Nigeria are. With all their advanced education, international schooling and exposure, they have not been able to teach their students by example or neither have they been able to practice what they teach so their students can see and learn from.

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Exclusive: The Role of ICT in Agriculture by Lilian Uwintwali

The EYE Africa Conference Series is an online conference on Agriculture, organised by Emerging Young Entrepreneur Initiative (EYE Africa). The event held on the 30th of November on Whats App was the 2nd in the series; it was led by two distinguished individuals among the youngest and biggest entrepreneurs in Agritech in Africa; Lilian Uwintwali from Rwanda and Nasir Yammama from Nigeria.

Lilian, who discussed ‘The Role of ICT in Agriculture’, is a computer Engineer, Business Analyst, and the founder of M-AHWIII Ltd, while in her 3rd year at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology; by 25, she co-founded and headed two companies. Her online and mobile-based Agricultural Platform M-lima, formerly known as agro-FIBA platform connects small-holder farmers with key stakeholders in agriculture, to ensure that the average small-holder farmer benefits from essential services needed and leverage on arising opportunities. Lilian is a 40 Chances Fellow for Rwanda for year 2014, winner of the MIT-AITI competition 2011, a presidential/ Broadband/ITU people’s choice award recipient for best app in Broadband/ITU, 2011, and winner of the Mobile Apps for Human Development challenge 2014.

In May 2016, she was voted as the Vice Chair of Rwanda Youths in Agribusiness Forum (RYAF) and recognised regionally among the top 3 Young Innovators in Agribusiness across East Africa and Ethiopia by the Inter-Regional Economic Network (IREN), sponsored by the East African Trade Investment Hub/USAID and Syngenta.

Lilian who was so excited about the conference, started by acknowledging EYE Africa’s Conference on WhatsApp as a good example of the use of ICT in Agriculture to share and exchange knowledge and experiences. She went ahead to emphasise the importance of ICT in today’s world and described ICT in the simplest way. Furthermore, she shared her experience on the quest to improve agriculture, as well as the lives of rural farmers using ICT by giving over 10,000 farmers in Rwanda access to good market prices, deals and bank loans, a platform to learn about insurances services and trade their digitised stock on their mobile phones; there was a lot to take-home from the discussion with her. Below is a compilation of her chats in the conference.

ICT in today’s society

“Now to begin with, I can’t help but imagine what our world would be like without ICT today. Just imagine how our communication would be disrupted, the devastating effect it would have on our businesses; how our education system would come crumbling down. I wouldn’t want to imagine our economy in such a state, how would banks operate, How would we trade? How would we connect? When you think of the scenario above, then you can’t help but wonder what the world would be like with no ICTs; and if today Life can run normally without ICT.”

ICT: the way information is communicated or exchanged using technology

“Let me break down my understanding of ICT from my own school of thought: ICT – stands for Information Communication Technologies (as we all know it). If I would have to break it down for a layman to understand or an ordinary person who didn’t take an ICT course in school, I would say it is the way information is communicated or exchanged using technology.”

Information defines our way of life today

“Our planet has experienced different eras at different times which define the lifestyle or way of life in their time. We have had Stone Age, industrial age, but presentably we are in the information age. Information defines our way of life today, and for this reason ICT is an essential part of our lives because it defines the way we live, the way we relate to one another, the way we communicate, the way we study, the way we trade, it affects us in every way.  And I will just narrow down my focus to how ICT affects the way we eat.”

From farm to fork

“When we talk of agriculture, I always want to narrow it down to food – from Farm to Fork. I know it involves a lot more than food, but our major concern today is food security because without it we perish. And as youths, we are called to practise agriculture because our future is at stake and that of the next generation if we leave it to the older generation. But guess what, we have the advantage of doing agriculture better because we have the access to ICT and we leverage on this resource to do so much. Let me share my experience to elaborate on this point.”

