October 18, 2018

How New Technology Could Revolutionize Africa’s Agricultural Sector

Africa Farming TechnologyProviding jobs to more than 40% of the world’s population, agriculture is the world’s single largest employer. Additionally, it is the main source of income for poor, rural population, which happens to be most of Africa. While agriculture in Africa is, by and large, a successful sector, it has room for improvement, improvement which new technology can help enable. Here is how technology could revolutionize Africa’s agricultural sector!

Africa is a developing economy and agriculture has a crucial role to play in many of its development goals. In Africa, agriculture is a major employer, with farming making up about 60% of the entire workforce in Sub-Saharan Africa. Even higher is agriculture’s share of jobs across the food system. In countries such as Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia, agriculture is expected to add more than all other sectors making up the economy between 2010 and 2025.

The Role of Agriculture in Uplifting the Economy of Sub-Saharan Africa

The region with the youngest and fastest growing population, Sub-Saharan Africa will see its population double by the year 2050. With this increase in the region’s population, the share of Sub-Saharan Africa in the world’s population would rise to 23%, which is almost two times the region’s 12% share in 2015.

Not only is Sub-Saharan Africa increasing in population, it is also increasing in its labor force, which is expanding at a rate of three percent per year. As a result, an additional three hundred and seventy-five million people are expected to become part of the region’s workforce by 2035. Provided these people are engaged in productive employment, this addition of millions of jobs to the Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy will allow the young people to transform the regions’ economy.

However, things seem to be going in the opposite direction. Even If we paint the most optimistic picture of the job market, only a quarter of the new people entering the region’s workforce will find wage employment that affects the economy. Agriculture has a role to play here as it will need to absorb a substantial share of this new labor workforce and provide the workers with remuneration for their work or else the region will have to face not only direct economic challenges, but also social and political challenges that could have a bearing on the region’s economy.

Why Africa’s Agriculture Matters and How Technology Can Help Revolutionize It

According to UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, world population will grow to 9.1% by 2050, which means that global food production will need to grow by 70% to feed all of the people in the world. Africa’s population is projected to be 2 billion by 2050 and to avoid continued mass hunger in the region, farm productivity will have to increase and produce at a faster rate than now.

Today, Africa’ agriculture sector is faced with many challenges. Not only is the population growing faster than ever, the region’s is also threatened by low farm productivity arising from weather changes, and rural-urban migration that is depriving the farming sector of youth. Since the agriculture sector employs 60% of the continent’s workforce and accounts for 30% of its economy, governments in Africa and other stakeholders in Africa’ agriculture cannot turn a blind eye to the challenges facing the sector.

In the past, governments in Africa used policy changes to improve farm productivity. However, these changes improve yields of farmers only marginally. Not many governments in the region realize this but most of the problems for farmers in Africa stem from the continue used of traditional processes that rely heavily on tools like cutlasses and hoes and have been the same for centuries.

The need of the hour is for Africa’s agriculture sector, which includes the farmers, is to bring technology into their processes. Delaying the use of technology will run the region’s agricultural sector into financial issues. A major reason why farmers in Africa are hesitant to use foreign-made farm technologies is that these technologies are cumbersome for those who control the farmlands. Additionally, smaller farms cannot acquire such expensive tools because less than 1% of commercial lending is used in agriculture.

The good news is that this is changing. Today, more and more entrepreneurs in Africa are showing an interest in how farmers in the region work and how they can help these farmers to improve their yields. The increased affordability and accessibility of computing systems, cloud computing, open-source software, connectivity, and other digital tools has made entry into farming technology easier. This has allowed entrepreneurs to deliver technology solutions to African farmers at a cost they can afford.

Today soil sensors, weather forecasts, and aerial images from drones or satellites are allowing farmers and other stakeholders to manger crop growth in real-time. Also, automated systems provide early warnings in case of deviations from normal growth or other factors.

A startup based in Nigeria provides precision farming technology that measures and analyzes soil data like nutrients, temperature and vegetative health. This allows farmers to use the right fertilizer, which help them to irrigate their farms optimally. The outcome of this is improved farm productivity and a less input waste because of analytics used to facilitate data-driven practices for African farmers.

In addition to precision farming, farmers are also benefiting from technology enabled financial solutions designed specifically for them. One such solution connects unbanked farmers to get credit, while allowing the financial institutions to increase agricultural loan portfolios cost-effectively. Another financial solution allows farmers to earn more by providing them pricing data to remove price variability between farmers and buyers.

Other tech-startups in Africa’s farming sector are deploying mobile and web technologies that provide farmers with weather forecasts, farming advice, financial tips, and market information who traditionally do not have access to such data due to a lack of literacy and/or connectivity.

by Bobby J Davidson

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