ICT Innovation Is Key to Unlocking Nigeria’s Demographic Dividend

A recent Dalberg report highlights technology-enabled innovations that have the potential to unleash Nigeria’s demographic dividend and help millions of people escape poverty.

Thirty eight percent of Nigeria’s population is between the ages of 15 and 35. Since Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa, this means that the country has 64 million working-age people – or the equivalent of the population of both Malawi and South Africa combined. Economists call a large working-age population a “demographic dividend” because a big proportion of the country’s citizens is able to contribute to the economy.

Unfortunately, favorable demographics do not necessarily translate into more rapid economic development. A young population also puts pressure on many social systems – the food system must expand to feed a growing population, and the education system must be capable of preparing billions of minds for a rapidly shifting job market. The Dalberg report sees great potential in Nigeria’s tele-communications sector to improve its competitiveness in these two key areas.

Technology and innovation are driving forces behind economic growth around the world, and Nigeria is no different. In 2012, 30 percent of Nigeria’s GDP growth was attributed to information and communications technology (ICT). In a country were nearly 60 percent of the population lives on less than one dollar per day, two-thirds of the total population has an active mobile phone subscription.

Dalberg identified a number of ICT solutions that are focused on providing teachers with tools that enable them to provide quality education to an increasing number of students. EduTech is designed to deliver educational material to university students through customized tablets. English Teacher, an initiative of Nokia and UNESCO, provides pedagogical advice to thousands of Nigerian teachers through daily messages. Bridge International Academies is a chain of low-cost primary schools that provides educators not just with a well-designed curriculum and educational materials, but also administrative systems to minimize overhead and help track educational outcomes.

Agriculture is also an important sector of the Nigerian economy. Seventy percent of Nigerians are employed in agriculture and the sector accounts for 42 percent of the country’s economic output. However, Nigerian farm yields are far below the global average. According to Dalberg, “Only four of Nigeria’s 29 most cultivated crops by area harvested (cashew nuts, yams, melon seed, and cassava) are in the top quartile of global yields.”

ICT has the potential to improve the enabling environment for Nigeria’s farmers in everything from improving market access to educating farmers about agricultural best practices. Dalberg highlights three such innovations. The Nigerian Ministry of agriculture has developed an e-wallet to make agricultural subsidies more efficient and transparent. MoBiashara improves access to inputs, such as fertilizer, by creating a market for farmers to compare prices and check local inventories via text-message. iCow, an innovation out of Kenya, provides farmers advice on raising cows and chickens throughout the lifecycle of their animals.

Innovative use of ICT is already having a positive impact on Nigeria’s agriculture and education sector. These examples are just a few of the many innovations that are driving growth. Providing the foundation for these technologies – through improved cellular networks and electrical grids – will be the key to unlocking Nigeria’s demographic potential.

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