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Digitise and upscale agriculture production now

By Chris Diaz | January 26th 2021 at 19:54:43 GMT +0300

Young robot builder Brian Kimani: Kenya teeming with talent. [File, Standard]

The world is rapidly expanding as the human race presses on for the transformation of life resulting in drastic changes.

A century from now, society as we know it shall have once again drastically changed with the roots of invention and innovation sinking deeper.

A look back into our past shows the world, as we know it today, has undergone irreversible changes over millions of years.

From hunting and gathering through the agrarian revolution and to industrialization, the world has made steps towards efficiency and improving the health and quality of life.

In 2100, robots could be roaming the very streets we walk today while we might as well break the barrier by having flying cars and drones managing our day to day business.

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Internet bandwidth shall have perhaps quadrupled at the time transforming the internet of things (IOT) into full reality.

Despite the unthinkable changes, some aspects of future earth will remain as primary as they are today including feeding the world’s inhabitants, efficiently and improving happy healthy living.

Population explosion

According to data compiled by the University of Oxford, the world population has moved from one billion to the current 7.7 billion in just two centuries.

This is even as the population growth rate slows down to about 1.05 per cent every year from about 2.2 per cent over half a century ago.

In just 200 years, the world population has grown seven-fold packing pressure on natural resources which are under pressure and now, more limited than ever before.

Ensuring a nation is fed. [File, Standard]

About 140 million people are born every year, while 58 million people die in the same period a balance of 82 million new earth inhabitants is left each year.

 According to the United Nations World Population Prospects reports published in 2019, the world population is expected to increase to 9.7 billion people in 2050 and will peak at 11 billion in 2100.

The rate of population growth is highest in Sub-Saharan Africa at three per cent and above the global average three per cent. We are yet to fully execute the Africa Continental Free Trade Area to grow trade across our continent.

While the world’s fertility rate continues to drop, an increase in life expectancy currently at a global average of 72.6 years has ensured the population continues to swell in the coming years.

Sub-Saharan Africa population is projected to increase by about 99 per cent to see inhabitants in the region effectively double in just under 30 years’ time.

 The younger consumer is demanding greater and faster innovation of goods and services and technology will increase our digital orders and home deliveries which is now a marketing art and science for new and leading brands.

Food security

A bloated world population is expected to exert pressure on space, food and other resources.

If governments fail to find sustainable solutions for the future, the global population will likely run into challenges as resources grow thin. However, simpler and healthy foods will win the hearts and minds of consumers.

According to the UN, the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) aimed at improving social-wellbeing and protecting the environment will be greatly depressed.

The world recorded the first 100 per cent mechanical crop handling in 2017. [File, Standard]

Today, about 80 per cent of the world’s population lives in the developing world while growing population growth rates have been directly linked to urbanisation and higher demand for least-cost renewable energy and greener products.

This means more people are now finding themselves enclosed in cities without a reliable source of food and water.

At the same time, farming and drought have been tied to the unsustainable production and the unequal distribution of food which has been a further compromised socioeconomic equality.

The sustainable production of food has, therefore, been brought into sharp focus as the world continues to move into new frontiers.

Smart agriculture

Sustainable production and distribution of food are welded to technology at the hip with new technologies providing new methods and approaches to farming. This entails the deployment of heavy automation and technological transformation in the growing and management of food crops.

Terms such as the internet, mobile technologies, devices and data analytics are slowly becoming synonymous with agriculture.

According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the world’s first entirely machine-handled crop was harvested in 2017 as smart farming came full circle. The full use of science and automation is producing more quality of produce.

While the industrialisation age saw the deployment of technologies to mechanise food production, new technologies in the 21st Century are being used to further streamline food production with a sharper focus on efficiency and effectiveness. 

Both irrigation and value addition in manufacturing has seen the use of special computerised equipment and advanced Artificial intelligence and state of art technology. Training and developing teams to be certified and experienced in new job developments is now an opportunity for the youth. 

Newer technologies are, for example, being used to fine-tune inputs deployed in production, improving the quality of land and water and even reducing costs associated with monitoring crop development and higher yields both for the small and larger farmers.

This has, in turn, freed up resources for use in other pressing matters. Technology has also been deployed in connecting suppliers and farmers to marketplaces building more resilience and budding food supply chains across the world and ensuring fresh highly nutritious produce for the consumer.

Governments must, therefore, prioritise on investments in digital infrastructure for agriculture alongside creating new policies to guide the use of new technologies in the sector and support cottage agricultural industries too.

Moreover, countries must review new technological innovations and measure the costs deployed to effect the new technologies against the benefits accrued. Market research is essential for adapting new ways to increase raw material and food produce.

Tied to the development of a supportive regulatory environment to promote smart farming practices is a cooperation between players in the agricultural sector including farmers, researchers, private sector, non-profit organisations alongside the government and international partners.

Livelihoods

Three-quarters of Africa’s workforce or about 65 per cent depends on agriculture for a living with the sector contributing to about 32 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) according to the World Bank.

In Kenya, this percentage is much higher at 34 per cent with more than one-third of the economy being tapped from agriculture.

About 70 per cent of the continent's inhabitants are reported to directly derive a living from agriculture or value addition producing raw materials for companies like EABL, Bidco Africa, among other leading manufacturers. 

As such, investing in the transformation of the sector will be essential in not just feeding nations but also providing a sound livelihood, employment and entrepreneurship skills to talented people.

With technology at the core, resulting in job opportunities should largely favour the youth who are better vast well-versed with the use of new technologies and adapt well to market health and business demands.

Digitizing agriculture will be the cure to run-away unemployment, which in Kenya has hit harder at people aged between 20 and 29 years.

Kenya already boosts of pioneers in the space including Twiga Foods which has earned recognition the world over for its innovation in consolidating the sale of agricultural produce by linking producers to markets particularly in urban centres through the use of technologies such as blockchain. Kenya flowers remain world-class and demand reaches a peak on special periods like Valentine Day and for special emotional events.

Larger companies including BAT, East African Breweries Limited and BIDCO Africa have meanwhile endeavoured to create more inclusive agri-business models by building linkages to the producers of crops which mainly process their raw materials growing their value chains creating a true opportunity of Buy Africa, Build Africa for entrepreneurs.

At BIDCO for instance, the company has created partnerships with over 40,000 farmers in a transaction that sees the firm equip the producers with skills to produce oilseeds such as soya beans and sunflower, and in exchange purchase their harvest in a win-win model and use the by-products for animal feeds to develop agriculture and food supplies.

Thousands of farmers have reaped gains from such collaboration securing markets for their products while improving the quality and volume of yields and being distributors of the feeds and their healthy products.

We need to keep healthy and safe and ensure we take care of others in these difficult times.

Diaz is Director, EABC and Group Director Bidco Africa 

@DiazChrisAfrica

 


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