There is a growing need for deployment of digital solutions that complement innovations in agriculture to increase productivity and sustain resilience in food systems and nutrition security across Africa.
The technologies developed to increase productivity for various staple crops on the continent include hybrid seeds, climate-smart varieties, agricultural mechanisation, digital solutions and data management systems.
Agricultural experts meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, in early September noted that the successful utilisation of these technologies require political will and the enactment of policies and regulations that facilitate their sustainable deployment to transform the livelihoods of smallholder farmers on the continent.
The experts from across the globe spoke at the Harnessing Agricultural Technologies for Resilient Food Systems side event jointly organised by African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, on the side lines of the African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF 2022) held in Kigali.
Addressing the panel, Mr Yves Iradukunda, Permanent Secretary in Rwanda’s Ministry of Innovation and ICT, underscored the need to build the capacity of farmers to understand and use the technologies and break the barriers in knowledge transfer.
“The Rwanda Government has made deliberates effort to position technology at the centre of economic transformation, with clear success stories in the agriculture sector,” said Mr Iradukunda.
Dr Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director of AATF who moderated the discussions, observed that population growth and climate-related shocks are major threats to agricultural productivity in Africa. But he regretted that while African farmers are beginning to innovate to increase productivity and drive growth across entire economies, climate change and a surge of new pests and diseases threaten to reverse these gains.
“The agricultural technologies we showcase today have great potential to transform and enhance the resilience of African food systems. But Africa’s food systems are vulnerable to many shocks. Without a sustainable enabling environment, science and innovations may not deliver the desired benefits and impact to farmers,” Dr Kanangire said.
He pointed out that increasing agricultural productivity and enhancing food and nutrition security amid a burgeoning population and climate change remains a priority in Africa.
Another panellist, Dr Emmanuel Okogbenin, Director of Programme Development and Commercialisation at AATF, noted that digital technologies are crucial to enhancing critical mass reach to farmers and end users for impact.
Dr Okogbenin shared AATF’s experience in deploying innovative agricultural technologies and cited three hybrid rice varieties recently released in Kenya, which are giving farmers over 10 tonnes per hectare under irrigation, compared with four tonnes that commercially available hybrid varieties are offering.
“Digital agri-tech is a strategic complement for product development and deployment that has proven to maximise on-farm productivity in diverse production ecologies,” Dr Okogbenin stated.
Emphasizing the need for collaboration, Mr Ken Lohento of FAO, said no single technology can solve farmers’ challenges, adding that technology should be deployed in packages.
“Successful models for technology deployment, including the Digital Villages Initiative (DVI) that FAO is implementing to support agricultural productivity, market access and other complementary services, can be enhanced through mobilising people, businesses and capital towards positive impact,” he said.
Mr Philip Gasaatura of Katapult Africa said while start-ups have great potential in advancing technology transfer in Africa, they require support to take away risk from their operations and facilitate expansion.
Ms Diana Sabrain, CEO of Oneagrix, called for establishment of sustainable private-public partnerships to facilitate the transfer of technologies on the continent.