Nasir Yammama, 24, is a Nigerian tech wiz based in the United Kingdom. The Katsina State indigene has won many competitions across the globe. His agronomy mobile app is also turning heads. Apart from programming, graphic design and animation, he is into Creative Technology, an emerging field. Weekly Trust interviewed him on a recent controversy, the app he designed for farmers and his hopes for Nigeria, among others. Herewith, are excerpts:
You recently caused a stir when you reportedly 'ditched' Nigeria, choosing instead to represent the UK at an upcoming global tech competition. Can you tell us what's really going on?
I spoke about the competition to a journalist from the BBC who knew I was participating. The competition, which requires students to represent a nation, does not necessitate representing your nation of origin. Besides, there is already a team representing Nigeria as many students have done for several years since the inception of the competition. There are also many other Nigerians coming to the competition from various countries across the globe, not only the UK, so I don't really understand what the fuss is about. Some blogs have blown the issue way out of proportion, forgetting that in the same interview I expressed that coming back home is a sort of responsibility for every patriotic Nigerian in the Diaspora.
I'm currently not participating in the competition, so I'm not representing any country at all. Competitions tend to distract. I will concentrate on my academic work and the further development of Verdant and other projects which I hope will be up-and-running in Nigeria soon.
One of your inventions, the app for farmers, was quite the hit. Why did you decide to work on one for that sector in particular?
My father was a farmer, and many of my brothers and sisters are active farmers, so you could say I grew up into Agriculture. I'm also aware of the global food and environmental crises that currently plague us right now. I have firm conviction that Agriculture can solve this and many other of humanity's plights and I am an advocate for using tech to empower agriculture and its practitioners.
Please explain how the farmers' app works...
Basically the app is built to be a sort of all-round companion for farmers. For instance, based on the farmer's location, the app provides information about soil type, weather and climate as well as a custom seed guides tailored to the farmer's specific geography. This information is presented in a manner that will enable decision-making. So the farmer may be able to deduce that it may be a bad year for a particular crop if it is dependent on a particular degree of rainfall which may not occur in the year for instance. After planting, the app offers weed management recommendation by location and crop type as well as guidance on pesticides, fertilizers and directions of their application all the way to the maturity and harvest of the crop. The app then offers a market feature which provides automatic market prices and offers from buyers and agro-industries based on farmer's crop and location, as well as providing information and access to available subsidized farm input, credit and market intelligence.
Basically with this app, I'm taking advantage of information in many different places, bringing it one convenient spot for the farmer and presenting it in a functional and useable way. I'm also including the farmers' social lives and events such as market days, farming festivals and other things in order to achieve maximum effect. There is also access for low-end mobile phones through text messaging.
Do you have any plans of becoming a farmer?
Indeed, I've always had. My earliest memory of ambition since childhood was to someday become a farmer. I remember in Secondary school, a friend and I had elaborate plans for not only large-scale mechanized farming but the factories to put our produce. We still hope to realise this one day.
WT: During the media blitz that followed your win at British Council's Enterprise Challenge competition, you were seen in the company of Virgin CEO Sir Richard Branson. How was your meeting with him?
Meeting Sir Richard Branson was a remarkable experience for me. He was full of wisdom and humility. I totally enjoyed and will always value meeting him as he gracefully answered every question I had for him, along with priceless advice on business and the rocky road to success.
How do you feel about the Nigerian government's approach to science/technology education?
I feel there is much work needed despite the commendable reforms and policies in place. Nigeria needs to address the rampant mediocrity that characterizes science and technology education in the country. The field is a vibrant one that requires creativity and innovation to be enticed, nurtured and celebrated as opposed to sticking to age-old curriculums, courses and learning systems.
The state of information technology and computing-based education in Nigeria is particularly appalling. Apart from cases of a few outstanding individual feats from select students and tutors, the scene is worrying. There is no place for the intellectually lax and the non-creative mind in tech, which is all our universities, polytechnics and colleges seem to produce. With new universities, you'd think better systems would come up but all that seem to change is the medium and infrastructure and not content and methodology. There abounds the latest projectors, boards and computers but not the latest courses or creativity-nurturing ways of teaching.
I believe a strategy must be put in place that will change this. For instance, imagine if the Nigerian education system hatched a plan to become the major pool of data scientists in the world. The field of Data Science only recently began and there are hardly a handful of data scientists in the whole world right now. The world is inching towards a data-driven future by the day. Why can't we, instead of having yet another department full of archaic Computer Science modules, have one that concentrates on Big Data and Analytics? Another interesting field is Financial Technologies that brought the world remarkable technologies like the crypto-currency 'Bitcoin' which is tipped to be the global currency of the future. Why can't one of the Nigerian states decide to have hundreds of its students on a scholarship to study that in order to be ready for the not-so-distant crypto-currency future?
There's also physical computing; Nigerians are gifted. Why then can't we have a single Nigerian university that provides a 'maker-heaven' for students to make and unmake things as their counterparts do in other countries? How about Digital Media? What if a university or college offers all it takes to provide media expertise in 3D, modern filmmaking, animation and other digital media to service the multi-billion-naira movie industries in the nation?
I believe addressing such challenges will cause such a huge explosion of buried skills and talent ready for local and global spotlight in the present and future, that Nigeria can only regret not having done things like that since.
Now that you're UK-based, how often do you visit Nigeria?
Very often. My entire family is Nigeria.
Who would you say is your biggest inspiration and why?
My family and friends, because they believe I can achieve all that I set out for.