Making Agriculture Work For Africa: Inspiring Next Generation of Farmers | Anthony Awasom

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Global food demand is forecast to double by 2050. Meeting this need equitably and sustainably will require innovation throughout the entire food system, from the sourcing of raw materials to processing and packaging, to the evolution of consumption patterns and waste. Changing demographics, including the growth and urbanisation of the global population, is just one of many factors threatening food security in the 21st century.

Climate change has the potential to derail progress in rural economies and disrupt supply chains. Ensuring the safety and quality of food remains a paramount concern,

with direct impacts on human, economic and social development. Addressing these challenges will require collaboration through knowledge, skills and mobilising capital to promote inclusive and sustainable business models.
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With a couple billion more people estimated to join the global population in the next few decades, world food production could use an upgrade. Africa has a key role to play: agriculture is her biggest industry and asset, but much of Africa’s agricultural land is currently underutilised. Crop yields could be increased with more efficient farming techniques and new equipment — but that would require investment capital, which is often an obstacle for farmers.
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According to International Financial Corporation (IFC), agriculture is a $5 Billion global industry, supporting 500 Million farmers and responsible for 10% of consumer spending. Over ₁⁄₃ of all food that is grown is wasted. By 2032, food demand will increase by 20%, driven by growth in the developing world, and that food production will need to increase by 70%.

African Development Bank Group (AfDB) alarmed that Africa spends $35 Billion annually on food imports, a figure that is expected to increase to $10 Billion net by 2030 of which we have 65% of the World`s uncultivated arable land.

Agriculture in Africa has a massive social and economic footprint: more than 65% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa is smallholder farmers, and about 30% of sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP comes from agriculture. Yet, Africa’s full agricultural potential remains untapped.

In a recent analysis, Mckinsey determined that Africa could produce two to three times more cereals and grains, which would add 20% more cereals and grains to the current worldwide 2.6 billion tons of output.

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Africa has been left out in several industrial revolutions. We can’t afford to miss the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) and must be very impatient about it.

To fix this trend, African agriculture requires a re-branding, to carry that appeal that youth are looking for: a profitable, lucrative business that uses technology and leverages all their skills, as well as an enterprise that uses Social Media, Feature and Smart Phones, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, IoT.

There is need to leverage on emerging technologies and trends like AI, Machine Learning, Blockchain, Drones and Robots to do more with less. It is imperative to leapfrog.

To do this, youth must see the monetary value in agribusiness, by leveraging on these available technological tools and innovation ofcourse which requires capital.
Increased access to education and new forms of agriculture-based enterprise mean that youth can be a vital force for innovation in family farming, increasing incomes and well-being for both farmers and local communities.
Without access to finances, African youth will not be able to purchase quality agricultural inputs and make the much-needed investments that are necessary to create the agriculture young people are yearning to partake in. Presently, even though agriculture contributes 30% of Africa’s GDP, it attracts less than 5% of lending from financial institutions in Africa, leaving young farmers starved of the capital they need to operate modern-day agribusiness.

Today, Africa’s youth make up 65% of the continent’s population.  Yet, many of them want nothing to do with agriculture, because it is tedious and “dirty”. To many, agriculture is unsexy. It is for the illiterate and the old.

Such a glaring distaste for agriculture by the youth, even under the projections by the African Development Bank that Africa’s farmers and agribusinesses could create a trillion-dollar food market by 2030, should concern all the African agriculture stakeholders, including African governments and the private sector.

Many African farmers lack the capital to invest in yield-increasing upgrades like new irrigation systems, new machinery, new fertilizers, and technology for sensing and tracking crop growth. The most common path to capital is bank loans, with land as collateral. This is an unattractive proposition for farmers, who already bear the many risks of production, including bad weather, changing market prices, or even the shocks of geopolitical events.

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Lenders, on the other hand, have an incomplete assessment of their risk, especially with potential borrowers who have no credit history. Lenders also lack data and tools to predict their return on investment.

“Building a platform for risk-sharing is key to upgrading farming practices,” says Munther Dahleh, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT and director of IDSS. In order to create such a platform, Dahleh and the IDSS team aim to better predict the value of employing advanced farming practices on the production of individual farms. This prediction needs to be accurate enough to incentivize investment from economic stakeholders and the farmers themselves, who are in competition with each other and may be reluctant to share information.

Complementing this will be the need to fund programs that brand agriculture not as drudgery but an opportunity to use creativity, earn employment and build strong communities, coupled with supporting new agricultural ventures that use tech, biotech, and rapid exchange of information to make the most out of agriculture.

The good news is that across Africa, the private sector is leading the charge by investing in youth-led agricultural technologies startups, which, according to Forbes, have taken up a record $19 million in investment.
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To drive change and revolutionarise this sector, investors should look at powering blockchain enabled farmer to consumer agricultural marketplace for African farmers, perhaps starting with the $100 Billion Cocoa market for instance, and expanding into other soft commodities such as coffee, cotton cashews and grains.

Another focus should be to empower local farmers in Africa to increase overall production and also improve productivity using mobile centric applications accessible both off and online (using smartphones or feature phones – USSD) that allow them to manage the value chain of their crops, pre and post-farmgates, automate payments from end consumers.

Such platforms will promote sustainable, ethical practices and empower small farmholders, local communities and surrounding economies. The end consumer also benefits from the increased traceability, trust and transparency provided on these platforms that contributes both to their bottom line and the communities where goods are sourced from.

“There is a 1.2 trillion dollar opportunity for nutrition. If that’s not an opportunity, nothing else will be.”

Kamel Chida, Deputy Director, Private Sector Partnership Development for Nutrition, Bill and Melinda

Gates Foundation.

 

‘Traceability helps farmers raise a standard and get certifications, which results in more demand and satisfaction from consumers, hence more profits’ Bruce Blakeman, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Cargill
“Traceability can support smallholder farmers in applying for microfinance by building data and increasing the credibility of the farm.“

Krishna Kumar Founder and Chief Executive Officer, CropIn Technology.

 

“From a financial perspective, food loss and waste represent 940 billion dollars of economic loss every

year.” Ruth Thomas, Director, Global Agribusiness Alliance.

 
Written by Anthony Awasom, with excerpts from Mckinsey Company report and contributions from Prof. Esther Ngumbi, a Plant Biology PhD student at UC Davis

About the author:

Anthony Awasom is an independent business consultant focusing on energy, agritech and IoT.
He is also a self-taught, self-motivated purpose driven goal achiever with an in-depth marketing management and business development background that produces business results and delights stakeholders. He is an AfrOptimist, and an advocate for economically viable projects for Africa that are renewable, regenerative, responsible, sustainable, and resilient.

Twitter: @anthonyawasom

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