Can Digitalization Transform African Farmers and Food Systems?



Agriculture and food production is important in providing a leeway to poverty reduction and enriching socio-economic livelihoods in Africa. It is central to enabling Africa achieve African Union's Agenda 2030 development targets and the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. Agriculture in Africa continues to face challenges, triggered from multiple fronts: Covid-19 pandemic and attendant variants, commodity supply chain disruptions, and in-country agricultural policy incoherence. Action plans and strategies to strengthen Africa's food systems is needed now.

It is a truism that despite their importance in the agrifood value chain, African smallholder farmers remain marginalized and face barriers to enhancing their livelihoods and managing risks. They also continue to face varying levels of access and capability challenges to adopt digital technology solutions. It is known that digitalisation is an accelerator for  food security. However, there is scant knowledge  with  regards to limitations and information on entry notes for digitalisation in agriculture. The author has identified the following non-exhaustive barriers to digital technology in African agriculture as: Data, Skills, Technology, Access to credit and Privacy.

There is urgent need for targeted investments in the digital transformation of traditional analogue sectors. According to McKinsey Global Institute Industry Digitalisation Index, agriculture remains the least digitized of all major industrial sectors to date. Considering the perspective of "first mile actors", they face numerous challenges with respect to their farming operations that invariable limit their acceptance and adoption of digital technology innovations. African smallholder farmers do not seem motivated by shaping what crops consumers eat-they just want to grow whatever gives them the highest revenue and income. It is thus important to appreciate these dynamics to inform digital technology in agriculture product design and rollout. Acquiring farmers on your digital solutions and getting them to stick as customers require careful thinking and constant iteration. Good UX, business partnerships, field personnel onboarding, and peer recommendation are leading strategies.

It is not very likely that robots will take the place of smallholder farmers who cultivate majority of African country's food security needs in the next decade. However, digital technology in agriculture will greatly enrich the capability and earning potential of farmers through better on-and-off farm decision making, implementing appropriate climate resilient adaptation measures and negotiating for favourable commodity pricing. Digital technologies in agriculture that facilitate greater efficiencies in the agriculture and food sector, with simplification at its core, will change the face of African agrifood system.

Writer: Elorm Allavi leads operations at SyeComp and mfarmPay working in the data, finance and agrifood nexus to drive long-term growth and profit to African smallholder farmers and agribusinesses. 

Email: elorm@syecomp.com

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