Africa: Laying the foundations for a digital revolution in African food systems

State of Africa Agriculture report says digital technologies will solve inefficiency, exclusivity and unsustainability

New report maps the future of African food systems – use of digital technologies.

According to the State of Africa Agriculture Report 2023, “Empowering African Food Systems for the Future”, digital technologies will be key to solving three persistent problems in the African agricultural industry: inefficiency, exclusivity and unsustainability.

The report is authored by AGRA (Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa – an Africa-led organization that seeks to catalyze the transformation of agriculture on the continent through innovation.

There is already evidence that African agriculture is becoming more efficient, more inclusive and more sustainable, the report observes.

But despite technological advances, food insecurity is worsening in Africa as chronic undernourishment increases and many countries face severe food shortages triggered by a combination of factors, including the Ukraine crisis and change climatic.

The report itself captures this situation well. In 2022, for example, the prevalence of undernutrition in Africa was 19.7 percent, a slight increase from 2021, according to the report.

In 2022, the prevalence of hunger has also increased across Africa, with hunger rising from 22.2 percent to 22.5 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, resulting in an additional 9 million people going hungry. compared to 2021, the report adds.

Citing the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Network Against Food Crises (GNAF), Market Data Insight for Actionable Strategy (FSIN) and Oxfam International, the report states that the prevalence of undernutrition in North Africa increased from 6.9 percent. to 7.5 percent, with almost 2 million more people facing hunger in 2022.

The nature of food systems in the region, he notes, is characterized by underdeveloped markets and is primarily driven by smallholder farmers who operate on small, fragmented farms.

How can this be?

Experts from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPR) highlighted the underdevelopment of markets and the difficulties of “small farmers who operate on small and fragmented farms”.

The good news is that these experts are already seeing evidence of the positive impact of digitalization on the efficiency, inclusion and sustainability of African agribusinesses.

The launch of this report in front of some 5,400 delegates from more than 90 countries gathered for the 2023 Forum on Food Systems in Africa, on the theme “Recover, Regenerate, Act” in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, offered some hope to Africa.

This has occurred against a backdrop of extreme weather events, recurring crop diseases, inadequate infrastructure and policies, risk-averse investors and ongoing conflicts, which have disrupted food and energy markets.

Forum participants recognized the continent’s current status, but refused to accept it as the status quo.

Instead, they decided to “harness Africa’s potential” by engaging young people in sustainable food production; adopt regenerative agricultural methods at the local level; collaborate across borders, share good practices and pool resources to support smallholder farmers.

They also agreed to improve soil health, grow more nutritious crops and include women and marginalized communities in all these efforts.

To support all of this, countries must pursue innovative financing strategies and embrace “digital technologies, e-commerce and innovative market platforms.”

Examples:

  • Ivory Coast launched its “e-Agriculture Digital Solutions Program” and the World Bank helped support the country’s online agricultural platform that shares good agricultural practices with remote producers.
  • Kenya worked with UNDP to create a digital literacy program in which farmers learn to access agricultural data, weather forecasts and market data through their smartphones.
  • Rwanda has started to digitize parts of its agricultural sector, such as advisory services to farmers. The government also developed the E-Soko platform, which publishes market data online so that farmers can get fair prices for their products.
  • Always inside RwandaBank of Kigali has digitized the supply chain management of the government subsidy program in cooperation with the Rwanda Agriculture Board.
  • South Africa has focused on precision agriculture, which integrates drones, artificial intelligence and remote sensors to monitor crop conditions, all in order to increase crop yields and use resources more effectively.
  • Legume planters Tanzaniathe rice farmers of Nigeria and the farmers of Ghana And Niger have all leveraged information and communication technologies to improve their livelihoods and shift to more sustainable techniques.

Digitalization supports broader goals and aspirations

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its report, Going digital: shaping policies, improving livesdefines digitalization as “the use of digital technologies and data and interconnection that result in new activities or changes to existing activities” in, for example, food systems.

Digital technologies and associated products and services can transform production, management and governance systems.

By “going digital”, Africa can align its food systems with SDG 2: Zero Hunger, to achieve food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.