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How can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

Simeon Ehui's picture
Also available in: Français 
Photo: Arne Hoel/World Bank
There’s no question that agriculture is critical to Africa’s biggest development goals. It is fundamental for poverty reduction, economic growth and environment sustainability. African food market continues to grow. It is estimated that African food markets will triple to US$1 trillion from its current US$300 billion value. Farming accounts for 60% of total employment in Sub-Saharan Africa—and food system jobs account for even more. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, the food system is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025.

And yet, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing serious challenges. Agricultural productivity in Africa lags behind other regions. One in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished. Africa’s food system is further strained by rapid population growth and climate change. The food security challenge will only grow as climate change intensifies, threatening crop and livestock production. If no adaptation occurs, production of maize—which is one of Africa’s staple crops—could decline by up to 40% by 2050. Clearly, business as usual approaches to agriculture in Africa aren’t fit for transforming the sector to meet its full potential.

Digital technology could be part of the solution. But how can digital technology help transform Africa’s food system?

It’s instructive to look at startups, which are an emerging force in Africa’s agriculture sector.

Can we shift waste to value through 3D printing in Tanzania?

Cecilia Paradi-Guilford's picture
A waste collection site in Dar es Salaam, 
Tanzania. Photo: Cecilia Paradi-Guilford
Plastic waste, in particular PET, which is typically found in soda bottles, is becoming abundant in African cities. In Dar es Salaam, one of the most rapidly urbanizing cities in Africa, BORDA found that about 400 tons of plastic waste per day remains uncollected or unrecycled.  Although about 98 percent of the solid waste generated per day can be recycled or composted, 90 percent is disposed in dumpsites.
 
At the same time, the recycling industry has started to grow because of new initiatives, community organizations and private companies. There are a few organizations that repurpose waste into arts and crafts, tools or apply it as a source of energy – such as WasteDar. However, the majority collect or purchase plastic waste from collectors, primarily with a view to export, rather than recycle or reuse locally.
 
Socially and environmentally, waste management is one of the biggest challenges for an increasingly urbanized world. Waste pickers can earn as little as US$1-2 a day in dangerous conditions with little opportunity for advancement. They make up some of the most disadvantaged communities living in deep poverty.

Through a new market for sorted waste materials, these communities may access higher income generation opportunities in a sustainable manner. This presents an opportunity to explore turning this waste into value more close to home.