Advocacy for an ecosystem conducive to the digitalization of agriculture
September 3, 2019
Africa is experiencing a rapid penetration of the mobile and the internet. As in the financial sector, technologies can serve as a catalyst for the digitization of agriculture. This process, however, requires a favorable political and institutional ecosystem.
“The digital industry is the new mining industry for agriculture innovation, a complex environment and an opportunity to improve the potential of African agriculture. The question of developing technological applications for the agricultural sector is a challenge,” said Dr. Stefan Schmitz, deputy director general of department of food, rural development and natural resources of the federal ministry of economic cooperation and development.
In most African countries, the regulatory infrastructure for developers of digital solutions for agriculture remains to be built. But in Kenya, which has 90% mobile penetration rate compared to only 10% internet access, access to agricultural technologies is spreading. There are factors that allow the development of ICT in Kenya. Investment with Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) has enabled broadband connectivity as optical fiber that connects schools to universities. In agriculture, the available applications have improved farmers’ incomes, says researcher Dr Lawrence Rose, researcher at Kenya Agricultural and Livestock research organization (KARLO).
In Nigeria, the continent’s largest economy, the incoherence of governance policies for communications infrastructure has resulted in an overlap between federal decrees and local government practices, Philip Dayo of Nigeria’s Agricultural Research Council says. However, the 2003 law establishing the Nigerian Telecoms Commission, a public body responsible for licensing, was one of the main factors that enabled the country to move 74 million mobile subscribers in 2000 to 160 million in 2018. Access to the internet remains shy growing only
6% to 26% over the same period. According to Philip Dayo, the introduction of technologies in agriculture has improved productivity and ultimately farmers’ incomes from 800,000 to 1.4 million Naira.
“We need to use young people as the engine of the digitization of agriculture, the quality of applications remains crucial if we want to help farmers. In Rwanda, the implementation of the E-wallet platform for transactions has registered more than 200,000 in two months. We need collaboration to put in place the right regulations, “insists Gerardine Mukeshimana, Rwandan Minister of Agriculture.
The debate finally focused on data protection. On this point the discussions with the panelists highlighted the role of governments in the implementation of policies. Mukeshimana believes that all information should be protected. “We are in the age of open access data – it’s up to us to see what data needs to be protected or not,” she says.
“Today the banks have taken the lead on policies regarding the use of digital applications to improve services. Why is this a problem for agriculture? For me, it’s a matter of time to reach the competitiveness, “argues Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa.