What are some of the barriers preventing small farmers in Africa from adopting digital advisory services? What do we mean by big data? What can governments do to encourage greater digital uptake?
These were some of the questions addressed during the second of four Transforming Agriculture in Africa Through Digitalization webinars hosted by the African Development Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization's Investment Centre. During the most recent webinar, panelists explored how data-driven technologies can transform the agricultural ecosystem and contribute to policy-making and investment.
Event moderator Ed Mabaya, Manager of the Bank's Agri-business Division, said that COVID-19 had accelerated the use of digital technologies in the global economy, including in agriculture. "Digital innovation is new and exciting. Ten years ago, we didn't hear buzzwords like data platforms and blockchains. But all of this digital innovation is meaningless unless it is converted and utilized by farmers, especially small-scale farmers across Africa," Mabaya said.
The webinar looked at the challenges and opportunities for meaningful adoption of digital advisory, peer-to-peer and knowledge dissemination services in Africa.
Some of the barriers discussed included a lack of access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity and limited smartphone ownership. Panelists discussed improving digital literacy rates among farmers, and increasing customized content for them to use.
Digital advisory services need to be accessible to farmers through simple technologies like Short Message Service (SMS), Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) - sometimes referred to as "Quick Codes," Interactive Voice Response (IVR), chatbots and other user-friendly mobile apps to aid learning and improved productivity.
Services should meet farmers' needs by allowing them to send and receive messages in local languages. Knowledge sharing between farmers and service providers can significantly increase the quality of tailored content, panelists said.
Investing in formal adult education and digital literacy in rural communities, as well as providing incentives for more tech-savvy youth to enter agriculture - including better access to financing and opportunities for interesting jobs and entrepreneurial activities along the supply chain - are crucial to improving these advisory services.
Panelists also called for greater competition among telecommunication companies, improving rural area network coverage and bulking up services that are relevant and affordable to farmers.
Digital Agriculture Profiles
The Bank has partnered with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) to develop Digital Agricultural Profiles (DAP) for Rwanda, South Africa and Cote d'Ivoire. DAPs give an overview of the current landscape, including challenges and opportunities for quick-win digital solutions for agriculture value chains in specific contexts.
"Accelerating agriculture's transformation in Rwanda, for example, calls for a combination of low-tech and high-tech solutions alongside supportive policies and hard and soft infrastructure investments from the public and private sectors," said Kemi Afun-Ogidan, Coordinator for the Bank's Digital Agriculture Flagship.
FAO Senior Economist Carlo Bravi informed participants about the four "Vs" of big data - volume, variety, velocity and veracity - and championed big data as a public good.
"Enormous amounts of data are being generated so quickly that near-real-time predictions can be made. There's traditional data, like official statistics and surveys, and non-traditional data from the digital footprints we leave behind daily on social media, mobile phone use and geolocalisation," he said.
Analyzing datasets can reveal trends that can assist government policy-making, as well as providing farmers with advice, such as when to plant, where to access markets, or how to optimize water resources.
Fairer, more equitable future
The webinar also explored concerns about data privacy and security. For example, participants discussed how, in sub-Saharan Africa, there are no specific regulations related to agriculture data; thus, regulating data flows is difficult.
Looking to the future, panelists said access to digital solutions must be inclusive and that governance and regulatory policies must keep pace with growing data markets.
Webinar participants agreed to a common goal of establishing farmer-tailored digital solutions that allow farmers across Africa to improve their livelihoods and well-being.
* Panelists and presenters
Ed Mabaya, Manager, African Development Bank
Carlo Bravi, Project Coordinator, FAO Investment Center
Georgia Barrie,Co-founder, Farm.ink
Martha Haile, VP Africa, WeFarm
Emmanuel Bakirdjian, Africa Regional Director, Precision Agriculture for Development
Tawiah Agyarko Kwarteng, Sustainable Sourcing Manager, Ghana, The Hershey Company
Kemi Afun-Ogidan, Digital Agriculture Flagship Coordinator, African Development Bank
Dejan Jakovljevic, Deputy Director, Information Technology Division, FAO
Foteini Zampati, Data Rights Research Specialist, Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN)
Winnie Karanu, AI Country Plan Program Manager, Microsoft
Christophe Bocquet, AgriTech Lead, Office for East Africa, Dalberg Group
Stuart Tippins, Digital Agriculture Specialist, FAO Country Office, Kenya
Learn more about the webinar's distinguished panelists and watch the session in full here
Our future webinars. Next up:
- 8 July 2020: Improving market access through e-commerce, traceability and smart contracts. Register here
- 22 July 2020: Financial inclusion