The role of digital technology in Africa’s agricultural sector


Of late, agricultural productivity in Africa has been seen to decrease considerably. This is evident from the low farm productivity, shorter fallow periods and farm communities losing young people to rural-urban migration. Furthermore, inasmuch as the African governments use many policy instruments, farm yields have only improved marginally.

Furthermore, a considerable proportion of farmers still use traditional processes that depend heavily on historical norms. For instance in Nigeria, farming communities like the Igbos continue to plant in accordance with the moon’s appearance. They also attribute their yields and harvests to the God as opposed to their own methods. Moreover, a few bold farmers who do try to use new technologies run the risk of running into losses.

Smart Farming

The onset of techpreneurs in agriculture has since changed the narrative. These players offer digital services that aid agriculture. There are start-up entrepreneurs and also local enterprises across Africa who are able to deliver solutions to small farmers at an affordable cost. Further accelerating the momentum to this trend is the fact that the barrier of entry into farming technology has dropped, since digital tools are now affordable.

Other slightly more complex technologies like aerial images from satellites or drones, weather forecasts, and soil sensors are making it possible to manage crop growth in real time. Automated systems are available to provide early warnings in case of deviations from normal growth. There are also other start-up ventures like Zenvus that deals with precision farming. Zenyus has the facility to measure and analyze soil data like temperature, nutrients and vegetative health. This helps farmers apply the right fertilizer and irrigate their farms optimally.

The process not only reduces input waste but also serves to improve farm productivity. For instance, Ujuzi Kilimo, a Kenyan startup, uses big data and analytic capabilities for purposes of transforming farmers into a knowledge-based community. Generally, the accessibility of technology has made farming a more exciting option for young people, who are increasingly viewing it as a business.

On the other hand, when it comes to large farms, success in derived from growing as much per acre of land as possible, reducing the risk of failure, minimizing operational costs and selling the crops at the best price. This demands effective management of input resources like fertilizer, water and seed quality, and minimizing the impact of the weather and pests.

The being said, the skill to be developed here is about translating available data into action. Ultimately, digital agriculture should encompass ICT and data ecosystems that support the development and delivery of timely, targeted information and services. These would then serve to make farming profitable and sustainable while delivering safe, nutritious and affordable food of all.