With one-quarter of the world’s arable land, Africa is expected to play a leading role in ensuring the global population – expected to grow to 9 billion by 2050 – has access to a secure source of food. This has led the World Bank to predict that Africa’s agricultural sector will grow to $1-trillion by 2030.
However, despite 65% of the continent’s labour force being engaged in agriculture, and 32% of the continent’s GDP stemming from this sector, Africa only contributes 10% of global agricultural output. Key factors contributing to this is a lack of access to markets and financing, as well as productivity levels that are well below developed world standards.
For Africa’s agricultural sector to reach its potential and meet the food needs of a growing global population, improvements in four key areas need to be achieved, namely:
- Increased productivity, including access to financing and education, integration of end-to-end processes to track farm-to-fork, and affordable access to machinery;
- Improved food quality and safety through track-and-trace of the origin of products at every step of the logistics chain, as well as reducing the use of pesticides;
- Better international go-to-market by professionalising the marketing of African agricultural products, and enabling access to regional and global markets for smallholder farmers, who constitute the majority of Africa’s agricultural sector; and
- Improved government steering, aimed at guiding production and export, and prioritising securing food and nutrition needs of local populations.
The challenge of productivity
Africa’s agri sector consists mostly of a large number of subsistence farmers, who generally sell or trade their produce locally. Their output is often limited by their access to equipment and information: only 5% of the cultivated land on the continent makes use of irrigation, compared to 38% in Asia, while the spare use of fertiliser – as little as 7.4kg per hectare in Ghana compared to 100kg in South Asia – contributes to further underperformance. Many have no access to farming machines to automate some of the more time-consuming and physically demanding work.
There is also a prevailing disconnect between smallholder farmer production and real-time market needs, which hampers government efforts to steer the industry strategically to serve local economic and food security needs. One free trade agreement in the east of the continent was suspended after one of the governments involved identified that the food being exported was much-needed locally.
On the topic of exports: even Africa’s leading agricultural producers have limited access to global markets. Egypt and Nigeria may produce one-third of the continent’s agricultural output, but due to a lack of monitoring and unclear origin, the produce from these two agricultural powerhouses often fail to inspire confidence in global buyers, leaving smallholder farmers with only local market access to sell their goods.
This has created an urgent need to develop a holistic technology-led approach to addressing productivity and quality concerns across the entire agri value chain. Encouragingly, a number of powerful new technologies are emerging to digitise Africa’s agricultural sector and bring a slew of new advances in productivity and quality.
Digitising Africa’s agri-industry
Digital farming combines several key technologies to make farming more efficient and sustainable, and to create opportunities for rural farmers to gain access to the global marketplace.
The megatrend of hyperconnectivity, driven by IoT and mobile phones, is connecting every market participant and machine, from farmers and seed producers to equipment manufacturers, commodity markets, governments and other stakeholders. Smallholder farmers in Africa are enjoying the benefits of hyperconnectivity through mobile applications that enable farmers to get SMS notification of weather information, market prices, and best practice.
Connected sensors for crops and livestock are generating huge amounts of agricultural data that is processed by precision agriculture algorithms to optimise production activities such as irrigation, fertiliser use, and crop protection. This enables farmers to increase yields and maintain global quality standards while saving input resources, minimising any negative effects on the environment.
Improving access through innovation
By increasing transparency, digital agriculture also enables smallholder farmers to have end-to-end track-and-trace for certification requirements to fully integrate them into the supply chain. The Rural Sourcing Management solution developed by SAP in partnership with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and other private sector partners, is integrating smallholder farmers into regional and global value chains.
It not only connects them to global markets, but a built-in e-learning component helps to deliver critical information and best practice to enhance the quality of their produce. By tracing produce from farm to fork, the Rural Sourcing Management solution also enables smallholder farmers to sell produce at market related prices, increasing their revenue and opening up new markets in the process.
A new digital agriculture think-tank is also leveraging SAP’s start-up initiatives on the continent – such as the MakeIT initiative in Nigeria conducted in partnership with GIZ – to develop new solutions for Africa’s agri-industry. The aim is to find niche solutions such as Hello Tractor, which functions as a sort of Uber for tractors by provisioning on-demand tractor services to smallholder farmers, or Ghana’s AgroCenta, a fair-trade initiative aimed at improving access to markets among the region’s smallholder farmers.
By equipping Africa’s smallholder farmers with productivity and quality -boosting technology tools, and ensuring they have access to market opportunities beyond their immediate environment, the continent’s agricultural sector can start delivering on its potential to feed the world. As the global population expands and food demand increases, Africa’s smallholder farmers are set to become key players in the global economy of the future.
Africa gets broadband boost
ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.
Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.
Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.
ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.
At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”
Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”
ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.
Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.
Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.
AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.
The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.
‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”
The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.
‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.
The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”