McKinsey & Company cites increased access to technology by smallholder farmers as one of the disruptive ways to change the world.
In this regard, Africa is making critical steps towards adopt existing and emerging technologies in the farming processes. This is as the continent seeks to guarantee food security for its population, which is estimated to peak at two billion by 2050.
According to the Agrinnovating for Africa: Exploring the African Agri-Tech Startup Ecosystem Report 2018 report by Disrupt Africa, there are at least 82 agri-tech start-ups operating in Africa, half of which have been in operation for less than two years.
Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana account for 60 percent of the active start-ups in the sector, which span across different specialties, including finance, market access and farm management.
Sam Nkusi, the Group Chief Managing Executive of Liquid Telecom, says that these technologies are expected to increase, with smart agriculture remaining the key component of a farming revolution.
“We are seeing trends where entrepreneurs are harvesting data to develop products that the farmer can use,” said Nkusi at the 2018 African Green Revolution Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.
However, Michael Hailu, the director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, says the market remains majorly underexploited, with most of the players targeting the industry remaining cautious.
“It might take time, but after a while when the data is available, big companies might come and invest in farming technology,” said Hailu.
To de-risk the sector, and attract more investment, James Mwangi, the CEO of Kenya’s Equity Bank, asserts that the whole ecosystem needs to be interconnected.
“The flow of funding is dependent on whether the farmer is connected to such institutions as credit reference bureaus, markets and payment systems,” said Mwangi.
“It is only then when we complete digitising the whole system and link together all the players that we shall remove the remoteness associated with farming and make the industry attractive to financiers,” he added.
Mwangi’s sentiments are shared with Gillian Pais, an associate principal, at McKinsey & Company, who adds that a lot more has to be done in order to professionalise farming.
“Acceleration can come from improved infrastructure, a change in food consumption behaviours and changes in regulation and policy, as well as the development of delivery systems, such as financing,” she said.
In addition, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, Rwanda’s Minister of Information Technology and Communications, insists that change cannot be achieved without the involvement of the primary stakeholder – the farmer.
“Technology is not the problem, the problem is to match the technology with the farmer. We need to come up with better ways to incentivise farmers to engage in the digital revolution,” said Rurangirwa.
Likewise, Kedebe Ayele, the country director, in charge of the Digital Green docket says that proper farmer education is necessary for a positive technological shift to be realised in Africa’s farming industry.
“We have to do a cultural transformation, a holistic transformation. Without that, we may end up creating fancy technology that no one will adopt,” said Ayele.