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digital development

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

Simeon Ehui's picture
Also available in: Français 
Photo: Dasan Bobo/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.

Digital innovation brings development and humanitarian work closer together

Priya Chopra's picture
Photo: UNMISS/Flickr
Humanitarian and development efforts serve two distinct and complementary objectives. Humanitarian work focuses on responding to emergency situations in the immediate aftermath of a crisis. Development, on the other hand, takes a longer-term approach that seeks to address the social and economic aspects of crises, especially as they become protracted.

Following milestones such as the World Humanitarian Summit, the momentum is strong for humanitarian and development communities to work together in complementary ways—not in sequence—to bridge the humanitarian-development divide. Development institutions are engaging much earlier than in the past, emphasizing the need to focus more on prevention and building resilience where they can play an active role.

Thanks to Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), we now have new ways of bridging the divide and integrating these two efforts. First, ICT platforms can bring development partners together to analyze, design, and track progress in a more unified and efficient way. They also offer an integrated system where multiple communication channels can operate at the same time. As a result, the notion of “continuous” development, whereby development experts pick up the work where humanitarian agencies left off, is progressively giving way to “contiguous” development, which offers humanitarian and development teams a chance to work more closely together.

Are you reaping the full benefits of the technology revolution?

Sara Sultan's picture

 
About 17 years ago, I began preparations for applying to colleges in America. One of the prerequisites to qualify for an undergraduate program was the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), administered at testing centers around the world. I vividly remember calling the number given to see how I faired in the test, standing at an international call center booth on a sunny afternoon in Islamabad, Pakistan, my heart beating fast with anticipation. The call cost Rs.100/minute at the time ($1.05/min at the current rate). But despite the expensive price tag, the service delivered information I desperately needed.

Fast forward to the age of Google Voice, WhatsApp, Viber… You’ll agree that technology has not only advanced but services have become cheaper as well. Technology is entrenched in our everyday tasks—from communication to financial transactions, from expanding education to building resilience to natural disasters, and from informing transport planning to expanding energy to the unserved.

So, ask yourself: am I—a student, teacher, business owner, or a local government representative—reaping the full benefits of the greatest information and communication revolution in human history? With more than 40% of the world’s population with access to the internet and new users coming online every day, how can I help turn digital technologies into a development game changer? And how can the world close the global digital divide to make sure technology leaves no one behind?

Electricity and the internet: two markets, one big opportunity

Anna Lerner's picture
The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
 
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
 
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
 
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
 
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
 
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

Who shares in the European sharing economy?

Hernan Winkler's picture
Data on the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb and so on) are scarce, but a recent study estimates that the revenue growth of these platforms has been dramatic. In the European Union (EU), the total revenue from the shared economy increased from around 1 billion euros in 2013 to 3.6 billion euros in 2015. While this estimate may equal just 0.2% of EU GDP, recent trends indicate a continued, rapid expansion.

This is important, as the sharing economy has the potential to bring efficiency gains and improve the welfare of many individuals in the region.

This can also generate important disruptions.

While online platforms represent a small fraction of overall incomes, the share of individuals participating in these platforms is large in many European countries. For example, roughly 1 in 3 people in France and Ireland have used a sharing economy platform, while at least 1 in 10 have in Central and Northern Europe (see figure below).

At the same time, the share of the population that has used these platforms to offer services and earn an income is also significant, reaching 10% or more in France, Latvia, and Croatia. This means that at least one out of every ten adults in these countries worked as a driver for a ride-sharing platform such as Uber, rented out a room of his or her house using a peer-to-peer rental platform such as Airbnb, or provided ICT services through an online freelancing platform such as Upwork, to name a few examples.

How can developing countries make the most of the digital revolution?

Nagy K. Hanna's picture

Also available in: French | Spanish

Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations. So, how can policy makers successfully harness the digital revolution for development? This is the motivation behind my new publication: Mastering Digital Transformation (Emerald, 2016).

From my long experience in development assistance, I saw how information poverty in its many forms has led to policy planning and management without facts, disconnected enterprises, inefficient markets, poor service delivery, disempowerment, corruption, and more. The ongoing ICT revolution has been long ignored in development thinking and practice. Development practitioners and ICT specialists remain disconnected. I studied the experiences of countries pursuing digital transformation, and captured key lessons and takeaways in several books.

Digital transformation is not a technological fix, a blueprint plan, a one-off event, or a one-size-fits-all strategy. Rather, it is a social learning process, sustained over time, involving diverse stakeholders. Its ultimate objective is to harness the global digital revolution to meet a country’s specific socio-economic priorities. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. It is driven by vision, leadership, innovation, learning, and partnerships among government, business, and civil society.

Watching Tanzania leapfrog the digital divide

Boutheina Guermazi's picture
 
Digital opportunities are the fuel of the new economy. They have significant impact on both the economy and society. They contribute to growth, create jobs, are a key enabler of increased productivity, and have significant impact on inclusion and poverty reduction. They also provide the ability to leapfrog and accelerate development in key sectors like health and education.
 
Why is this important?  It is important because “going digital” is not a temporary phenomenon. It is a revolution—what the World Economic Forum calls “the 4th industrial revolution”. It is happening before our eyes at a dizzying pace, disrupting every aspect of business, government and individuals’ lives. And it is happening in Tanzania.

Operationalizing the WDR

Pierre Guislain's picture
In the last decade or so, mobile phones have been appearing in the least likely of places: in the hands of a Masai warrior in the middle of the Kenyan bush, on a fishing boat off the coast of Vanuatu’s Malekula Island, and even on top of Mount Everest. The digital revolution has reached much of the world and has had a powerful impact.
Photo: Arne Hoel / World Bank


The 2016 World Development Report on “Digital Dividends” paints a clear picture of the remaining digital gap and of the barriers that are keeping countries from reaping the dividends associated with the digital revolution. One of the key points that the report makes is that, for digital technologies to benefit everyone everywhere, affordable access to high-speed internet is key.

Indeed,
  • The quality and price of high-speed internet access still varies widely from country to country. For instance, the report shows that users in Pakistan pay less than US$1.50 per month per GB of mobile internet. But users in Africa can pay up to ten times that amount. These differences arise from policy failures as much as from differences in countries’ natural endowments.
  • There is a need to enhance fixed broadband infrastructure. While mobile broadband has helped fill the gap for high-speed Internet access in developing countries, small screen devices are not necessarily suitable for running a digital business and mobile networks still need strong backhaul infrastructure.
  • There is also a need to strengthen analog complements to digital technologies, such as regulations that create a vibrant business climate and skills that let firms leverage digital technologies to compete and innovate.