From delivery drones to self-driving cars and chatbots, technology may be rapidly transforming the way the world shops, works and interacts. But in Africa, digitalization is on the cusp of sparking a far more important revolution.
Across a continent where 80% of food is produced by smallholder farmers, digital technologies and innovations are a game changer in transforming African agriculture.
Digital services that provide targeted advice, including weather information on mobile phones or link farmers to markets, are helping smallholders feed a growing population in the face of a changing climate while also attracting more young entrepreneurs to agriculture.
A new report, which surveyed the market in Africa for the first time, found more than 33 million smallholder farmers were already registered with agricultural-related digital tools and services.
And with annual growth of around 45% since 2012, digitalization for agriculture (D4Ag) in Africa will likely reach all farmers on the continent by 2030 as more farmers adopt technology such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, drones and the Internet of Things.
Yet, digitalization in African agriculture is still in its nascent, competitive stages.
As revealed in The Digitalisation of African Agriculture Report, a large number of players make up this young market, with at least 390 distinct digital ventures in operation across sub-Saharan Africa. Of this, only 15 companies have reached a million users or more, with the majority finding the most success in bundling multiple services together.
Moreover, investment in digitalization for agriculture to date has been isolated, scattered and piecemeal, with efforts to scale-up being unnecessarily duplicated, causing inefficiencies and hampering large-scale, long-term growth.
There is enormous potential for digitalization to help achieve food security, nutrition, and resilience to climate change in Africa.
Initial figures suggest that farmers can increase their yields by up to 70% with support from digital tools that provide agronomic advice while others have seen their incomes improve by 20 to 40% by better linking them to markets to sell their produce or buy agricultural inputs.
But this potential will not be fulfilled by chance. At such a defining moment for this burgeoning market, we will only realize the true benefit of digitalization in African agriculture with strong, coordinated leadership.
This is why there is a need for those of us working for Africa’s development to collaborate and support the sector as it grows, and set the long-term agenda for the imminent digital transformation.