Fethi Thabet, Telecommunications Engineer, City Councillor for Ariana, Tunisia, Continue reading
Our food systems are under unprecedented pressure. With the global population expected to reach 8.6 billion by 2030, making food systems more sustainable will depend on the development and deployment of innovative tools and approaches around the world. Continue reading
Julia Jung and Lukas Hanke, The Green Innovation Centre India Continue reading
The potential for new technology to support African smallholders deserves greater attention, Toby Johnson, communications team leader at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) writes.
Farmers worldwide are facing huge challenges to meet rising demand with increasingly scarce resources but this situation is most acute in Africa.
With the fastest growing population in the world, the continent’s ageing smallholders shoulder the burden to produce ever more food.
Meanwhile, Africa is also suffering the most extreme impacts of climate change, putting extra pressure on water and land.
But there is huge promise for new technologies and innovations to help improve productivity, profitability and sustainability for African smallholders and agripreneurs, and this should be higher on the international agenda.
Firstly, producing more food for a growing population will require more young people to enter agribusiness.
African leaders have committed themselves to creating new jobs for at least 30 per cent of the youth in agricultural value chains by 2025, but most young people have little or no interest in agriculture.
With the average age of farmers in Africa still at 55-60 years old, we must ask ourselves how we can transform the rural landscape and make it much more attractive for young people.
Digitalisation can provide a potentially profitable entry point for them, with the added benefits of boosting productivity, income, increased food and nutrition security.
Secondly, increasing productivity while using fewer resources in a changing climate will mean smallholders need to adopt smarter, more precise techniques.
The wealth of information now available to us through satellites, drones and artificial intelligence can help smallholders farm with greater efficiency and accuracy, making them more resilient to extreme conditions like droughts or flooding.
Yet while smallholders produce around 70 per cent of Africa’s food supplies, only 60 per cent of Africans have internet connections, limiting their access to key information and knowledge such as weather forecasts, market data and farming advice.
Finally, embracing digitalisation in Africa can help achieve broader development goals such as better incomes.
Digitalisation affords young entrepreneurs the opportunity to create disruptive business models, leapfrogging traditional stages of development while there are claims that leveraging technology to increase access to information could boost rural incomes by up to 60 per cent.
CTA, an EU-funded institution, works across Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific, to support the roll-out of new services and innovations using cutting edge technology.
This has included providing farmers with instant weather updates via SMS, or supporting them with satellite-gathered data and analysis to help guide decisions on fertiliser or pesticide use.
Over the last three years, CTA’s Pitch AgriHack challenge has also reached more than 800 young e-agriculture start-ups, providing training, mentoring and business development skills and seed funding. Several of the supported start-ups have grown into successful businesses serving close to one million smallholder producers
But there is an enormous amount of potential that requires collaboration between the public and private sector to unlock.
This was recognised at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin, which focused on “smart solutions for future farming”, with an emphasis on the opportunity of digitalisation.
The event, attended by agriculture ministers as well as private sector actors, was a great opportunity to bring together the parties that can scale up digitalisation to transform African agriculture.
From blockchain technology for greater transparency and efficiency, to artificial intelligence that automates information services, there are ever more exciting and emerging ways to equip smallholders to be more productive and more resilient.
I hope the dialogue at the GFFA helped to propel the mobilisation of young African innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and governments to capitalise on digitalisation’s potential.
Featured photo credit: USAID
As part of our agroecology in action series, Kalongo Chitengi, Zambia Country Director, Self Help Africa speaks to Farm Africa about the importance of sustainable agriculture and responsible farming for preserving Africa’s environment and ecosystems.
Rosemary Chate’s seven children gather around the table inside their home in Malela, a village in Zambia’s remote Northern Province. They dig their spoons into bowls of food prepared by their mother – for the second time that day.
Not long ago, Rosemary Chate’s family would assemble to eat just once a day – their resources, for many months each year, were so thin that they needed to ration their food supplies to just a single family meal.
This is the reality for millions of African farmers like Rosemary. Many challenges are keeping yields on the continent low. Farmers lack access to inputs that farmers in developed countries have utilized for decades, from quality seeds and herbicides, to the right type of fertilizer for their undernourished soils. The hand hoe – even in this century – is still the main tool for smallholder families. Migration to urban areas and the impact of AIDS have left many rural homesteads with a labour shortage.
Climate change has also emerged as another challenge, and rural families grapple with adaption. Changes in the climate have brought with them not only drought and flooding, but new plant diseases and insect attacks. The fall armyworm in sub-Saharan Africa has caused tremendous damage. This unpredictable reality has made crop management very difficult, and indigenous knowledge alone can no longer suffice.
African farmers need scientific innovation – from low to high tech – to face these challenges.
Yet preserving Africa’s environment, its most precious resources after its people, is also a high priority. This is one of the fundamental concerns of agroecology – ensuring farmers can produce food and earn a good living, while keeping the natural resource base intact.
With the right approaches that blend traditional knowledge with scientific innovation, this can be achieved.
At Self Help Africa, we are working with farmers to achieve this through the implementation of conservation agriculture. In Zambia alone, we have reached over 80,000 farmers in the last five years.
Conservation farming involves a combination of approaches. First, farmers are encouraged to intercrop a variety of species, such as groundnuts, which can naturally fix nitrogen to the soil, and cassava, for example. This ensures maximum use of a piece of land that has been cleared – producing more food with less resources.
Crop rotation and mulching, along with an integrated use of mineral and organic fertilizers are also part conservation agriculture.
59-year old Felister Namfukwe has seen the benefits of this farming approach. Not only are her soils healthier, but her income is as well. With the help of her sons and her profits from groundnuts, she is building a new home made of brick, replacing her previous mud home.
“Being part of this (Self Help Africa) project has lightened my burden,” she told us.
We also work with local farmers to build their capacity to grow good quality seed, and to strengthen community based seed systems. Recycling seed is a common practice in Africa, when access to better seed is scarce. However, recycled seed loses its efficacy.
We are currently working with 300 seed growers across the country, who are multiplying seeds that are more able to cope with climate extremes, are higher yielding and more resistant to pests and disease.
In Zambia’s remote Western Province, the Kamasika Seed Growers Association illustrates how effective community-based seed multiplication is assisting local food production in the face of climate change.
The group received training and support in seed multiplication techniques from Self Help Africa and government advisors on the technical requirements for producing certifiable seed. The farmers were then linked to a new state-run seed testing laboratory, established with support from Self Help Africa in nearby Mongu town, to ensure that the seed being produced met the requisite germination, moisture content and other standards required to attain certification.
The group has since opened several retail shops where they sell farm inputs, including certified groundnut, bean, sorghum, maize and vegetable seed that they are producing, and supply to several thousand smallholder farmers across the Province.
African farmers are most at risk from rising temperatures and persistent hunger. We must ensure they have access to all the tools and technologies necessary to thrive in the face of these threats.
Featured photo credit: WFO