Farmers in Africa have been urged to embrace technology to increase yields and build resilience in crop cultivation and animal husbandry.
Lucy Komen, the acting chief executive and Registrar of Kenya’s Warehouse Receipt System Council (WRSC) said embracing technology will streamline various farming processes, leading to higher yields and reduced operational costs.
Komen was speaking in Nairobi, Kenya, at a session of the ongoing African Conference on Agricultural Technologies (ACAT), which has been organized by the Africa Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in partnership with Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development.
Stop relying on rainfall
“Precision agriculture and data analytics are the key to turn around value-based agriculture. Digitization will help farmers implement more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices. This includes optimizing resource use, reducing chemical applications, and minimizing soil erosion,” said Komen.
With technology adoption, she said, farmers can utilize the little water available and stop relying on rainfall. Currently, most farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture, but the effects of climate change are driving them away from their farms. With technology, they will also be able to monitor plant health and pest infestations, allowing for timely interventions to protect and optimize their crops.
Additionally, Lucy said that adopting technology will help farmers collect and analyze data about their operations and make informed decisions to optimize their practices and maximize productivity.
Telephone connectivity is not guaranteed
“Data is missing. Once we have data, we can use it to disseminate more technologies. Since the African landscape is a major obstacle to technology adoption because telephone network availability and connectivity are not guaranteed in all areas, innovators need to develop technologies that are fit for purpose and for the specific locality,” she added.
Even though many farmers own mobile phones, Lucy said most use feature phones with only voice and text functionalities since they are cheaper, easy to operate, and easily accessible in Africa.
A study by M-Farm shows that farmers across the globe also have minimal access to technology, let alone smartphones. This is true, especially in developing countries like Kenya, where many people lack smartphone access. Poor network and/or internet connectivity, unfamiliarity with the phone’s features, and inaccessibility to recharge vouchers also pose a problem for farmers.
Technology needed in the agricultural value chain
A recent study by BioMed Central revealed that in 2020, sub-Saharan Africa had the lowest percentage of the population with internet access at 30.04 percent, compared to 38.54 percent in South Asia or 91.52 percent in North America. To solve this problem, Lucy said innovators must develop technologies that fit the purpose and specific localities. Regular training of the farmers and extension workers is another way of increasing awareness and educating them on how to use smartphones, especially now that many nations are encouraging using smartphones to solve problems in the agriculture sector.
“Technology is needed in the agricultural value chain. If we don’t inject technology into that value chain, our productivity will remain low,” said Dr Aggrey Ambali, the chair of the AATF Board and Head of Science, Technology and Innovation Hub (NSTIH) at the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).
Susan Kahumbu, the chief executive of Green Dreams Tech, said that digitization alone will not fix the problem of low yields and resilience. On top of digitization, farmers must improve their soil structure to ensure they are in good shape. According to her, many things will work against farmers if the soils are not protected.
“Need for laws that protect our soils”
“For digitization to work, everything must start at the farm level. Farmers need to be trained in using those technologies since not all know them. The information must get to the farmer. This will be implemented only if we have policies that ensure all farmers know about these innovations,” said Kahumbu.
She said that if there are no rules to protect soils and their biology, many things will work against farmers. “There is a need for laws that protect our soils. There is also a need for mandatory proponent of microbial testing,” she said. “Currently, no country in Africa tests for microbes. Most test for soil nutrients and add more nutrients. Apart from that, there is a need to get the research done and map the soil biology or lack of soil biology across various countries.”
The conference, which runs until November 3, 2023, brings together a dynamic community of farmers and other practitioners, such as policymakers, researchers, experts, and innovators, to exchange ideas, share best practices, and explore innovative solutions to enhance agricultural productivity in Africa.
Themed Agricultural Resilience through Innovation, the conference focuses on the centrality of science, technology, and innovation (STI) in fostering agricultural transformation in Africa.
Milliam Murigi is a Kenyan science journalist who writes for the People Daily newspaper, Sayansi Magazine, and the Bird news agency on health, the environment, agriculture, and technology.