Digital Transformation in Africa’s Agriculture: Focus on Smallholder Farmers
The agricultural sector in Africa
The agriculture sector in Africa is regarded as the backbone of its economy is stale and its importance in transforming the economy cannot be over-emphasised. As records indicate, in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), more than half of the population depends on agriculture for survival. According to Dr. Lutz Goedde et al, article on Winning in Africa’s agricultural market, “60 % of the entire SSA population are smallholder farmers and about 23% of their GDP comes from agriculture.” However, this sector is underutilised with its diverse potentials untapped. The struggle of smallholders in navigating through the bottlenecks is often more forceful than the bigger enterprises. This sector is often associated with limited resources and weak capacity. This makes it difficult for farmers to become suppliers to larger firms, compete in food and agri value chains, and also, enter higher value markets. This is even much so for women farmers As such what are the major challenges in this sector and concerns of smallholders, what are some of the ways of transforming the sector to reach its full potentials, what are some of the steps to achieve this, is the goal which the blog stands to address.
Importance of the agri sector and its challenges
Since food is a necessity and should be given priority, every attention in establishing food systems and supply chains should be the focus of African governments and other stakeholders of economic growth and development. That every one depends on food for survival implies that all other sectors be it energy, tourism, education, health among other sectors depends either directly or indirectly on the traditional or primary agriculture sector in one way or another. This therefore, explains why this particular sector is crucial for growing and developing the economies in the world. This also applies to the African continent which heavily depends on this sector for its socio-economic progress. Hence, the importance of the agri sector cannot be overemphasized since it can help to transform lives through food security, job creation, foreign exchange earnings, and provision of raw materials for industry. However, the challenges of this sector in the African context are enormous and include:
- Low productivity as a result of poor inputs, machinery, and tools;
- Inadequate technology which can help in maximising production/output with less input;
- Little or no value-addition since Africa deals more on commodity sales. More so, it also impacts low returns for farmers in terms of income and market access;
- Exposure to climate change impacts on farmers revenue, which is, at times beyond farmers’ control such as water scarcity;
- The unattractiveness of the sector to African youths who are somewhat creative, dynamic and flexible to change, innovation and technology;
- Inadequate infrastructure for growth, as well as low digital illiteracy among farmers
- Little or no incentives from the government in motivating women and youths in fully engaging them in the sector.
All this has made the agri sector view by most as a difficult sector to excel in, to charge; and as such, not very appealing for investment. This is even so for smallholder farmers and women in particular.
Smallholder Farmers and Inclusivity: What help can be deployed in transforming the Agro Sector?
Farming has been going on for many centuries and has evolved over time. With the outbreak of COVID-19, life has become more difficult especially for smallholder farmers coupled with their long-standing plethora of challenges. As a matter of fact, the sector can be more attractive like in western nations in the following ways:
- Making the sector to be inclusive for youths and women is imperative. The role of women in practicing agriculture is significant and has advanced in many ways. However, for one to enjoy livelihood and earn returns for further creating of additional income and job, farming operations and activities must be done differently. Undoubtedly, the youths are seen as the future of every economy and can easily adapt to changes especially when it comes to technology, innovation and digitization more than their seniors.
- Nowadays, it is herculean getting things done without deploying technology resources. According to the EU Tech Chamber, which was formed with one vision and that is Technology Obliges. Technology is the core to everything especially in the agri sector, in performing smart farming activities, value addition, sales especially online sell and creating visibility to a product and company. Such inadequate technology in this sector is a lost opportunity.
- Human development through training can help in skills development and upgrade of workers. As such farmers can follow up with the latest development in the market, as well as their businesses.
- Enhancement of digital literacy rate among smallholder farmers is key to enhance transformation in the agri sector.
Upgrading Africa Agriculture Sector: How can this be done?
Upgrading the agriculture sector is one of the ways the sector can experience transformation especially for smallholder farmers through digitisation which can help in linking them, as well as addressing their needs. Digitisation will be a game-changer in Africa’s agri sector and can build the digital capacity of farmers.
This can be done through the following ways:
- First, is by training of farmers especially smallholders can be done effectively and virtually. This can help in reducing the low literacy rate of users. To make this work, it has to be simple and easy to use. This can be blended with face-to-face to ensure that skills are easily inculcated by users.
- Second market access. With digitisation farmers can be able to sell their products and could reach large audiences all over the world with just a few clicks at the comfort of their homes. For instance, this is the case of smallholder women farmers in the shea trade who are able to sell their shea butter in Europe without actually travelling to Europe to do that.
- Furthermore, it can help farmers in mitigating climate change issues and to produce in a sustainable manner that will help in preserving the environment thereby bringing about continuity in their business or farming for the future generation and job creation.
- Also, it can help in inclusive growth and transacting an inclusive business where women and youths are engaged using their mobile devices such as cell phones and iPad. This can help to create jobs and bring about additional income. An incentive that will enable them to see the need to engage more in the sector is important due to the financial benefits involved. This is seen as beneficial for smallholder farmers.
- Support from the government through policies, skills development, knowledge transfer, and growth funds. Incentives from the government should be inclusive having the capacity for all to thrive.
- More importantly, mindset transformation is beneficial and possible for users and the government.
Every challenge in a sector can be turned into an opportunity and the agri sector is no exception. EuroAfri Afri Link is there to support smallholders especially women farmers in accessing the EU markets as well as food and agro products, growth funds, and at the same time exchange programs in deploying mechanisms for knowledge transfer and skills development.
By Professor Ikechi Agbugba, University Professor & Co-founder, AgriFood Networks (AFN), Rotterdam, The Netherlands https://www.linkedin.com/in/ikechi-agbugba-phd-29812813/ and Patience Chindong, co-founde & CEO EAL