What’s Next for African Agricultural Sectors?

by Monique Kasonga
Image: Luigi Guarino / Flickr

Within the last decade, there has been a quick and urgent surge in the use of new agricultural technologies within Western countries. As defined by Project Breakthrough, digital agriculture utilizes new and advanced technologies that have been integrated into a singular system that enables farmers and other stakeholders within the agriculture value chain to improve food production by offering new insights that enhance the ability to make decisions and subsequently implement them. Thanks to digital agriculture, agriculture itself can become more sustainable, reliable, and effective with the use of time and resources. This change has significant benefits for farmers as well as broader social benefits around the world. It also further allows businesses to exchange knowledge across conventional market borders, allowing for fresh, innovative opportunities to emerge. Bearing this in mind, digital farming is on the rise, and everyone working within the agricultural sector worldwide should be able to reap the benefits. So why aren’t African countries?

The African continent has a tremendous capacity to end hunger and food poverty, as it has the agriculture to make it a significant player in global food markets. For instance, agriculture is Africa’s most important economic activity by a long shot. The industry itself employs roughly two-thirds of the continent’s working population and contributes an average of 30 to 60% of gross domestic product and about 30% of the value of exports to each region.  In addition, agriculture has a huge social and economic impact in Africa. Smallholder farmers account for more than 60% of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa, and agriculture accounts for roughly 23% of the continent’s GDP. Despite this, Africa’s agricultural potential remains largely untapped. In a recent Mckinsey Study, it was found that Africa could produce two to three times more cereals and grains than Western countries, adding 20% to the estimated global production of 2.6 billion tons of cereals and grains. This capacity for growth is evident in many of the continent’s land, water, and oceans, as well as the strength of its male and female workers, expertise, and vast markets. 

Furthermore, agriculture contributes significantly to the economies of all African countries. As a sector, it can help to achieve primary continental goals like eradicating poverty and hunger, boosting intra-Africa trade and investments, rapid industrialization and economic diversification, sustainable resource and environmental management, and job creation, human security, and shared prosperity. To illustrate, findings from a report published on the transformations of the agriculture sector in Africa in 2016 by the African Development Review demonstrated that Africa’s smallholder farmers are now among the world’s poorest. This is why, without new agricultural technology, ample investment, and a distribution system that is ill-suited for entering markets, small holder farmers across the continent will struggle to realize their full potential. The evidence therefore illustrates that creativity, research, and technology are needed to optimize training and skill application in Africa’s agriculture sector.

Something that must be considered while evaluating why the African continent does not have access to these technologies is the later effects of colonialism. Many African countries’ industries have been dependent on manufactured products from Western countries for centuries. Many African countries would be in a much better economic and technical shape today if colonizing forces had promoted and cultivated indigenous industry. Worldwide, we are able to observe the dreadful results of these colonizing forces and it is time that these effects are deconstructed in order for communities and countries to truly prosper without the interference of Western countries that have historically caused a great deal of damage. 

Fortunately, during the past two years, there has been an upsurge in African-created agricultural technologies. Tanzania is a country located in East Africa that is focusing on agriculture as a means to achieve economic growth. Tanzania’s agriculture sector, which employs 75 percent of the population and contributes nearly one-third of the country’s GDP, has the ability to boost incomes and improve livelihoods. Placidius Castus Rwechungura, a Rwandan software engineer, developed a farm management software platform to help African farmers prepare, track, and evaluate farm activities in 2019. The program, titled Agripoa provides data-driven insights to help farmers adequately plan and make decisions suited to its appropriate time period, is able to revolutionize agriculture in Tanzania. According to the software’s website, Agripoa helps farmers make market connections and get information on products with high demand in the market as well as to know the quality of products needed in a given market and if they can meet the demands and standards for their buyers. 

In an interview with the Borgen Project, Rwechungura spoke on how many people wanted to become successful farmers, but they lacked adequate information, markets, credit facilities and proper records and history, inspiring him to create this new technology. Since the platform’s launch, 20,000 farmers have already signed up for the Agripoa app, and it is further expected to expand to countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia later this year. 

Technologies like Agripoa are crucial to the economic and social development of the farming community, as the African continent has so many resources to be used by its communities that will result in local prosperity. Agripoa is changing the face of agriculture in Tanzania, and it has the ability to do so across Africa. This is without a doubt substantial progress and will result in economic success for many African countries, meaning that the days of exploitation by foreign companies that many have endured can finally come to an end. All in all, it is important that Westerners understand that African countries do not need ‘saving’ or constant aid, and rather need to be offered opportunities for local innovation and success. Let’s hope that Agripoa is used as an example and inspiration for many more African-innovated agricultural technologies!

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