Technology is Driving the Growth of Agribusiness in Africa But is it Enough?

June 6, 2019

In Africa, smallholder farmers feed the continent and about 75% of the agricultural industry depends on small scale producers. In order to consolidate the different aspects of agricultural development on the continent, there has been an avalanche of home-grown technology solutions.

The importance of agribusinesses is reflected in AWEC’s cohorts, where agriculture is one of the highest represented industries. Henrietta Ogan, an AWEC alumna from the first cohort, runs Ibiteinye Integrated Farms in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. Her farm sits on 3 hectares of land where she runs a fully organic process raising poultry, snails, fish, pigs and all the feed for her livestock.

“I’m able to grow because I can document my processes properly,” she said, referring to her training with AWEC and the digital tools she has employed to implement this training. In addition to the role of technology to organise the administration side of her business, Henrietta used digital tools to network and reach out to potential partners and clients.

She said that she now runs training sessions with major groups in Rivers State and operates her farm knowing that she is part of a network of diverse business women connected by technology.

An AgTech app

AgTech Is The New Cool

As the technology revolution sweeps through the continent, agriculture is not left out. Every year, Africans build new digital solutions to some of the big challenges faced in the agricultural space.

There is a surge of mobile platforms that collect, analyze and aggregate data from farmers across the country in order to adapt the right agro-chemicals to the needs of each field. In the midst of draughts and limited water supplies, new technologies provide drip irrigation kits and solar powered greenhouses to ensure that farms can stay irrigated in all weather types.

High rates of borrowing money from banks make it difficult for smallholder farmers to access funding to scale their farms. As a result, farm-friendly microfinance cooperatives make funds available to farmers by crowdfunding capital and matching farmers to loans. Several of such solutions have sprouted across the continent, raising millions of dollars in funding and ensuring that farms thrive.

Agriculture Extends Beyond Farms

One of the biggest challenges faced by African agriculture is the lack of investment into the post-farm end of the value chain due to infrastructural challenges. The value chain of agriculture is seemingly broken into several pieces. However, innovative solutions within the continent show that the work being done to repair the flow of the system is not in vain.

In order to understand the magnitude of the challenge of food waste, consider the reports by the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) that 45% of food produced around the world is wasted each year. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 85% of food waste occurs between the farm and the consumer due to poor storage and transportation infrastructure.

“I am thankful for technological processes that allow me freeze dry or preserve my produce for better distribution,” said Henrietta.

Where Are The People & Planet In All of This?

According to the FAO, agribusiness currently accounts for up to 70% of the world’s water use. The high volume of chemical fertilizers and pesticides also poses risks to the environmental health of communities.

Every year, the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that about 35% of global greenhouse gas emissions is contributed by agricultural processes. However, it is impressive to see how developments in agribusiness in Africa have increasingly taken up the challenge to balance economic viability with environmental protection and social justice. The people are increasingly empowered to solve their own problems.

Henrietta also has plans for her farm to reduce its environmental impact by producing biogas from the tons of organic waste produced. The solution will solve both the challenge of poor electricity supply in Nigeria as well as reduce waste on the farm. Her team is working with experts from Songhai Farms in Porto Novo, Benin Republic to implement the most efficient and modern processes for converting organic waste to biogas.

Is Technology Enough?

Henrietta believes that the rapid development of technological interventions are welcome but they must be implemented in an informed manner. She recalls the first year of running her farm: “I had unknowingly acquired seeds that were modified and incompatible with some of my livestock. I lost about 50% of my livestock that season and since then, I have ensured that technology is used within the holistic vision of the farm, not opposed to it.”


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