Digital solutions could be key to end hunger in Africa: Report

Digitalisation for agriculture can increase agricultural output, raise employment opportunities
Digital solutions could be key to end hunger in Africa: Report

Strategic use of digital technologies can be a game changer in accelerating sustainable agricultural transformation in Africa as well as ending hunger in the continent, according to a new report.

Over the last 10 years, there has been a significant growth in digitalisation for agriculture (D4Ag), according to the report by the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and European Union (EU). It is at the forefront of the fight against poverty and for sustainable food security in the region.

D4Ag is the use of digital technologies, innovations and data to transform business models and practices across the agricultural value chain. It includes solutions like agronomic advice and information delivered via short message services (SMS) and interactive voice response (IVR) to smartphone applications that link farmers to multimedia advisory content, farm inputs, and buyers.

These solutions offer farmers access to tailored information and insights that help them optimise their production, gain access to appropriate products and services, and explore new linkages with markets.

Rise in digital solutions market 

The solutions have been skyrocketing in the continent. As of February 2019, there were 390 distinct, active D4Ag solutions across the continent covering: advisory services, market linkages, financial access, supply chain management, and macro agricultural intelligence.  

While 60 per cent of these were launched in last three years, 20 per cent were launched in 2018. 

At least 33 million smallholder farmers have registered for these solutions. The sector has been growing at about 44 per cent per annum over the last three years in terms of the number of farmers reached (ie, registered for solutions), the report showed.

Regional breakdown of D4Ag solutions 

Despite this growth, progress towards D4Ag has been somewhat slow to serve small farm holders who produce 80 per cent of Africa’s agricultural output. Only 15-30 per cent of the registered farmers use the solutions.

The continent also lacks targeted investments to develop D4Ag tools ie, machine learning, big data analytics, Internet of Things, states the report.

Even though a handful of players are leading the way, the report finds positive impact of D4Ag on the agricultural yield and income metrics.  It has found yield to improve in the range of 50–300 per cent and income in the range of 20–100 per cent.

End hunger, provide jobs 

The digital solutions can help in making agriculture more climate resilient and are able to eliminate hunger in the African countries.

“Technologies can help stimulate innovation for sustainable agri-food systems and produce better and safer food while preserving natural resources and biodiversity,” said Leonard Mizzi, head of unit at the European Commission, directorate-general for International Cooperation and Development.

Under Malabo Declaration on Africa’s agricultural transformation and food security, 47 countries of the African Union had committed to develop food-secure and hunger-free nations by 2025. However, only 20 are on track to meet their commitments.

Besides, the continent’s progress towards the United Nations-mandated Sustainable Development Goals to achieve zero hunger, food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture is also very poor, according to the 2019 Africa SDG Index, released early this month.

“Data is the new oil, which may be true in some parts of the world. But in Africa, we must work hard to ensure that data is the cleaner fuel for a more sustainable transformation, keeping the continent on track to meet its food and nutrition demands in this century and beyond,” added Michael Hailu, director of CTA.

Besides, D4Ag will also open up hundreds of thousands of jobs in agricultural technology. It is also expected to help increase the share of smallholders in tight value chains and the quality of smallholder jobs.  

The way forward

The sector can likely generate an estimated revenue of €2.3-5.3 billion in 2019.

Currently, with approximately 6 per cent penetration in the total addressable market, the revenue is an estimated €127 million.

Given that Africa is set to achieve near universal phone access in the coming years, current growth trends suggest that 100 million smallholder farmers could be registered for D4Ag services within three years and as many as 200 million smallholders will sign on by 2030, the report said.

With this, the focus needs to be on encouraging and building capacities of the farmers in using these technologies, the report said.

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