Digital agriculture should trigger new green revolution for Africa

26Jun 2020
The Guardian
Digital agriculture should trigger new green revolution for Africa

agriculture refers to tools that digitally collect, store, analyse, and share electronic data and/or information along the agricultural value chain. Other definitions also emphasise the role of digital technology in the optimisation of food systems.

​​​​​​​Sometimes known as  smart farming  or  e-agriculture,  digital agriculture includes (but is not limited to) precision agriculture. Unlike precision agriculture, digital agriculture impacts the entire agri-food value chain — before, during, and after on-farm production.On the other hand, digital technologies involved in e-commerce platforms, e-extension services, warehouse receipt systems and block chain-enabled food traceability systems.

Africa must therefore seize the opportunity of the Covid-19 pandemic to deepen the digitalisation of agricultural value chains and transform the sector. Transforming agriculture in Africa through digitalisation in indeed very crucial. Africa should explore digital responses that can be quickly deployed to address the disruptions to food systems, caused by Covid-19 and also examine  the requirements for digital transformation in agriculture on the continent.

Nearly 500 people, representing agri-tech, telecom, government agency implementers, policymakers, farmers and development partners, participated.  

Africa should identify  potential investments for the digital transformation of African agriculture during and after Covid-19, ranging from digital profiling of value chain actors to mobile payments and e-commerce. Necessary policy and regulatory frameworks for inclusiveness, scalability and viability, including for data governance and protection, digital financial products, digital ID systems, e-contracts and e-extension services are equally important too. The bundling of digital services, agri-tech innovation challenges and open systems will help build financially viable supply capacity.

 Efforts need to be catalysed on both the policy and investment fronts for digitalisation to help make agri-food systems more productive, more inclusive and more sustainable in the future. Before the Covid-19 crisis, digital technologies were changing the global economy, and agri-food systems were part of that transformation. With Covid-19, this trend has accelerated.

Like elsewhere, the spread of Covid-19 has disrupted agri-food systems across Africa. Key supply chains have been interrupted, markets closed and movement restricted, resulting in agricultural labour shortages. Farmers are missing planting seasons, while agribusinesses are facing liquidity constraints.

Demand for catering has dwindled and consumer preferences have shifted away from highly perishable foods, like fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, to ones with longer shelf-lives.

We must also use this wave of interest to build digital platforms that facilitate linkages between value chain actors at much-reduced transaction costs.

As the pandemic gradually shifts from an emergency response to recovery and resilience, there is an opportunity to build back better in the agricultural sector and that financial inclusion will be a game-changer in rural communities.

We need to ensure that costs are not a barrier, that small-scale farmers can adopt and apply digital advisory and other knowledge products and that the content is relevant, localizsed and actionable.

Population growth, coupled with the expanding middle class, youth bulge, and changing diets could drive the value of the African food market to $1 trillion by 2030.

The growth of digital, data-driven and tech-enabled solutions can trigger a new green revolution for Africa, addressing some of the challenges and constraints along the entire value chain, from input supply to the consumer end, he noted.

All in all  digitalisation is critical for the agricultural sector due to the potential negative impact of the health crisis on economic recovery and food security.

Emerging digital technologies have the potential to change farming beyond recognition. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has referred to this change as a revolution:  a ‘digital agricultural revolution’ will be the newest shift which could help ensure agriculture meets the needs of the global population into the future.

We need to understand the linkage between digital agriculture solutions and services with big data and analytics, viable business models, and the enabling environment required to be able to fully realise digitalisation for agriculture during recovery and sustainability.

The African Development Bank launched its digital agriculture flagship initiative at the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in August 2019, with the aim of helping to create an enabling environment to unlock digital solutions across Africa.