Africa can address its plethora of challenges such as hunger, unemployment, poverty and diseases if government and the Africa private sector increase investments in new digital technologies and analytics that are transforming agriculture.
Software giant, SAP, said by embracing technological innovations, the continent would be able to adequately feed its 1,7 billion population and become a net exporter of food to the rest of the world.
This would ultimately improve quality life, create job opportunities as well as averting poverty and diseases.
SAP Chief Business Officer for Digital Agriculture and Digital Ports, Ashley Boag, exclusively told CAJ News in an interview at Sun City in the North West, the continent, which boasts huge tracts of arable land could become global food breadbasket of the entire world if such innovations were embraced.
“Unfortunately, African smallholder farmers have very low yields because of poor quality seed, low usage of fertiliser, and due largely dependence on rainfall,” said Boag.
“We need to be breadbasket for ourselves, then we move into becoming global breadbasket! It is highly possible,” Boag said.
He mentioned innovations such as mobile-based cloud solutions that helped trace and track both crops, and farmers’ agricultural activities would provide accurate information to boost farming yields.
He said the new innovation solution can always track why certain crops were wilting, turning yellow or drying up yet there was water, insisting such solutions would always address the challenge.”
He said agriculture could play a key role in empowering Africa’s mostly rural population.
“Agriculture should help more of our people in rural areas, feed nations, resolve unemployment. That is the kind of thing we have to believe in,” said Boag.
He said Africa’s challenge was insistence in localised models instead of focusing on what would transform it to a net exporter.
“The continent should not be in that position whatsoever.”
Boag pointed out 60 percent of the continent’s population still lived in rural areas where farming was largely subsistence.
“It is largely smallholder farming rather than large agricultural entities. So, we are in a situation where we would have a bit of arable land in certain areas whereas we have a population that is unemployed. We have got a net of good exporters, a sector which has to help our people and create employment,” said Boag.
The expert said the African continent’s 60-to-70 per cent people’s income still go to food, something he described as “quite significant.”
He cited challenges such as limited education for majority smallholder farmers and poor mobile connectivity in some parts of the continent as a hindrance to embracing such technological innovations that have a potential to address food scarcity.
Admittedly, South Africa had advanced mobile penetration, but when it comes to the much required digital agriculture skills, the country’s rural-based smallholder farmers were still lagging.
“If South Africa and other parts of the African continent had educated and economically empowered the smallholder farmers with modern agriculture innovation they would become economically empowered while realising improved yields.”
Boag urged African governments to invest on farming technology to tackle recurrent food shortages and rising unemployment.
“More and more people have come to realise technology can help address these challenges,” he said.
He disclosed SAP was now engaging with African governments, farmers, global financial institutions and other agriculture stakeholders to encourage them embrace new digital agriculture in order to produce more yield.
Boag bemoaned corruption which he pointed out hampered chances of attaining digital agricultural skills.
This hindered productivity.
Boag expressed encouragement at the positive response to digital agriculture in some local countries.
He cited the examples of some farmers in Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cameroon, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia, who are using mobile based cloud solution for agriculture to increase productivity.
The expert said such farmers always accessed accurate information about such factors as the weather outlook, rain probability, and pricing of their agricultural products such as chemicals and fertilizers.
This would enable them to determine know where to buy such farming inputs ahead of a farming season.
“Technology also enables farmers to access accurate information where their products will best be sold to fetch them better remunerations,” said Boag.
His sentiments came as millions are going hungry in the continent while famine had been declared in some parts.
Several African countries are experiencing their worst drought in years, triggering resource conflicts.