How digital technologies can boost African agriculture

Tomatoes grown in a green house have a better yield. Access to information and technology are key in increasing productivity.

Taking advantage of technology to increase access to information, could help farmers boost their incomes by up to 60 per cent and create much needed employment opportunities for youth in the agriculture sector.

Although smallholders produce around 70 per cent of Africa’s food supplies, only 60 per cent of Africans have internet connections. This limits their access to key information and knowledge such as weather forecasts, market data and farming advice.

Without such information, African smallholders are likely to remain vulnerable to more frequent extreme weather events, impacting food security and livelihoods.

Speaking at the Global forum for Food and Agriculture, which was  attended by agriculture ministers, Mr Hailu , Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), said that private sector and policymakers needed to do more to help improve connectivity among African farmers, to support greater mechanization and precision agriculture.

He also said that although African leaders had committed themselves, to creating new jobs for at least 30 per cent of the youth in agricultural value chains by 2025, most young people had little or no interest in agriculture.

“With the average age of farmers in Africa still at 55-60 years old, digitalization can make farming more attractive for young people and provide a potentially profitable entry point for them, with the added benefits of boosting productivity, income, increased food and nutrition security.”

CTA, an EU-funded institution, works across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, to support the roll-out of new services and innovations using cutting edge technology.

This has included providing farmers with instant weather updates via SMS, or supporting them with satellite-gathered data and analysis to help guide decisions on fertilizer or pesticide use.

Mr Hailu highlighted the opportunities to transform agriculture further, with blockchain technology to improve transparency and efficiency, and artificial intelligence to automate information services.

“Digitalization affords young entrepreneurs the opportunity to create disruptive business models leapfrogging traditional stages of development,” He added.

Mr Hailu called for the mobilization of young African innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to capitalize on digitalization’s potential. He  also called for governments and private sector to step up to the challenge, and help equip smallholders with the latest tools to be more productive and resilient.

Over the last three years, CTA’s Pitch AgriHack challenge has reached more than 800 young e-agriculture start-ups throughout the Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific, providing training, mentoring and business development skills and seed funding. Several of the supported start-ups have grown into successful businesses serving close to one million smallholder producers.

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