Her experience in ICT

“My background is in Computer engineering and Information Technology. When I completed my bachelors, I chose to do my dissertation in agriculture. It was way back in 2012 and I was curious to see if ICT could intervene in the agriculture sector. I visited farmers and asked them if they know of ICT and if they use it in what they do. But as you may guess, all they had was a mobile phone in their hands and they told me “this is the only tool we have as technology and we use it to call and text and nothing more. Yes, Rural farmers indeed. It was out of curiosity and I was surprised by the findings I got. There are so many gaps in securing seeds and fertilisers, in securing markets for their produce, in greetings financing for their activities. So many gaps and I wondered how this people manage to do what they do and I understood why they remain so poor when they are so hardworking. They are simply disconnected from the digital world and still do it the traditional way which just doesn’t work.”

“I went back and thought hard how this tool in a farmer’s hand can be used for more than just calls, but used for farming business. After this I and my team went back to the lab and designed a platform that would help farmers to access information through their mobile phones; and currently, over 10,000 farmers in Rwanda are accessing market prices, learning insurances services, having access to bank loans, trading their digitised stock on their mobile phones and making good deals with the mobile phones they previously used just for calling. This is just few of the many examples where ICT is transforming the agriculture sector.”

A call to the youths

“One of the youths in my forum has come up with an automated irrigation system for farmers that use mobile phones. I know there are so many exciting ICT innovations popping up each day, helping farmers and other stakeholders to do work better and efficiently using ICTs and some of you have come up with one or two. And my challenge to you tonight is to urge you to seek out the essence of the problems facing your society today in whatever sector you’re in, and come up with innovative solutions and models to those problems.”

“It’s impossible until you try it and you may not know the impact it may have on society until you reach out. It doesn’t need to begin with a big group, you just need a small group to test and approve it before you scale it up. Remember when Facebook was done, it began as a classroom app and now, it has grown global within a decade. Never underestimate your potential and never be among the people who complain over a problem, because most opportunities come disguised as problems, but it is only an entrepreneurial and innovative mind that seizes it when everyone else is busy complaining.”

“Agriculture is loaded with enormous opportunities for ICT engagement in production, processing, marketing and other services, and you just need to have a dialogue with people involved in these areas; they’ll let you know which problems they struggle with and this may turn out to be your next business opportunity. You just need to serve your first client right and the rest will come along.”

“So allow me to conclude this session by thanking you all for being so attentive and give you room for questions.”

Answers to questions from conference participants

Application of GIS and Remote Sensing: “We are considering it [GIS and Remote Sensing] and it is indeed very helpful but affordability of some of these technologies remain a challenge for small holder farmers, so we constantly look out for key partners we may engage to provide access to these technologies.”

Challenges of illiteracy among farmers: “We have a similar problem [illiteracy] here in Rwanda as well. Most farmers were not privileged to have formal education; fortunately, most farmers here exist in groups called cooperatives, so we choose a smart farmer who serves as a facilitator of other farmers to access services offered by our platform. We also use USSD technology to ease access and minimise typing for farmers who are not conversant with it.”

This Article was originally published on EYE Africa Blog

Exclusive: Data and Agricultural Decision Making by Nasir Yammama

The EYE Africa Conference Series is an online conference on Agriculture, organised by Emerging Young Entrepreneur Initiative (EYE Africa). The event held on the 30th of November, 2017 on WhatsApp is the 2nd in the series which was graced by two of some of the youngest big entrepreneurs in Agritech in Africa: Lilian Uwintwali from Rwanda and Nasir Yammama from Nigeria.

Nasir Yammama is a creative technologist whose award-winning company Verdant AgriTech offers innovative solutions to farmers and other stakeholders, for improved food production using novel technologies. He won the British Council and Virgin Atlantic’s Enterprise Challenge in 2014 which earned him the mentorship of Sir Richard Branson. In 2015, Nasir was listed among 50 Global Entrepreneurs by MIT, based on his entrepreneurial potential. His company, Verdant, won the 2016 Award for Global Innovation in AgriFood.

Yammama’s discussion was on ‘Data and Agricultural Decision Making’ and he started with a statement of fact.

“Better data leads to better decisions by governments, donors and farmers, which ultimately leads to lives for farmers on and off the farm. So Better Data + Better Decisions = Better Lives.”

