Wanted: Mobile apps for African agriculture (Credit: infoDev)
Today, there are close to 900 million mobile phone subscribers in Africa. Sixty-five percent of the continent’s labor force works in agriculture or related sectors and it accounts for 32% of the gross domestic product. Mobile innovations are already improving efficiencies in the agricultural value chain; research shows that grain traders with mobile application usage experienced income growth of 29% and banana farmers in Uganda saw their revenues go up with 36%.
The mAgri Challenge, a business competition, has been designed to identify and support entrepreneurs developing mobile apps for agriculture in Africa. If you have worked with mobile tech entrepreneurs in Africa over the last few years, you might be thinking: “Not another mobile apps challenge!” This ‘competition fatigue’ is not completely unwarranted. Too many quick competitions for mobile apps, which at first seemed cool and generated lots of attention, have left in their wake a pool of mobile entrepreneurs confused about the next steps they can take to grow their business.
Agriculture and Rural Development
Agribusiness can help Nepal's products claim a larger share of the global market (Credit: World Bank)
Take a moment and think about where you would go for the best tea, coffee or dumplings. Would a country like Nepal rank high on your list, or for that matter even be on your go-to list? For a majority of people, maybe not immediately. Yet I would argue that the country should actually rank very high on your list (in full disclosure, this post and report are about agro-processing in Nepal).
On the flip side, the question for the Nepalese and interested agro-processors comes back to, well how do we make it rank at the top of anyone’s list? The food is already above standards and extremely palatable, thus it wouldn’t be very difficult to market. And imagine the type of marketing and branding that could be used; Himalayan grown, grown in the cool climates of the Tibetan mountains, and so on.
Five hundred million. That’s the official estimate, the number that practitioners arrive at from a range of 200 to 900 million. That is the number of smallholder farmers in the world, and it makes a lot of eyes pop in development circles.
Take for example the most recent agribusiness value-chain event, Making the Connection: value chains for transforming small holder agriculture, which convened recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While the 500 attendees represented the private sector, government, civil society, farmers’ organizations and academia, almost all discussions had a way of looping back to one topic: smallholders.Why is it that the attendees were so fixated on the farming segment of the value chain? Is Africa not yet ready to climb past the very first rung of the value chain? Today, it is estimated that a mere 10% of the global agricultural production undergoes processing.
India is swimming in grain these days, thanks to the Green Revolution, bumper crops and food security policies that encourage farmers to grow more. But unfortunately, India’s ability to store and manage its surplus grain hasn’t kept pace with production. The Wall Street Journal reports that state-run warehouses have a capacity of 63 million metric tons, while grain stocks are expected to be 75 million. To make things worse, many existing storage facilities are low-quality structures that aren’t up to the job. This means millions of tons of grain could be lost through exposure, deterioration and pests—bad news in a country of 1.2 billion with widespread hunger and an estimated poverty rate of 32 percent.