Cotton cropping turns profitable with technology
Nigeria used to be Africa's leading cotton producer, and cotton was one of its major cash crops up until the 1990s. Low yields and high production costs have led to many cotton farmers shifting from cotton to more profitable crops. Weak extension services, age-old farming techniques, lack of modern agricultural technology and knowledge, and poor quality seeds have impacted productivity. Pest infestations, periods of political and social unrest, and climate change also added to reduced yields and contributed to the stress faced by the cotton industry in Nigeria.
The National Cotton Association of Nigeria (NACOTAN) and Cropin have partnered on a project that aims to increase agricultural productivity and incomes in the cotton cultivation sector in Nigeria. The project aims to digitize farms, farmer data, and agricultural activities and offer timely agronomy and weather advisories to smallholder farmers in real-time. It has impacted 120,000 smallholder farmers.
The "WHY'S" that turned cotton unprofitable
The cotton crop production cycle in Nigeria is not well structured. Poor extension services meant that farmers did not have access to fertilizers and pesticides when needed. Seeds did not reach farmers in time for planting and were of poor quality. Farmers lacked the knowledge and training in agricultural best practices in cotton. Marketing difficulties resulted in farmers having to wait long for payment for their crops. Breaking even with a crop, which was costly in terms of labor and inputs and not backed by technology, organized marketing or training was difficult, and they soon shifted to other crops. The NACOTAN-Cropin project addressed many of these shortcomings and helped make cotton farming profitable in Nigeria.
Cotton farms regain lost ground
NACOTAN is an umbrella Government Organization that brings together citizens, corporate bodies, or organizations involved in the production, marketing, processing, or export of cotton and textile manufacturing organizations in Nigeria.
The NACOTAN-Cropin project was initiated to address the absence of a digital database for the well-defined planning and management of cotton farming operations in Nigeria. It tackled the challenges resulting from lack of access to weather and climate change advisories and improved cotton productivity and quality with agronomic interventions and training. The Cropin intervention started with the piloting and scaling of digital solutions. The project efficiently adapted to the local context and provided advisories. After this, capacity building, training, and knowledge management were achieved.
Test programs first checked the viability of the pilot for scaling and localization. The application was later adapted to the local context with multilingual support for 29+ global languages and localized for multi-country operations. Farm, farmer, and agricultural land data was digitized. Geo-tagging of plots helped to precisely pinpoint and monitor land and crops and data collection. Digitization enabled effective planning and monitoring of input distribution. It resulted in record seed, fertilizer, and pesticide bag distribution and guaranteed minimum wastage of resources. The activity and output of field agents could also be tracked efficiently.
Farmers could lose up to 60 percent of cotton yield if pests were uncontrolled. Thrips, jassids, and aphids suck sap from tender new cotton plants and stunt their growth. While bollworms attack cotton plants at various stages along their lifecycle and destroy them. Geospatial imagery and analytics provided real-time images and data on crop health and aided in predicting diseases or pest infestation. Intuitive, easy-to-use, SISENSE-powered dashboards provided pest and disease alerts and other value-added communication in real-time. The capture and analysis of harvest data helped develop forecast methodologies for precise yield prediction.
The field team provided a scientifically designed Package of Practices and farmer advisory and training on best practices, which improved farmers' knowledge on increasing yields with modern cultivation methods. This was further enhanced with weather-based advisories promoting climate-smart agriculture. Over 180 field officers were trained to update their activities on the app and better assist farmers through satellite and weather input-based crop advisories. Knowledge management ensured that data was categorized and organized logically for quick access, analysis, sharing, and updating. The user manual and regular product feature update alerts helped field officers use the app efficiently and increased engagement and communication with farmers.
The future looks bright
Most cotton farmers in Nigeria are typically smallholder farmers who cannot afford expensive technology and costly inputs. The NACOTAN-Cropin project created a unified digital network that provides access to information about precision farming technologies. The project launched in 2020 saw the digitization of 120,000+ smallholder cotton farmer profiles and farm data. It helped in developing digital extension services that tracked input distribution.
The application mapped and monitored crops and improved input efficiency. The challenges that farmers faced with no access to agronomy, weather, and climate change advisories were remedied with timely updates from the platform. Cotton quality improved with the training in best practices and effective and efficient agricultural interventions. As a result, their harvest fetched better prices. The project has increased the area under cotton cultivation, boosted production, and supported smallholder farmers in making farming sustainable and profitable. As cotton cultivation thrives, the ongoing project has the potential to create employment opportunities further down the value chain by reviving the textile industry.