He went further to educate users on the importance of data in decision and policy making in Agriculture and the society at large, using the Green Revolutions as a case. The Green Revolution refers to a set of research and the development of technological transfer initiatives that occurred between the 1930s and the late 1960s; it increased agricultural production worldwide. Below is the compilation ofYammama’s chats in the conference.

Agricultural data is non-existent in most parts of Africa

“I will attempt to explore some of the areas of decision in agriculture that are directly dependent on quality data; a lack of which has been the bane of our agricultural under-production.However, bear in mind, in most parts of Africa, agricultural data is non-existent, and if better data leads to better decisions, then what does ‘no data’ lead to? This is why our budgets are not right, our interventions are bad and our predictive analyses are not even close to accurate. However, it’s not all that bleak; I am only showing you this, so you can see how data is crucial.”

The Green Revolution

“If you’re conversant with agricultural history, you’ll remember that there was a time when many countries, especially developing nations, embarked on the green revolution; which was basically an effort around doubling or tripling food production by input intensification and agricultural land expansion, so more land was dedicated to agriculture. More money was put into breeding of many kinds, more fertilisers were produced, and boom, there was suddenly more food than ever; and prices stabilised, economies lifted and many people lived better.”

“However, there were adverse effects on not only the agricultural sectors, but the environment, the food markets, and more importantly the future, which is now. More fertiliser meant more atmospheric nitrogen converted, more land meant more trees cut down and biodiversity lost, more cash produce in circulation meant prices will go down and so forth.”

“So obviously, nobody thought these things would be bad, because it’s agriculture. However, if they had stimulated, calculated and decided off of data, all of this would’ve been done better. But then, it was a time when data technologies and information technologies were not prevalent.”

“Now, we are at a similar curve in history as that which prompted the green revolution, just worse. We have more people to feed, and a sick planet, and we need to somehow get through migrations, unrest and all of that. You see, we either make perfect decisions now, or we will be risking too much.”

Data in Agricultural Value Chain

“The only way is to make informed decisions;  precise or near precise decisions that translate to efficiency in the farms, the markets and the kitchens.So I’ll quickly go through how everyone in the agricultural value chain can decide better, with data. I hope you all see why this is essential.”

“Starting with the farmers, who are basically the most vital entities of the agricultural value chain; farmers need to decide better. If you’re a maize farmer, you need your weather, your quality planting material and farm input information for a better season. If its poultry, you need data, fisheries too. Heck, if you’re a snail farmer, you need some basic information to decide well.Thankfully; we have the internet, mobile phones and some awesome platforms for all of this.”

“Secondly, apart from farmers, you have other stakeholders like research agencies. For instance, to develop new seed traits, a lab needs to harness data to measure, map and drive information into better seeds or whatever products they develop faster and safer. Governments, more than most, need data to decide on so many things!”

“We need data to know how much food is produced and lost in the continent; farmers and policy makers need more and better data to make smart investments. They need facts, based on accurate data from their country and region to make smart decisions.”

“There is an inexhaustible list of stakeholders in the agricultural value chain that is impossible to cover all, and the application of data in what they decide. But I’m sure we are an imaginative lot, and I hope that I’ve been able to show you the need for data; all you can do now is remember that we must practice agriculture with a clear implication of environmental, social and economic value. To do that, we must use a simple notion or tool or whatever you want to call it. I’ll let you guess what that is, one word – Data.”

Answers to questions from Participants

Nasir in response to questions from participants of the , added that to collect reliable and timely data, “You need to position yourself under a specific area of the agricultural value chain; are you a farmer, an Agro business, a buyer, processor or banker? Based on that, you ‘source’ data from specific places”. He further advised them to “document everything, use notebooks, mobile apps, software, etc. don’t leave a thing for granted.”

However, “We must build technologies to support smallholders and foster data collection and usage among them, because they constitute a greater percentage of all farmers. There are solutions, look up Verdant,” he added.

In response to another question, Nasir Yammama explained that “any bit of information on agricultural practice, farming history, activity, occurrence and transaction can be considered agricultural data” and added that mobile phones can be used to collect data from illiterate farmers   “as most people who are illiterate or not savvy still use mobiles to talk to their loved ones.; it can be done. Voice and text technologies is the realm with the next one billion users!”

This Article was originally published on EYE Africa Blog