Agriculture has always been and will always be an important sector as long as mankind exists. Reverend Thomas Malthus, in one of his works in 1798 titled “An essay on the principles of population”, posited that food production should be given serious attention.
This is to ensure the availability of food for a growing population and to avoid what he referred to as the “Malthusian trap”- a theory which argues that if population growth is higher than agricultural growth, there will come a stage at which the supply of food is insufficient to feed the population.
Considering the massive growth in the African population, which is projected to soar even more by 2100, if there is no intentional integration of technology into agricultural practices across board, we may be heading towards the Malthusian projections. This is especially true considering the food insecurity prevalent in this part of the world.
In times past, farming, particularly in Africa, was a tedious and primitive occupation such that ambitious educated young people considered it beneath them. With the advent of technology, however, agricultural practices have transformed, making lives better across the globe. The cultivation of land, animal husbandry, marketing, transportation and supply of agricultural products, all these processes, are fast transitioning from primitive methods to more attractive technology-driven practices.
The narrative around the agricultural sector is rapidly changing as the current crop of emerging world leaders have boldly stepped onto the stage, connecting the dots between food production, modern living and technological advancements. This shift in paradigm within the sector is considered a momentum with regards to technological advancements.
Innovative techniques implemented within the agricultural sector
Production of resistant crops
Modern Technology aided research in the discovery of a bacterium known as “Bacillus Thuringiensis” which acts as a reservoir. It enables crops to be insect-resistant so that genetically modified crops can thrive. With this organic pest control, losses will be cut to the barest minimum.
Technology has solved the irrigation challenges farmers face. Before this era, agricultural commodities used to be seasonally available, but as agricultural practices continually align with modern technology, farm produce are available all season.
Farming is becoming more dignified as merchandised agricultural implements enable farmers to cultivate vast areas of land in a short period. This is translatable to greater output for the populace.
In the old order, profitability was low for farmers involved in animal husbandry as the mortality rate was high, and animals were not healthy enough to meet up to market expectations. Today, animals’ diet and feeding habits are strictly monitored and regulated to enhance their growth.
Most of the genetically produced animals produce more milk and/or fur in comparison with ordinary animals. This benefits the farmer in form of higher productivity and income. Crossbred animals are stronger and more productive, they grow faster and yield more than the local ones.
Improved transportation system
One of the major challenges that have bedevilled the agricultural sector is poor transportation. Technological advancement has made the conveyance of the farm produce easier for the farmers. As a result, income increases as expenses are reduced to the minimum.
Pest and disease control
With the evolution of agricultural technology, control of pest and disease has become easier. Currently, symptoms of diseases are detected early enough, and control and/or preventive measures are implemented. Many pesticides are developed, reducing losses among farmers.
Digital farming is fast gaining popularity in this part of the world. By harnessing technology, farmers are enabled to control their farm operations. Technology devices deployed can include things like sensors, GPS, automation, and others.
In one of my chats with the CEO of The Hord and Ecosystem Leader, Felix Rwang-Dung, he revealed that agri-tech start-ups across Africa are now leveraging technology to explore international markets more than ever before and it’s all thanks to the fact that they are leveraging digital technology more. Indigenous African applications for farmers are taking centre stage; this is an indication that better times are here for farmers across Africa.
Throughout the continent, farmers, NGOs and scientists are developing solutions to boost agriculture and make the business of farming more attractive. Let me mention a few start-ups and how they are trying to add value to the agricultural value-chain:
Farm365 is working closely with farmers to prevent seasonal vegetable from going to waste. This is an attempt to reverse the trend of wasting half of what we produce from the field. Fighting food waste means providing affordable food to the table.
i-cow is a platform created by a Kenyan farmer. It is an SMS and voice-only mobile app that prompts farmers to collect and store milk within the days of a cow’s cycle. Farmers are also sent information on best dairy practices.
Zowasel is an online marketplace for grains. The focus is on fixing the cash-flow problems of agribusinesses by paying for the crops 24hrs after delivery rather than the typical 30-90 day waiting period. Buyers and sellers can register for free, and deals are negotiated and agreed by both parties.
M-Farm is a farming application that updates farmers on the current prices of goods across the country. It provides a networking platform through which farmers connect to do bulk sales. The app also connects local farmers directly to suppliers without middlemen with significant discounts on fertilizers and seeds.
Agro-Hub was developed by a Cameroon-based business venture of the same name. The application is designed to make ‘Cameroon’s agricultural market work’. To achieve this, the platform explores joint community effort, SMS and the internet to source, manage and share information on agriculture.
Kilimo Salama also referred to as ‘Safe Agriculture’ was created by the Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture and Kenyan telecom operator, Safaricom. The application supplies farmers with up-to-date and accurate climate forecast via text message.
This is an important industry and my hope is that we would continue to witness the growth of more agri-tech start-ups that will collectively ensure that Africa’s food bank is never left dry.
CFA is the co-founder of techbuild.africa & godohub.org, tech and innovation platforms