Technology can be used to leapfrog Africa's agriculture

Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa
Africa is at a crossroads on food security. The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) is reporting that close to 70 per cent 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 the journey of Africa economy cannot be overemphasised.

The World Bank estimates that Africa's food market will be worth $1 trillion (Sh100 trillion) by 2030 up from the current $300 billion (Sh30 trillion). In addition, the continent’s food import bill, the latest trends show, stands anywhere between $30–50 billion.

The statistics clearly show that 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 per cent, you would expect it to contribute more than the 30 per cent 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 and vagaries of climate change.

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 climatic conditions and soils in the world. 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 per cent 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. As part of Safaricom’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, we have committed to 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 5 or 6 family members.

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Some quick math shows that Digifarm -- a 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. 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 get adaptive learning systems and have access to educational and informational content. 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.

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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 maximise utilisation of arable land and in turn increase their yields. We are confident that we are part of the solution to building a strong ecosystem in the country that will boost inclusive growth in agriculture and help leapfrog Kenya and Africa’s food production.