African farmers increase yields and income with their smartphones

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African farmers increase yields and income with their smartphones

From drones and big data to financing apps, advanced technology can be a game changer

More farmers across Africa are set to turn to digital solutions within the next three years, which will boost productivity and, potentially, employment across the value chain, according to a new study.

More farmers across Africa are set to turn to digital solutions within the next three years, which will boost productivity and, potentially, employment across the value chain, according to a new study.

“In fact, it could even be a significant job creator, opening up hundreds of thousands of jobs in agricultural technology, digital solutions support, agricultural processing, and agricultural manufacturing jobs.”

The study includes interviews with more than 120 agribusiness leaders, technology experts, digital solution providers, donors, investors, policymakers and academics across the continent.

Among the digital solutions tracked and analysed in the report were farmer advisory services, which provide weather or planting information via SMS or smartphone applications, and financial services, including loans and insurance for farmers. Other solutions linked farmers with markets for farm inputs and farm produce, or provided supply chain management to improve traceability and last-mile logistics.

Some services used satellite imagery, weather data, powerful big data analytics and machine learning techniques to deliver valuable real-time agricultural insights and forecasts at national and regional levels.

More than a third of participants in the study said they already used at least one form of advanced technology such as drones, field sensors, big data or machine learning, and most respondents said they expected to integrate these types of technologies into their operations in the next three years.

Figures indicated that farmers saw improvements in yields ranging from 23% to 73% and increases of 18% to 37% in incomes from using these solutions. Models that bundled more than one solution together— so-called “super platforms”, which combine digital market linkages, digital finance and digital advisory services — were associated with yet further improved yields of up to 168%.

The authors of the report highlighted that several of today’s barriers — notably, limited access to technology and connectivity — will begin to be overcome.

“In particular, we expect that most farmers will have access to a mobile phone by 2030. Many will also have access to smartphones; already more than 25% of smallholder farmers in countries like Kenya and Senegal report access to smartphones; these numbers are projected to grow quickly. The cost of data will continue to fall and growing, thriving mobile money ecosystems around the continent will serve as a strong foundation upon which to build platforms for digital transactions.”

They added: “Given that Africa will achieve near universal phone access in the coming years, current growth trends suggest that 100-million smallholder farmers could be registered for digital services within three years and as many as 200-million smallholders will sign on by 2030.”

Michael Hailu, director of CTA said: “Digitalisation can be a gamechanger in modernising and transforming Africa’s agriculture, attracting young people to farming and allowing farmers to optimise production while also making them more resilient to climate change.”

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