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African farmers increase yields and income with their smartphones

25 JUNE 2019 - 11:19 by BEKEZELA PHAKATHI - source: Business Day

More farmers across Africa are set to turn to digital solutions within the next three years, which will boost productivity and, potentially, employment across the value chain, according to a new study.

The study by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Co-operation (CTA) and advisory firm Dalberg Advisors, says that several barriers hindering the adoption of digital solutions in agriculture across the continent — notably, limited access to technology and connectivity — will be overcome.

CTA is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states and the EU working to advance food security, resilience and inclusive economic growth in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific through innovations in sustainable agriculture.

Africa needs to double current levels of agricultural productivity to meet continental demand and stave off food and nutrition insecurity. The continent must achieve these targets while simultaneously adapting to climate change.

The authors of the report state that digital solutions can be a game changer, boosting productivity and employment across the agricultural sector. While the sector currently lacks precise quantitative data or evidence on employment impacts, the authors of the report believe that digital solutions are likely to be a net job creator.

“In fact, it could even be a significant job creator, opening up hundreds of thousands of jobs in agricultural technology, digital solutions support, agricultural processing, and agricultural manufacturing jobs.”

The study includes interviews with more than 120 agribusiness leaders, technology experts, digital solution providers, donors, investors, policymakers and academics across the continent.

Among the digital solutions tracked and analysed in the report were farmer advisory services, which provide weather or planting information via SMS or smartphone applications, and financial services, including loans and insurance for farmers. Other solutions linked farmers with markets for farm inputs and farm produce, or provided supply chain management to improve traceability and last-mile logistics.

Some services used satellite imagery, weather data, powerful big data analytics and machine learning techniques to deliver valuable real-time agricultural insights and forecasts at national and regional levels.

More than a third of participants in the study said they already used at least one form of advanced technology such as drones, field sensors, big data or machine learning, and most respondents said they expected to integrate these types of technologies into their operations in the next three years.

Figures indicated that farmers saw improvements in yields ranging from 23% to 73% and increases of 18% to 37% in incomes from using these solutions. Models that bundled more than one solution together— so-called “super platforms”, which combine digital market linkages, digital finance and digital advisory services — were associated with yet further improved yields of up to 168%.

The authors of the report highlighted that several of today’s barriers — notably, limited access to technology and connectivity — will begin to be overcome.

“In particular, we expect that most farmers will have access to a mobile phone by 2030. Many will also have access to smartphones; already more than 25% of smallholder farmers in countries like Kenya and Senegal report access to smartphones; these numbers are projected to grow quickly. The cost of data will continue to fall and growing, thriving mobile money ecosystems around the continent will serve as a strong foundation upon which to build platforms for digital transactions.”

They added: “Given that Africa will achieve near universal phone access in the coming years, current growth trends suggest that 100-million smallholder farmers could be registered for digital services within three years and as many as 200-million smallholders will sign on by 2030.”

Michael Hailu, director of CTA said: “Digitalisation can be a gamechanger in modernising and transforming Africa’s agriculture, attracting young people to farming and allowing farmers to optimise production while also making them more resilient to climate change.”


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