How Digital Agriculture Can Help Africa During COVID-19

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YORKSHIRE, United Kingdom — In light of the global challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to highlight that the pandemic has brought to light the vulnerability of agricultural and food systems in the poorest countries. According to various surveys, up to 80% of smallholders said their economic situation is worse now than before the pandemic. The World Bank Group has developed a COVID-19 Household Monitoring Dashboard to monitor the impact of the pandemic and individuals in 72 countries around the world. According to the dashboard, in Ghana, 76% of households whose main source of income is from agriculture reported a decline in the last 12 months. Despite Africa’s challenges during the pandemic, digital agriculture could help African farmers succeed.

The impact of COVID-19

In most countries in the western world, people are experiencing the catastrophic effects that SARS CoV2 had on health care. On the African continent, however, the situation is somewhat different. Even though many countries have recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases since mid-July 2021, the reality is that the impact of the pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa remains significantly lower than in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Australia.

However, as the world searches for an escape from a health crisis, Africa is facing an economic blow due to the pandemic. Since the turn of the millennium, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa have experienced sustained economic growth. Since the Ebola outbreak, many people began to wonder if and to what extent this type of event had implications for the development of the continent.

The impact of COVID-19 on food security in Africa

In many countries in Africa, hunger is increasing at an alarming rate due to various factors. Years of armed conflict, drought, extreme weather and economic hardship play a significant role. Apart from this, various government restrictions and measures aimed at curbing the pandemic have wreaked havoc on the continent’s food supply and deteriorated the already weak picture of food security in Africa. Many factors threaten food security. The closures and restrictions have caused disruptions in food supply chains. Additionally, border closures and restrictions on the export and import of essential foods such as rice and wheat have made many African countries vulnerable as they depend on these commodities.

Contributing to around 23% of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), agriculture is undeniably one of the most important economic sectors. Research has shown that in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60% of the active population works in agriculture.

In rural parts of the continent, it is the main source of income and food. Closures and other restrictions have made it difficult for farmers to sell their produce. In addition, those who have animals find it difficult to reach veterinary services.

The situation is particularly serious in East Africa. According to the latest statistics, 7 million people in East Africa are at risk of starvation and 33.8 million others are at risk of food insecurity. More … than 12.8 children in countries like Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya suffer from severe malnutrition.

About Digital Agriculture

Digital agriculture is the use of digital technology in agriculture to collect, analyze, store and share electronic data related to agriculture. The UN has described the use of digital technologies in agriculture as something that will undeniably revolutionize the process. In the current climate of the continent, farmers must continue to innovate to overcome various challenges and meet demand. Digital technologies enable them to meet needs and seize growth opportunities. One may wonder how the digital agriculture industry attracts consumers when in reality, consumers may be attracted to this concept because it allows them to have more knowledge about the products they are buying. Consumers generally demand quality and sustainably produced food and digital agriculture lets them know where it comes from.

How can digital agriculture help Africa defeat the pandemic?

The US-based non-profit organization International Heifer conducted a survey which showed that 40% of agricultural organizations had to close at least temporarily due to pandemics. However, the survey also revealed that there is hope in the combination of technology and agriculture, i.e. digital agriculture. Some of the challenges facing farmers in African countries are more pressing than others. Asked about their needs after the first wave of COVID-19, most farmers expressed the need for agronomic advice, inputs, money and help to overcome transport and logistics challenges and to recognize adequate markets for crops. This is where digital agriculture comes in handy, as it enables the food system to become more resilient to unforeseen systemic shocks such as this pandemic. For example, agricultural e-commerce platforms offer more direct links to markets, which prove valuable in overcoming the challenges farmers face.

Heifer International has conducted research on digital agriculture and found that many entrepreneurs are creating agri-tech services and tools for the improvement of digital agriculture across Africa. It uses all available technologies such as AI, geographic information software and virtual reality to contribute to digital disruption in agriculture.

How African governments have helped digital agriculture

Governments have already taken various steps to ensure that smallholders engage in digital agriculture. For example, around 13% of Sub-Saharan farmers have already signed up for services such as weather updates. Ethiopia has established a helpline for farmers, “80-28”, which has 4 million users. It’s a free service that provides information in local languages, which is a big plus. Rwanda is one of the countries on the continent where the government and various organizations are actively working on the implementation of digital agricultural technologies.

Digital agriculture in Rwanda

In Rwanda, the main crop is coffee, with around half a million coffee growers. The amount of coffee she produces limits her income. Thus, digital agriculture helps them make coffee a more profitable crop. This is why agribusiness NGOs such as TechnoServe conduct technology training in Rwanda and other East African countries. Research has shown that training increases farmers’ awareness of best coffee growing practices. Along with other types of support, including financial, it helps farmers adopt new technologies.

Digital agriculture in Kenya

Kenya is also one of the countries where the agricultural sector plays a vital role in the economy.
Statistics show that it brings life 38% of the population and account for
31.5% of the country’s GDP.

According to the Kenyan government, the country is at the forefront of digital innovations in
agriculture and aims to adopt the ten-year plan for the transformation and growth of the agricultural sector
Strategy. The aim of the strategy is to develop a modern agricultural sector who will support
100% food safe. Most of the tools Kenyan farmers currently use rely on the use of mobile phones.
phones and mobile money. They use the last mile digital tools that enable digital transactions and
facilitate communication between smallholder farmers and agribusinesses. They too
use market linkage tools and reach out directly to farmer centers. The purpose of the first tool is to connect
producers and buyers via the mobile application. Direct-to-farmer hubs are the type of stores
where service providers provide their services directly to registered farmers. It is also possible
for farmers to take orders directly from buyers and not through third party mediators.

Challenges of implementing digital agriculture in African countries

Research shows that young people are ready to get into farming. However, they feel that they do not have access to the funds and training that would enable them to do so. Therefore, it is essential that governments provide education and enable people to start a business that will provide sustainable income.

Number of people using digital technologies in agriculture

Africa is a continent with a high percentage of young people. In practice, about 60% of people are under 25 years old and, as such, can engage in agricultural activity. However, due to a lack of funding and knowledge, only 23% are currently using agricultural technology.

How agricultural technology can help Africa during COVID-19

Agricultural technologies can give farmers a better understanding of where and how to farm to create an adequate food supply for the continent. In addition, through funds and education, many young people can have a chance to find a job and build a successful career.

Conclusion

Technology affects all spheres of people’s lives, regardless of location. Every industry changes, including agriculture. The market is more complex and everyone, including farmers, faces totally different requirements. Agriculture plays an important role in the economy of countries located on the African continent. Thus, governments and farmers must be aware that the use of digital agriculture will bring enormous benefits to them and to the population of the continent in general.

-Thomas Glare
Photo: Flickr

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