Leveraging digitalization for agricultural transformation: opening ceremony sets the stage for AGRF 2019

AGRF 2020

September 3 2019

By using digitalization to leapfrog traditional development pathways, “we can make the decade to 2030 the last mile of delivering Africa’s green revolution”.

With these words, Dr Agnes Kalibata, President AGRA and AGRF Secretariat, welcomed delegates to AGRF 2019 at the AICC in Accra, Ghana, kick-starting a week of discussions aimed at accelerating insight, action and investment in digitalization as a driver for agricultural transformation in Africa.

AGRF’s return to Ghana is poignant, as Dr Kalibata acknowledged. Not only does Ghana have an advanced agricultural and digital strategy, but the Forum’s roots are intricately linked to the country. Indeed, the late Kofi Annan, a Ghanaian, helped to shape AGRF and make it the premier platform for leaders from Africa and around the world to advance the continental agenda.

In her welcoming remarks, Dr Kalibata outlined the opportunities AGRF 2019 presents to consider how we can leverage digitization to take the African SME to a new level, thereby helping to drive agricultural transformation. Tapping into the potential of the private sector will be key, she explained, while discussions on how climate change is impacting agriculture will also be central to the Forum’s agenda. And finally, efforts to engage heads of state on how we achieve food security in Africa, and the role digital technology plays in unlocking the sector’s potential, will be critical, she said. 

Working in partnership will be key to success, concluded Dr Kalibata: “We want to bring to light that by working as partners we can achieve our goals sooner rather than later. If we invest properly here, the opportunities are here. We can invest in Africa to ensure Africans have jobs and that Africa prospers”.

Echoing Dr Kalibata’s remarks, Hon. Josefa Sacko, Commissioner, Department for Agriculture and Rural Economy, African Union Commission, set out the clear advantage of transforming agriculture in an age of digitalization. Conditions which other continents have not enjoyed in the past.

By harnessing digital opportunities along the value chain, she explained, farmers can improve productivity while enhancing the image of agriculture in the eyes of the young. And this last point is critical: “Above all, we need to make agriculture sexy and attractive”, and digitalization will be fundamental to these efforts.

But what is the opportunity across Africa? According to Hon. Josefa Sacko, the continent is well suited to digitalization. With a wide and dispersed food sector, digitalization can help to connect farmers and upstream suppliers of seed, machinery and advisory services. It can also help to address resources inefficiencies through the use of accurate data and precision farming – at the same time levelling the playing field for marginalized groups, especially women.

To provide a more detailed picture of Africa’s digital potential, Mr. Michael Hailu, Director, CTA, and Mr. Michael Tsan, Partner, Dalberg, took to the stage to present the key findings from The Digitalization of African Agriculture Report, 2018/19. The report forms the key knowledge product at the event, driving discourse around the broad question of how we leverage digital transformation to drive sustainable food systems in Africa.

The assembled delegates heard that 90% of the market for digital services that support African smallholders remains untapped and could be worth more than $US 2.26 billion. The report also found that nearly 400 different digital agricultural solutions, with 33 million registered farmers, currently exist across sub-Saharan Africa.

But with penetration at just 6%, the future potential is huge. An annual growth of more than 40% for both registered farmers and the number of solutions suggests the Digital for Agriculture (DaAG) market is likely to reach the majority of the region’s farmers by 2030.

But much remains to be done. Commenting on the report, panellists concluded that we need to reach out in particular to farmers in remote locations, with new business models to address affordability issues. We also need to directly target women, only 25% of whom currently benefit from existing digital solutions. There was also a final call for an alliance of key stakeholders to advance the D4Ag agenda and invest in digital infrastructure to help drive an inclusive agricultural transformation in Africa.