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How digital can accelerate agricultural transformation

AGRF 2020

September, 4, 2019

The marketplace of ag-tech solutions panel discusses the role of digital in accelerating the transformation of African agriculture. While boosting the revenue of smallholders, these initiatives, still in their infancy from one region to another, also set the tone for the next generation of entrepreneurs.

The panel, led by start-up founders offering digital solutions to thousands of small producers, particularly in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, has recognized the impact of a marketplace for agriculture in Africa.  Hillary Miller-Wise is the founder and CEO of Tulaa, a company that provides digital solutions to some 500 Kenyan farmers. For her, a marketplace of ag-tech solutions is the virtual linking of buyers, sellers and suppliers of input services or financial services. In Kenya, Tulaa is working on sweet potatoes where 90% of produce is sold on the informal market. 

“We have strengthened the supply chain to improve productivity, and because of access by producers to technologies and inputs, their average income has increased significantly from $9 to $89. Access to credit helps these producers compete. And 70% of harvest is sold through platform-based information sharing, while we use artificial intelligence and local radios to promote our solutions to farmers, “she explained.

These ongoing innovations aim to reduce costs for the producer with Mastercard Lab and Apollo Agriculture also duplicating the successes.  It must be said that East Africa is experiencing a great leap in this area compared to the West African region. Only Ghana and Nigeria successfully implement this model of solutions for local producers. In West Africa, the appearance of the marketplace is different and does not have the same level of progress, “says Jonathan Barnow, vice-president, strategy initiatives of TechnoServe. Hillary Miller-Wise sees the main barrier for  the sector as the reluctance of investors.  In addition to social impact investors, she distinguishes those who understand the African market and others who apprehend it.

In Eastern Africa, the success of marketplaces is measured by the impact of these solutions on the practice of farmers. For example, Apollo Agriculture, a start-up, launched in 2017 that uses mobile technologies to provide advice to farmers, says that its tech platform has already reached more than 5,000 smallholders.  “We are hoping to reach 25,000 members by the end of this year,” said Ben Njenga, co-founder and operations director of Apollo Agriculture. They can use a smartphone to buy inputs or sell their crops.  Apollo Agriculture uses its platform with a series of digital operations to follow the producer.

 “We are able to say exactly where a customer is and reduce costs, we have a network of uber agents in the field who will determine the size of the farms, and once that is done, we get reliable data. We then train farmers by SMS explaining agricultural processes through audio messages in local languages, and partnerships with seed companies help fund actors, “says Ben Njenga.

 For its part, Master card lab which claims a global network of 25000 banks wants to bet on virtual financial services by involving for example providers for the payment of bills.  “In Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, we are making our technology available to financial institutions to provide farmer loan and development services to bring farmers together in co-ops. We work with over 2000 farmers, connected to buyers and the financiers, “says Daniel Huba, Manager of incubation Lead-Agriculture at MasterCard Lab. In Uganda, MasterCard Lab has relied on the expansion of mobile for its deployment and plans to enter the Egyptian market convinced that companies have a good role to play for the transformation of African agriculture.