News and knowhow for farmers

How technology is transforming Africa’s agricultural industry

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Opinion: Africa is at a crossroads on food security

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) is reporting that close to 70% of the population is involved in agriculture as smallholder farmers working on parcels of land that are, on average, less than 2 hectares.

Given those statistics, the importance of agriculture at the heart of conversations on Africa’s economy’s journey cannot be overemphasized.

The World Bank estimates that Africa’s food market will be worth $1 trillion by 2030 up from the current $300 billion. In addition, the continent’s food import bill, the latest trends show, stands anywhere between $30–50 billion.

The statistics clearly show that the food demand is a catalyst for thriving businesses across the continent waiting to be ignited to grow value for farmers, majority of whom are smallholders.

In Kenya, agriculture is the largest employer accounting for about 60 per cent of Kenya’s labour force. At 60%, you would expect it to contribute more than the 30% it does to Kenya’s GDP.

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Yet the country’s largest employer faces many challenges that range from poor infrastructure, poor weather forecasting, vagaries of climate change that is ushering in extreme weather and poor quality supply of farming inputs, to use of outdated technology, pests and diseases and lack of financing options.

Because of that, Kenyan farmers are at a distinct disadvantage compared to their counterparts in the Americas, Europe or Asia, despite enjoying some of the best climate and soils in the world.

We can only achieve food security when small holder farmers make good use of the resources available to them.

There is a ray of hope in the horizon that is promising to spread cheer across Africa’s agriculture landscape that can light the right way.

Today, 90% of smallholder farmers own mobile phones.

The reach of humanity’s most ubiquitous tool ever across Africa has offered an unprecedented opportunity to uplift the levels of knowledge in the agriculture sector.

It means that smallholder farmers now have a real chance of becoming economically active and to contribute towards the long-term economic growth of our country.

Globally, technology is playing a big role in developing the sector.

However technology is more than just being better and faster, it is also about sustainability.

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As part of Safaricom’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, we have committed to o deliver connectivity and innovative products and services that will provide unmatched solutions to meet the needs of Kenyans by enabling access through our technologies.

If you look at Kenya’s smallholder farmer segment, it consists of an estimated 7 million farmers, with each farming household consisting of around 5 – 6 family members.

Some quick math shows that Digifarm -an easy-to-use, one-stop service for Kenya’s smallholder farmers that Safaricom launched last year, has the potential to transform the lives of around 42 million people once fully functional and deployed nationally.

We understand it’s ambitious to say the least but with the right partnerships, it is an ambition that can be achieved.

For Digifarm, we partnered with Mezzanine, a company that delivers mobile-enabled solutions to companies doing business in Africa. Other partners include Iprocure for inputs provision, Arifu for content and Mercy Corps who are charged with bringing the smallholder farmers on board and to provide functionality insights.

With Digifarm, smallholder farmers will learn adaptive learning systems and have access to educational and informational content. Once registered on the platform, farmers have access via mobile phone to a host of agricultural and financial services that the ecosystem offers.

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Using Digifarm’s loan module, farmers can also apply for small loans particularly for farming inputs such as fertilizers and livestock feed. The platform also serves to build a national database of farming activities in Kenya that can be used for long-term planning.

We currently have 500,000 farmers on Digifarm and our aim is to reach one million farmers by the end of this year.

We have also partnered with the national government through Ministry of Agriculture and the National Cereals and Produce Board in a Fertiliser E- Subsidy Management System which allows farmers to directly access vouchers for government subsidized, top quality fertiliser through their mobile phones.

Last year we launched Connected Farmer, a mobile and web based service to help agricultural processing businesses in production planning by opening a communication line with farmers.

Connected Farmer not only makes it easy for the registration of farmers but is also a two-way communication between different stakeholders and the farmers themselves. It also uses M-PESA to facilitate easy transactions between the organisations and farmers in a swift and secure manner.

With these initiatives we are confident that farmers will get adequate credit for input and maximize utilization of arable land and in turn increase their yields.

The data gathered on farmers will go a long way in helping the government plan for timely interventions and forecasting. In addition, we are hopeful that we will see a reduction in subsidy pilferages. Additionally, farmers will get timely information to help them maximize on yields.

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Technology is a critical tool in growing the agricultural sector which will consequently transform the lives of Kenyans and innovation is a key driver towards this goal.

We are confident that we are part of the solution to building a strong ecosystem in the country that will boost inclusive growth in the agriculture sector and help leapfrog Kenya and Africa’s food production.

Rita Okuthe is Director, Enterprise Business Unit, Safaricom.

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