[Column] Bob Koigi: Technology farming is the answer to Africa’s growing food demand
The unprecedented population boom in Africa, the highest world over, continues to put more pressure on food producers as they grapple with having more mouths to feed.
It is a dicey situation as farming land continues to shrink, vagaries of weather take a toll on overall yields and farmers continue being stuck in age-old farming practices that continue to fan the hunger cycle.
Yet studies from institutions like World Bank posit that Africa has all the potential to create a trillion- dollar food market by 2030, enough to feed its burgeoning population and even export. But to get there, the studies indicate, will require a mind shift and an overhaul of the continent’s farming practices with a key focus on land optimization that will inspire producing more with less piece of land.
To achieve this, innovation will have to be at the heart of this renaissance. This as the continent also looks to tap into technology to envelop its youth to a sector they have largely neglected due to what they consider tedious and time-consuming farming practices.
For the next generation farmers that have seen the value of embracing technology right deep into their farmlands, the payoffs have been impressive, in a new wave that is truly redefining agriculture and worth emulating if we are to boost the farming prospects of Africa where up to 70 per cent of the population draws an income from agriculture-related jobs.
Indeed the story of Ugandan youth who have decided to dump suits for boots and came together to form an agriculture club that has transitioned into a farming empire supplying fresh produce to schools and hospitals and earning more than they did working in offices epitomizes the inevitable marriage between agriculture and technology in boosting agriculture productivity in the continent.
The youth invested heavily in mechanized agriculture, clearing large swathes of otherwise bushy land and embracing modern tillage practices among them hiring of farming equipment like cultivators, tractors, fogging machines and sprinklers which has now catapulted them into the league of food producers and sellers having now crossed borders to trade with their East African peers.
In the neighbouring Kenya, a young duo has come up with intelligent greenhouses fitted with sensors that are connected to farmers’ phones that alert them, even when they are away from their farms, about the conditions at the greenhouses and in the event that they, the farmers, are not around to regulate them, the greenhouses do the job, just like that.
Such powerful innovations are the foundations of a streamlined agriculture value chain that has been broken for years with poor land productivity and limited inputs like water contributing to dismal yields.
Nowhere is this spirit better amplified than in this year’s African Green Revolution Forum happening in Accra Ghana and themed ‘Grow Digital: Leveraging digital transformation to drive sustainable food systems in Africa,’ embodies the opportunities and payoffs that technology portends for the sector. Indeed the many young people displaying larger-than-life innovations, from blockchain, Internet of Things and drones to make food production easier and more productive while streamlining the entire agricultural value chain that has traditionally been disjointed, coupled with policies from governments and commitments by the private sector and development partners points to the importance of innovation in revolutionizing the continent.
AGRF has positioned itself as the gathering from where the technological revolution in agriculture will leapfrog the continent as the world food basket.
And as more farmers now seek new age food production methods buoyed by the success stories of ordinary farmers embracing extra ordinary farming practices to transform barren land into oases of bountiful harvests, interventions should be put in place to ensure that as more farmers as possible are able to easily access farm inputs, land and machinery that open up more land under agriculture to meet the food demands of the growing population.
Even as debate rages on about Africa’s dwindling farmland, studies indicate that the continent has an estimated 600 million hectares of uncultivated land which is about 60 per cent of the global total. Now imagining that by 2050 the continent’s population is projected to double, the only way to avoid a food crisis is to open up more of this available land to crop production.
Government policies should be geared towards affordable and easier access to technologies by farmers, incentives to investors to spur uptake of these innovations and fostering partnership with the private sector. That in itself is a milestone in the one-thousand steps journey of revolutionizing agriculture in the continent. It can be done.