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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.

Mogadishu’s first tech hub

Roku Fukui's picture
Photo: UNSOM/Flickr
Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu is defined by a complex mix of challenges and opportunities. Despite political and economic struggles, Somalis are innovating to break the chronic cycle of vulnerability. Supported in many cases by the international Somali diaspora, people in Mogadishu are using technology to solve problems and tap into new markets.

One initiative poised to accelerate this is the iRise Tech Hub, Mogadishu’s first innovation hub, co-founded by Awil Osman. iRise connects entrepreneurs, innovators, and startups to share ideas and collaborate on a variety of issues ranging from developing an online food delivery startup, to creating an open space for Somalis to incubate ideas. The Somali concept of Ilawadaag—roughly translated as ‘share with me’—is put into practice at iRise to help entrepreneurs get feedback and network with other innovators.

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.

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.

Burkina Faso’s digital ambition: transforming through eGovernment and digital platforms

Samia Melhem's picture

Burkina Faso has embarked on a journey to put public data infrastructure at the heart of social and economic development. But what does this mean? And why should ICT and digital data be a priority when a large segment of your population still cannot access to the internet? This is precisely the question that the upcoming World Bank-funded eBurkina project is meant to answer.

First Burkina Faso open data e-services realized with support from the World Bank

Burkina Faso, a low-income landlocked country in West Africa, has the ambition to reform public administration differently. More specifically, the country sees ICT and digital innovation as a key opportunity to accelerate development and meet the objectives of its national development strategy (PNDES). This approach is consistent with the World Development Report 2016 on Digital Dividends, which found that, when used properly and with adequate policy interventions, ICTs can be a powerful tool for social and economic development.

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.

The Importance of Mapping Tech Hubs in Africa, and beyond

Rachel Firestone's picture

As the World Bank’s ongoing mapping of Tech Hubs in Africa comes out with its newest edition, we wanted to share the rationale behind this exercise and highlight its links to other efforts in this innovative space.

Our mapping activities began tracking tech hub and incubators in the African context since 2014 with periodic updates, focusing specifically on those who support digital entrepreneurship.
 
Complementing other World Bank work in this realm, such as research on mLabs and mHubs, contributions to the Makers’ movement, support to mobile app competitions, bootcamps and hackathons, and an upcoming Pan-African Acceleration program, the Tech Hubs in Africa map highlights the presence and potential interaction between digital entrepreneurs, while furthering the World Bank’s twin goals of ending poverty and increasing shared prosperity. The exercise also provides data points for ongoing inquiry into the relationship between innovation, entrepreneurship, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods. 

Digital Development into Practice: Co-Designing a Citizen Feedback Tool that Makes Sense

Samhir Vasdev's picture
In April the World Bank endorsed the Principles for Digital Development, signaling its intent to support the use of technologies in projects through human-centered, contextually appropriate, collaborative, safe, and sustainable design.
 
But what does this look like in practice? On the surface, projects that adopt the Digital Principles may not look so different from more conventional ICT4D efforts. Consider, for instance, a new participatory monitoring program in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. MOPA invites citizens to report problems in the waste management services through a digital platform, relaying these problems via an open-source map for the city council to enlist microenterprises to collect the waste. 
Within a six-month pilot across four districts, over 900 problems were identified by trained monitors
This is far from the first community engagement and participatory monitoring program to use technologies aimed at reducing barriers for citizens to more directly inform anything, from budget allocation to policy options to service delivery. And like many other participatory engagement programs, MOPA faced a slew of familiar challenges that have caused other similar projects to stutter, including:

Replacing a Three Day Walk with the Push of a Button

Charles Hurpy's picture
Madagascar is big—it’s the fourth largest island in the world, more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Madagascar’s size, its tropical climate, dense forests and steep hills, combined with a lack of money for infrastructure deployment and maintenance, means there are isolated pockets of people all over the country without easy access to cities, to information, to the world.
 
Until recently, mobile and communications services were confined to a few, mostly urban, areas. That left people living in rural areas cut off. When we were in Madagascar, working on this project, we saw many rural communities in dire need of essential infrastructure and services. People in some villages live far from any road, or rely on dirt tracks that turn to impassable mud ways in the rainy season, without access to electricity, hospitals, or banks.
 
So, in this environment, access to mobile communications cannot be considered a luxury anymore—it’s a vital service that overcomes physical barriers and infrastructure gaps. With mobile service, people can contact family members in case of an emergency, call for medical help, and transfer money via their cell phones.  Farmers—a large majority of the country population works in agriculture, and especially the poorest—can use the internet to check market prices for their produce, or get information on fertilizers.  Schools with connectivity can reach the world, giving students access to information ranging from Victor Hugo’s novels to Fermat’s last theorem. Phones can be vital tools for health and well-being.

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