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How Technological Innovations are shaping the agricultural sector in Africa

Technology embraces the means man uses to control or modify his natural environment. This control or modification can generally be viewed as exploitation; man seeks to serve his ends. An artifacts of technology which has aroused much interest is the tool. Tools are extenders and modifiers of the hand increasing its force, it hardness, its precision, and its reach.

A farmer in Senegal

Farm data collection and analysis has been helping farmers in developed countries to manage their farm operations better. The more information they have, the more they can make decisions tailored to their farm’s specific needs. The information obtained can help farmers identify efficiencies that lead to higher productivity and profitability, lower input costs, and optimized fertilizer use.

The new digital models for market access, pricing and financing, has the potential to drive radical changes in the sector. It is crucial to identify these new technologies and find new channels to bring them to market so that farmers especially the smallholders that make up the largest part of the region’s agriculture sector can access them.

Start-ups innovating Agricultural sector in Africa

These range from crowdfunding platforms for farmers. Nigeria’s Farmcrowdy, Somalia’s Ari Farm, and South Africa’s Livestock Wealth which tap into the lack of financial capital for smallholding farmers, to companies using drones for precision agriculture e.g. Ghana’s Acquahmeyer help farmers through solar-powered cold storages. Solar Freeze and supply chain start-ups such as Kenyan Twiga Foods and Ghana’s Agrocenta. Companies such as Twiga Foods have been filling the supply chain vacuum.

Acquahmeyer’s drones check leaf color and soil quality, producing reports on the crop’s health
  • iProcure

iProcure is a business-intelligence and data-driven stock-management company that uses data to support retailer fulfillment (with cost savings to current distributors).

  • Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA)

In a project run by the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) rice farmers are being taught how to use drones to carry out jobs such as spraying fertilizer more efficiently and mapping scarce water sources.

  • e-Soko

e-Soko is a Ghanaian start-up that provides overall farm management support, helping farmers monitor and analyse their farming records via its data collection tool. Accessed via a smartphone app or e-Soko’s website, the tool links farmers to advisory services, markets, market prices and secure payments.

ZENVUS Smartfarm is an intelligent electronics sensor which when inserted in a farm soil collects pertinent data like humidity, temperature, pH, moisture, nutrients etc
  • FarmCrowdy

Nigeria-based FarmCrowdy is an online platform offers farmers extension advice and enables them to access credit directly from an investor, who in return earns a share of the post-harvest profit.

  • TechnoServe

TechnoServe, an agri-business NGO that provides business solutions in rural areas, conducts agricultural business and technology trainings in several coffee growing regions in Rwanda and other East African countries.

  • 3D4AGDEV program

The 3D4AGDEV program is working with smallholder women innovator groups in Northern and Central Malawi (Nkhamenya and Kabudula respectively). Each innovator group works with the 3D4AGDEV program to design and on-farm test improved or new labour saving agricultural tools.

  • Digifarm

Digifarm, a mobile platform for smallholder farmers, bundle together services such as skills training, loans, insurance and access to buyers in a “one-stop shop”used by farmers.

  • Greenhouses

Greenhouses, a company that automates irrigation using solar-powered sensors that can be controlled by farmers from their mobile phones.

  • We Farm and mFarm

We Farm and mFarm, who strive to cauterise the socio-economic imbalances that keep smallholding farmers isolated from the markets by digitising the informational channels between the parties through mobile applications or peer-to-peer networks.

  • Acquahmeyer

In Ghana, Acquahmeyer rents out drones that help small-scale farmers check the health of crops and use pesticide where it is needed, reducing pollution and health risks.

  • Twiga Foods

Twiga Foods, a Kenyan mobile phone platform that sells bananas and other produce from small-scale farmers to local vendors and markets, paying farmers more and

Twiga’s distribution structure includes collection centers and a warehouse with cold storage facilities

selling to vendors for less has been a winning formula with ripple effects across the entire supply chain.

  • Zenvus

Zenvus, a start-up based in Owerri, the capital of the Nigerian state of Imo, collects and analyses vast amounts of soil data across Nigeria, offering tailored advice to farmers on what, when and how to plant. Its digital services allow smallholders to view real-time crop prices, raise capital and crowdfund on their computers and smart devices.

  • AgroCenta

AgroCenta, another platform, brings advice and weather forecasts to Ghanaian farmers and, most important, allows them to sell their crops digitally to large companies such as Nestlé and Diageo.

A farmer in Kenya uses his mobile phone to check levels of Fall Armyworm infestation in his field
  • SunCulture

In emerging agritech hub Kenya, SunCulture sells solar-powered pumps for affordable irrigation.

  • SolarFreeze

Nairobi-based SolarFreeze has designed solar-powered cold storage units for farmers and traders.

  • AgroSpaces

In Cameroon, AgroSpaces provides growers with live pricing data, giving them an advantage when they take their crops to market.

What next?

Digitisation is not just  an agricultural issue, or a technological one. It involves many parts of the economy. It is also of importance to place smallholders front and center when designing policies and specific digital products meant to help them. For instance, education is critical to farmers’ ability to use and benefit from digital technologies.

Hence, digitisation  and innovative technologies must be situated within a broader development and poverty reduction agenda in Africa.

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