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In My View

August 26, 2014

Paving the way for Africa’s high-tech agricultural revolution

A recent study on the African economic outlook reports that the agricultural sector accounts for around 60% of Africa’s total employment and about 25% of its GDP. This growing trend shows that Africa has the potential not only to feed its own people, but also to ensure food security around the world. A new era is unfolding in Africa’s agricultural sector. Driving this change is innovation, led by Africans themselves.

Year after year, I continue to witness ingenious innovations that are transforming the face of African agriculture in particular. The Innovation Prize for Africa, which I launched in 2011 to support revolutionary African ideas that enable socio-economic growth on the continent, repeatedly sees a high number of innovations from this sector. The 2013 winners who founded the hugely successful AgriProtein solution for nutrient recycling, went on to raise USD11 million to mass market their product to Africa’s farming communities, thus enabling them to be more sustainable and more profitable. The 2014 social impact winner, who created a low cost farming device to drain excess water from water-logged fields, is providing farmers with a viable solution to farm previously unusable land.

Mobile technology too has radically changed the way the sector operates. The iCow app for instance, which is a subscription-based agricultural information service, aims to reduce cow mortality rates and produce healthier cattle, while providing improved financial returns for the farmers. The SMS software program, e-Soko, which enables farmers to receive updates on market prices, both wholesale and retail, for their crops, allows farmers to bring their crops to the market on time while eliminating middlemen.  The mAgriculture tool, which helps agri-businesses understand underlying business trends, manage transactions, cut costs, increase revenue and mitigate risks, is bringing mobile information access to rural communities and small holder farmers, forever changing the way they farm.

Africa’s agricultural revolution is being unleashed as more and more African farmers adopt innovative technologies across the production and distribution spectrums. Yet, the sector still faces many challenges, especially in rural areas where the use of modern technology is limited. Lack of knowledge and resources continue to limit increased production as famers are unable to control pests and diseases.

As Africans we must ask - what can we do right now to fully unleash the true potential of our agricultural sector? Africans are going to continue to innovate faster than the system can support their innovations. This has to change. African governments and investors play a more central role in supporting the agricultural revolution. The time has come to prioritize scaling up infrastructure, supporting farming innovations from idea to market, and implementing trade and financial models that are fair and accessible to the farming masses.

I strongly believe that development and progress cannot be separated from innovation. Sustainable Innovation in agriculture will go a long way to boosting productivity, creating employment and bettering food security on the continent. Agriculture is one of Africa’s greatest potential. We have to move from theory to practical solutions to drive and support sustainable innovation in agriculture. After all, it is Africa that will one day feed the rest of world.