The agricultural sector is considered one of the most critical industries for the African continent due to its economic potential. There has been significant growth in the past two decades leading to a level of production three times higher than before, and the sector is projected to become a US$1trillion industry in sub-Saharan Africa by 2030. However, despite this increase, the African continent is still a net importer of agricultural commodities to meet its population’s basic food needs.
Nearly 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land is in Africa; this shows that there is a lot of untapped potential in African Agribusiness.
Boosting Agriculture Through Technology
The application of technological innovations in Agribusiness is vital in sustainably boosting productivity, increasing profits, and ensuring food security in the continent and beyond.
The foremost benefit of using mobile phones is as a platform for exchanging information through calls, SMS, or even the Internet. The use of mobile telephones improves access to information, making it cheaper to obtain and easier to store.
Recently discovered agricultural practices, like soil preparation and planting, irrigation and weeding methods, cultivation, harvesting, and storage methods, can be shared through the mobile phone without traveling to the farmers’ locations.
Numerous mobile applications are already in use across the continent. An example is ‘Mobile Agribiz,’ which is being used in the DRC. The application not only provides information but, like many others, also goes further to connect the farmers with the market and the market prices of their goods.
Some applications are also assisting farmers in sourcing funding through platforms that make funds available to farmers by crowdfunding capital and matching farmers to loans at lower borrowing rates. Mobile phone use contributes to increased farmers’ income, reduced transaction and transportation costs, and increased farm productivity.
However, erratic electricity supply may hinder the effective use of mobile phones for agribusiness; there is a need for more investment in alternative energy technology such as solar power.
Improved farm management practices that tend to reduce the need for capital and energy-intensive inputs without sacrificing yields are what we term as sustainable agriculture. These include potential energy efficiency improvements in irrigation, traction, and agricultural processing, which tend to minimize the financing needs, foreign exchange requirements, and environmental impacts of energy supply.
The development of renewable energy for farm and industrial uses will reduce biomass utilization for energy, improve productivity, reduce carbon emissions, and improve living standards. However, the initial capital cost is still high and is a significant barrier to entry into the market.
Therefore supply still falls way below energy demand, especially in remote areas. Innovative business models could be used to lower costs. A good example is M-KOPA Solar in Kenya, which brings affordable solar energy to off-grid communities using mobile phone technology, as well as InspiraFarms, which produces energy-efficient pre-cooling and cold rooms, packhouses, and automated ripening chambers.
Only 5 percent of cultivated land in Africa uses irrigation; farmers need to embrace technology to irrigate their plants. The use of drip irrigation uses 30 -50% less water than sprinklers in ensuring that plants are moist throughout. Nutrients are also saved by allowing water to drip slowly to plants’ roots, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface.
By keeping foliage drip prevents the growth of fungus, which causes plant diseases. Farmers can also integrate soil moisture and weather sensors into the drip irrigation system to further increase efficiency by reducing the amount of manual labor required to monitor the system and limit human error.
Technological advancements in logistics are significant for Agribusiness as they ensure that the product reaches the market on time and in good condition. There has been a growing global demand for blueberries, and the Ethiopian Airlines Cargo division is essential in distributing blueberries to international markets across the world. This has made the nation a good location from which to export blueberries. The use of GPS also assists in tracking produce through the supply chain and assists transporters in navigating through the countryside.
Global research also shows that artificial intelligence (AI) farming will be the main enabling factor in increasing the world’s agricultural production capacity to meet the growing population’s demands. In the PwC’s Africa Agribusinesses Insights Survey 2016, most survey respondents (76.5%) agreed that AI farming would make a significant contribution to increasing capacity in Africa over the next ten years.
The cost of implementation was noted as the most significant restriction to the use of AI farming capabilities. For instance, an AI developed by a team of researchers to detect diseases in plants. The team leveraged a method of transferring learning, teaching the AI to identify crop diseases and pest damage, and used TensorFlow, the open-source library of Google, which created a library of 2,756 images of cassava leaves from Tanzanian plants. In that case, with 98 percent accuracy, AI was able to detect disease. Through satellite imagery and drones, AI uses hyperspectral imaging to detect diseases, pests, and weeds, thereby adding value to farming. Timely response enables farmers to mitigate losses that may result from such diseases and pests thus improving yields.
Genetically produced plants
With the use of technology, plants such as potatoes and cassavas, amongst others, that are genetically produced are usually resistant to droughts, pests, and diseases. Such crops ensure good yields for farmers who would otherwise experience losses due to changing weather patterns.
Technology Builds Efficiency
Poor supply chain channels, inadequate infrastructure, poor access to markets, and a lack of access to knowledge of modern farming practices, tools, and equipment, can all be mitigated as more farmers embrace the use of technology in Agribusiness. The efficient use of technology will encourage more people to move from subsistence to commercial farming, thereby increasing productivity and profitability.
Agritech solutions are transforming traditional farming practices. There are now more than 350 active agri-tech start-ups on the continent. This shows that more people embrace the use of technology in agriculture as the benefits become more apparent. A drive towards cultivating this use of technology, coupled with increasing investment in the agri-tech sector will steer the agriculture sector to achieving food security and economic emancipation.