Why technology will disrupt and transform Africa’s agriculture sector—in a good way


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© Dasan Bobo/World Bank
© Dasan Bobo/World Bank

Agriculture is critical to some of Africa’s biggest development goals . The sector is an engine of job creation: Farming alone currently accounts for about 60 percent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa , while the share of jobs across the food system is potentially much larger. 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. Agriculture is also a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth, and the foundation of a food system that provides nutritious, safe, and affordable food.  

At the same time, Africa’s agriculture sector is facing mounting challenges.

While agricultural productivity in Africa has picked up in recent years, it still lags behind other regions, and currently one in four people in sub-Saharan Africa is chronically undernourished . In the coming decades, Africa’s food system will be further strained by a population that is projected to rise by 1.3 billion by 2050. And 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 percent by 2050. Expanding the land that is under cultivation has boosted African agricultural production in the past, but it has come at an environmental cost. Moving forward, the focus must be on intensifying production on agricultural land sustainably without harming the environment.

Clearly, business-as-usual farming is not the right way forward.

Whether it’s satellites that provide accurate climate data, Internet of Things devices like smart phones, or cutting-edge innovations like blockchain, technology could be a game-changer in boosting agricultural productivity and resilience in a sustainable way . The World Bank is incorporating precision technology into its agriculture projects around the world. We’re exploring Internet of Things-enabled smart irrigation devices that combine automated soil water sensors and cloud-based data analytics. These devices can boost crop yields while cutting water use. In Kenya, the World Bank is deploying big data from remote sensing and GIS-enabled technologies to support the implementation of agro-weather analytics that enable accurate weather monitoring. This data will enable small holders to know how and when to apply inputs for optimal results.

In Nigeria and Kenya, Hello Tractor is reversing the trend of low mechanization by allowing farmers to hire affordable tractors to work their land, all through their mobile phones. The start-up, which has served 22,500 farmers to date, reports a 200 percent increase in customers’ yields. Solar refrigerators are helping dairy farmers in Kenya cool their milk products and reduce spoilage. About 1.2 million farmers in Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, and Niger are learning best farming practices through engaging videos from Digital Green—a low-cost way to deliver agriculture extension . There’s more on the horizon. The much-hyped blockchain technology could expand rural finance by making financial transactions more accessible and less expensive, and allow farmers and others throughout the value chain to manage their supply chain more efficiently.

Throughout Africa, technology-led transformation of the agriculture sector is already underway, from farm to fork.  And as technology improves and becomes more widely available, disruption in agriculture promises to accelerate. 

The above is a viewpoint from Chapter 5 of the Foresight Africa 2018 report, which explores six overarching themes that provide opportunities for Africa to overcome its obstacles and spur inclusive growth. Read the full chapter on African technology, innovation, and digital potential here.

Join the Conversation

Phillomena Adhiambo Furstenberger
February 08, 2018

A good sign for Africa ,technology is finally
reaching over to one of the most important
sector in Africa these will create more job
opportunities. So innovative .

Fiona Luswata
February 08, 2018

I am engaged in teaching smart climate agriculture practices to women in Rural Uganda and this is a great resource. Indeed we need to harness and embrace technology and what it can do for our rural communities in agriculture

February 08, 2018

Love it

May 23, 2019

me too

Sajal Ahmed
February 11, 2018

Land Acquisition and land selection is the most important for expanding agricultural systems. Other hand education on agriculture will help them to use technology. So I think at first they have to need survey on total land.

Chaka Ng'ambi
February 13, 2018

We shall use all the innovations available to feed the increasing population and it is for this reason we learnt how to solve polynomial equations to apply to solve practical challenges in real life.

Mbalamen Yuwa
February 13, 2018

We in Nigeria need these solar refrigerators more than any other country, considering the epileptic power supply here. Hello tractors, you are also very much needed to enhance agricultural yields.

February 14, 2018

The biggest problems facing Africa is funding, effective and sustainable policies and systems required to drive agricultural processes however if the ideas and expertise needed can be deployed in the right places with the right opportunities there is a possibility that implementation would bring about an explosive output in this sector in africa

May 07, 2018

Useful Information, your blog is sharing unique information....
Thanks for sharing!!!
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Judith Awodi
May 07, 2018

I think the use of genetically modified crops should be encouraged if we want to be able to feed the rapidly growing population in years to come.

Gideon Isaac
June 20, 2018

Nice Insight on the changing agricultural landscape. Technology, truly, has the capacity to drive Africa's sustainable agricultural drive.

Guy Sela
September 07, 2018

Digital agriculture is a fantastic way to boost Africa's agriculture. Today, most companies focus on the US corn and soybean market, and small growers are left behind (although some big companies have taken the initiative to find solutions to small farmers).
I believe that digital agriculture, focused on software and app solutions, is the key, as it allows for quick transformation and dissemination of knowledge.
There will be challenges on the way, but they will be resolved.
Some challenges and possible solutions are described here: https://cropaia.com/blog/agricultural-apps-and-software/

August 23, 2018

Thank you for your post. This is excellent information. It is amazing and wonderful to visit your site.
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