Scientists are now calling for a technological transformation in how Africans undertake agricultural production. With almost three quarters of the workforce on the continent focussed on agriculture, such a change could lead to rapid innovation.

A farmer with digital tablet in crop field || Photo credit

Microsoft has taken its commitment to digitally transforming the continent one-step further through a partnership with research company, Dalberg which enabled the launch of a Digital Transformation Series in Africa which kicked off on 21st November 2017.

The series has been created with the purpose of engaging leaders, policy makers, technologists and entrepreneurs through a series of conversations that will aid in deciphering misconceptions and questions that exist around technology policy. In turn it aims to support the design of resilient technology and innovation policy across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Amr Kamel, General Manager, West, East, Central Africa & Indian Ocean Islands, Microsoft noted that for digital transformation in all sectors to be successful, particularly where it pertains to development impact – that strong leadership is required for investing in building capability, resources and focused innovation to drive change.

“The Digital Transformation Series puts into action what we set out to do which is to provide a platform and an environment for policy nurturing, discussion and creation. The notion of the center creating a frontier for Financial inclusion & faster economic growth really looks set to become a reality through this.”

The series will run over the course of 2018 – curating conversations that aim to understand where policy is able to play a role in supporting and accelerating digital innovations that drive inclusive growth for the continent. A variety of topics will be covered – all of which are seen to drive economic and social growth (FSI, healthcare, government and oil and gas).

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“The outcomes of topics covered in the series will only compliment what Microsoft has already done in each sector up for discussion. We have a number of solutions that have been subject to great success within each sector.

“For example, within the healthcare sector, Microsoft has introduced care-coordination solutions that enable medical practitioners to communicate with patients, manage and connect to health care providers, and monitor patient progress more effectively. On the financial front, our Multichannel Customer Experience Management solution enables customer experience optimisation by transforming their bank’s omni-channel strategy.”

“Microsoft has also established itself as a leader in assisting governments of all sizes modernise systems and improve citizen services through the power of software, devices and services,” continued Kamel. “Our citizen services solution gives citizens on-demand, omni-channel access to public information while equipping government employees with more efficient tools, advanced analytics and insights to improve citizen services.”

Digital disruption can be seen as one of the most prevalent and crucial conversation on the continent today – through this, there is absolutely no doubt that technology will continue to change the manner in which we live, communicate and work at an unprecedented pace.

“From here out, Microsoft, along with our partners Dalberg and Strathmore University are excited for the impacts these discussions will have in long term,” concluded Kamel.

Why digital transformation in agricultural production is needed

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and to feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70%. For Africa, which is projected to be home to about 2 billion people by then, farm productivity must accelerate at a faster rate than the global average to avoid continued mass hunger.

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Digital transformation of agriculture processes can create a stronger operational foundation for rural sourcing. This transformation can bring affordable, sustainable agricultural production by facilitating smart, traceable solutions throughout operations from farm to fork.

Modern farmers are surrounded by a complex system of equipment, vendors, processors, manufacturers, and agrichemical specialists. These technologies are often new to farmers in rural areas and developing countries; however, they can assist them in becoming far greater contributors. Smallholder farming operations can benefit immensely from food traceability and hyperconnectivity innovations. This digital transformation is set to bring agricultural production to new heights of productivity and effectiveness, with additional benefits for smallholder farmers.

For decades, African governments have used many policy instruments to improve farm productivity. But most farmers are still only marginally improving yields. Some continue to use traditional processes that depend heavily on historical norms, or use tools like hoes and cutlasses that have not evolved for centuries.

But this is about to change. African entrepreneurs are now interested in how farmers work and how they can help improve yields. The barrier of entry into farming technology has dropped, as cloud computing, computing systems, connectivity, open-source software, and other digital tools have become increasingly affordable and accessible. Entrepreneurs can now deliver solutions to small-size African farms at cost models that farmers can afford.

While it is still early to evaluate the impacts of this digitalization of farming systems in Africa, in terms of productivity and improvement of human welfare, there is already a promising trend: Technology is making farming exciting for young people. As they see that developing mobile apps alone cannot feed Africa, many will turn to farming as a business.

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Finally, Africa needs to cut its food waste in regions where electricity is unreliable or unavailable. The biggest impact will come when the little that is produced can be effectively utilized through appropriate preservation and storage techniques. Pioneering affordable solutions on food safety and tracking food supply chains will boost the overall value of the sector.

Digital transformation therefore opens vast untapped potential for farmers, investors, and entrepreneurs to improve efficiency of food production and consumption in Africa. From precision farming to an efficient food supply chain, technology could bring major economic, social, and environmental benefits. Indeed, the sheer optimism across the startup ecosystem is that extreme hunger can be cured in Africa, in this generation, by significantly transforming the industry that employs most of its citizens.



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