[Column] Hillary Miller-Wise: How disruptive technology can bring about a Green Revolution in Africa
Population growth may have slowed in many regions of the world, but in Africa it is exploding. With the population set to double by 2050, the question of how Africa will feed itself is becoming increasingly urgent.
Small-scale farms comprise 80 per cent of all farms on the continent and, in some countries, supply 90 per cent of the food.
Yet persistent low yields among smallholder farmers and increasing demand for food is putting the continent on a collision course for higher food prices and increased poverty.
To avoid a food security crisis, productivity and efficiency of food systems must be improved. The drivers of low productivity are complex but stem in part from a lack of access to quality inputs, affordable credit and technical know-how among smallholder farmers.
This is where “disruptive technology” comes in, to inspire and equip farmers to produce in ways and quantities they have never before known.
Disruptive technology can break down the long-held barriers to productivity and bring about the kind of Green Revolution needed to feed an additional 1.2 billion people in the region.
For example, many farmers cannot afford inputs like fertilizer and seed when they need them and are often unable to get a loan to buy them.
The situation is only being exacerbated by climate change, which is making agriculture even more unpredictable and perilous, especially since most smallholder farmers in Africa depend on the rains. As a result, farmers’ yields are often well below potential.
Food prices are further driven up by inefficiencies downstream in food supply chains. This includes highly fragmented and inefficient logistics and marketing.
At Tulaa, we use mobile technology and artificial intelligence to help farmers overcome these challenges. On our platform, farmers can apply for a loan to buy inputs via mobile phone. We then use AI to drive our proprietary credit score, which gives farmers a loan decision in 15 minutes.
At harvest time, farmers can use our platform to sell their produce and organize for transport. All payments across the platform are digital.
Tulaa also works with other partners, which are using innovative technology to remove barriers to increased food production.
Leveraging the Internet of Things and mobile technology, Sunculture sells pay-as-you-go solar-powered irrigation equipment that enables farmers to produce year-round. If a farmer stops paying the loan for the pump, the device can be switched off remotely.
Our partner, Precision Agriculture for Development, is transforming agricultural extension in Africa by providing mobile-based agronomic advice. This is vital to enable farmers to adapt new ways of farming, especially in the context of climate change.
Finally, ACRE Africa, a crop insurance provider, is using satellite data to better assess the risks faced by potential customers. This provides greater accuracy when profiling smallholders and can help de-risk them and unlock access to crucial financial services.
Recently, Tulaa, ACRE Africa, Precision Agriculture for Development and Sunculture were among several technology innovators selected by the World Bank to join forces to increase productivity and incomes for one million farmers in Kenya.
Thanks to their support, we are expanding and growing our services, but more importantly, so are the farmers we connect.
It is exactly this kind of bold initiative that will be required to achieve a Green Revolution for Africa.