Revolutionising agriculture in Africa via digital technology

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, some African leaders, agriculture ministers and delegates, recently converged on Accra, Ghana, to chart a new course for agriculture in Africa.

The convergence was under the aegis of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF) 2019, with the theme, “Grow Digital: Leveraging Digital Transformation to Drive Sustainable Food Systems in Africa.”

The AGRF is a platform for African and global leaders from both the public and private sectors to advance policies, programmes and investments, as well as harnessing agriculture, to ensure food security, increased income and promote economic development in the continent.

Osinbajo and the other leaders at the forum shared their experiences in capturing the gains of the digital era to improve food systems.

The discourse captured how to increase adaptation, and drive innovation to achieve the goals laid out in the Malabo Declaration of the African Union (2014) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015 for the year 2030.

Osinbajo, one of the discussants at the panel’s session, said that digital technology and its application would change the face of agriculture in Africa.

Osinbajo participated in the panel alongside host President, Nana Akufo-Addo,  Edouard Ngirente, the Prime Minister of Rwanda, and  AU Commissioner for Agriculture, Josefa Sacko.

The panel was moderated by former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

Osinbajo said that there were many companies that were interested in agriculture as a lot of them had already keyed into the agriculture space.

According to him, one of the big advantages of technology is collaboration, which is the major future of digital technology.

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“What we found is that there is far more collaboration than before, and there is far more transparency; you can see practically everything and anyone who is connected one way or the other, and people learn faster because of a lot of collaboration.

“People online can find out what this company is doing; some companies are linking investors to farmers and it is so easy to find out what they are doing by simply going to their website.

“Some of the Fintech companies are also in that space, helping to make payments; helping to do transactions and a lot of them are doing well just by building the space.

“The way it is going; frankly, I can’t see how it will not completely revolutionalise agriculture, because practically everywhere that digital technology has touched; is completely revolutionalised.

“And I don’t think we have a choice; what we are going to see is that digital technology will change the face of agriculture in Africa.’’

The vice president said digital technology was getting easier to manage, especially with mobile payments and mobile platforms.

He said that in Nigeria, there was huge mobile internet participation, as the country ranked high in terms of using mobile phones, for the very educated and the uneducated.

Osinbajo said the Nigerian government did a lot of cash transfer payments and payments to the most vulnerable using mobile phones.

“So, I think it is actually getting easier; one of the advantages of digital technology is that if you are a digital native as they call them, you are able to learn faster.

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“We are looking at the application of digital technology not just in agriculture, but in our society and economy as a whole,’’ he said.

He said that Nigeria was modernising farming through the application of digital agriculture.

On his part, Akufo-Addo said that Ghana had modernised its agriculture significantly in recent years.

“We are looking at how to take advantage of the markets of the world for our agriculture.

“How to penetrate the markets of the world.’’

Akufo-Addo said that the application of digital technology in agriculture would engender rapid economic growth, job creation and overall improvement in welfare of Africans.

He said that Africa, must, as a matter of urgency, provide adequate infrastructure for storage, mechanisation, proper storage and commercialisation.

The Ghanaian president said that Africa could not excel if did not harness its immense potential.

He expressed optimism that the digital revolution would deliver results in agriculture as Ghana recorded bumper harvest in 2018 and exported food to its neighbours.

“But we believe we can do more.

“The 21st century provides us with an enormous opportunity to harness the benefits of the digital revolution to develop our nation’s agriculture.

“Our vision is to embrace fully digitalisation to speed up economic development.

“That’s why the theme of AGRF 2019, Grow Digital, is appropriate and excites me so much,” he said.

Ngirente, in his submission, identified scarcity of fertilizer, post-harvest losses among others as challenges confronting agriculture.

He said that digitalisation was part of agriculture reforms in Rwanda.

“Today, everyone who wants to invest in agriculture has internet.

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“We have invested heavily in managing climate and we are involving the youths in agriculture and making the sector profitable,’’ he said.

Sacko, on her part, commended the East African countries for doing very well in digital agriculture and called on other countries to strive more in that regard.

Earlier, Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), in an address, said the 2019 forum was brought to Ghana in honour of the late Kofi Annan, the founder of AGRA and architect of AGRF.

She said that the focus of the forum was on how Africa could use digital technology to leapfrog the future.

Sharing similar sentiments, Dr Strive Masiyiwa, outgoing Chairman of AGRF Partners Group, said that 25 years ago, 70 per cent of Africans never heard a telephone ringing.

“Today, more than 70 per cent of our people own a telephone. It was the beginning of our digital revolution.”

He explained that he began to think of seeds in the same way he thinks of telephones.

“When we started, only three sub-Saharan African countries were exporting hybrid seeds, a total of 2,000 metric tonnes.

“So, we began to invest money to develop seeds; it was the low-hanging fruit for us, and it was like telephones.

“And today, I can report, we have over 110 companies producing seeds and 110,000 metric tonnes a year,” he said.

The event attracted no fewer than 27 ministers of food and agriculture and 2,500 delegates.(NANFeatures)

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