Ashley Boag (Chief Business Officer: SAP Africa) shares his insight into why Agri is the first frontier of African innovation – and why a lack of sex appeal is hampering the growth of farming on the continent.
What is the attitude you have seen in terms of government and corporates in Africa towards the problem of food security?
There is a definite understanding of the potential and a will to help drive food security. There is also a clear understanding of the potential of Agri for helping to drive employment, the balance of trade in countries and the health of the populace. The challenge is aligning everyone’s interests and timelines as many initiatives remain standalone and not integrated into a larger plan and, thereby, allowing economies of scale, speed of execution, etc. A key challenge remains to ensure interest and a will to farm, improving skills and the efficiency of farming, as well as improving the quality of seed, etc, in addition to supply chain efficiency. This is where SAP Rural Sourcing can also help.
A key challenge remains ensuring interest and a will to farm, improving skills and the efficiency of farming, as well as improving the quality of seed, etc, in addition to supply chain efficiency.
How easy are farmers finding using SAP’s Rural Sourcing Management solution?
This differs based on the general uptake of mobile phone usage but, in general, it has been designed to be simple and easy to use. There is a learning curve, of course, and users can start with simple functions and later advance to utilising more complex items such as access to financing and so on.
Smallholder farmers are now directly linked with the formal economy, enabling them to earn better prices for their crops. How is this going to change the agriculture industry and the role of large food companies in the supply chain?
What this solution does is several things:
•Disintermediation of the supply chain, causing efficiency and improved prices to farmers, ensures that they can earn better and thereby invest in better techniques, seed, fertiliser, access to water or automation and so on, thereby improving their future output.
•Access to improved seed (drought resistance, etc) and fertiliser, financing and other information on improved techniques.
•Large food companies can rely on improved track and trace and, thereby, meet both legal and customer requirements for understanding sustainability, source and quality.
•Large companies also benefit through access to the farmers directly and early information regarding quality and volume of produce, thereby improving planning and transparency.
•Remember that this is about access to resources, information and soliciting more transparency cross the supply chain and helping them to get a better price.
Will using technology play a major role in helping Africa to be in a better position to sustainably feed its 2.4-billion population by 2050?
Absolutely, thanks to the improved output and by helping farmers to earn more, which will enable them to reinvest in improvements as well as giving them information to drive efficiencies. Importantly, this can provide all stakeholders (including large Agri, wholesalers, as well as government) with improved transparency and, therefore, will help all stakeholders to better align, utilise improved methodologies, improve support and accelerate co-operation and efficiencies from planning through to output.
What are the challenges that arise from this huge population growth?
Population growth is still a challenge as efficiency gains and the move to Agri is currently not nearly fast enough to cater for this. Access to water and automation is too slow to cope. Farming is still not seen as “sexy” and is often a last resort rather than a primary driving force of economic growth and social improvement. More efforts need to be put on improved alignment, getting people skilled and educating people.
Farming is still not seen as “sexy” and is often a last resort rather than a primary driving force of economic growth and social improvement.
Will cellular technology and coverage be adequate to keep Africa’s farmers connected, or do you foresee problems with our infrastructure?
There needs to be more emphasis on alignment. Cellular technology continues to grow and new innovations such as using drones to improve coverage will continue to help.