Food and technology have been intricately linked since the dawn of agriculture. Every tool designed to work the soil and produce food, from a simple hoe to a high-tech self-driving harvester with an integrated vegetable packaging facility, is agritech. And our reliance on more advanced agricultural technologies to feed the world will only grow.
“If you want to feed the world in 2050, then the next 40 years, we need to produce the same amount of food as we did over the last 8000 years. And that gives a bit of an indication of the pressure on the food system,” says Prof Ernst van den Ende, of Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands. In the past, more food meant simply to add more farmland into the equation. But that is no longer an option.
“We’ve already cleared an area roughly the size of South America to grow crops. To raise livestock, we’ve taken over even more land, an area roughly the size of Africa. Agriculture’s footprint has caused the loss of whole ecosystems around the globe […]” relates Jonathan Foley in National Geographic. With 40% of the land surface of the entire planet already converted to farmland, and a very strong possibility that overfishing will cause the irreparable collapse of the global fishing industry, the need to leverage technology and nature-positive food production practices is more urgent than ever.
Change of the current system is inevitable, and agritech will be a determining factor in the battle for a healthier planet.
Agritech boosts production on already-farmed lands
Leapfrogging the environmental damage caused by the intensification of agriculture in developed countries, Africa has an opportunity to increase the yields on existing farmland without further destruction of natural habitat. As a recent research study on The future of farming: Who will produce our food?, notes, by combining “principles of agroecology, organic agriculture and (increasingly) regenerative agriculture” with high-precision, agricultural technologies farmers can maximise yield on less land, using fewer resources, while protecting and increasing biodiversity.
Rural Farmers Hub, one of the winners of Pitch AgriHack in 2021, helps farmers in Nigeria to understand their soil and maximise their yields. They consolidate agronomic data, including climate and satellite data, to generate personalised recommendations for their farmers that guide them to improved soil and crop health. Their data-driven agritech service helps farmers to make optimal farming decision, leading to yield increases of up to 55%.
Agritech increases efficiency with less resources
A major deterrent keeping many rural young people from participating in agriculture is the time-intensive and labour-intensive nature of legacy agriculture practises. In short, the more time and resources it takes to complete farming processes, like planting and harvest, the less profit you make for every hour you spend working.
Ghanaian agricultural equipment manufacturer SAYeTECH, saw the impact of manual farm labour on school children who were kept out of class during harvest season to help their families with the threshing of their crops. It inspired them to design a multi-crop thresher that knocks cereals off their stalks. It may seem like a simple task but threshing a one-acre harvest takes two weeks of manual labour. With a SAYeTECH automated thresher, the task is completed in less than two hours.
Although this example is about human resources, agritech has the potential to reduce the resources used at every step of the farming process. Drip irrigation wastes far less water. Data-driven precision fertiliser and pesticide application reduces the amount of chemicals damaging the environment. And share-economy technology, like AYuTe Winner Hello Tractor, means farm equipment can benefit entire communities instead of just single owners.
Agricultural technologies can make time-consuming processes effortless, giving farmers more time to diversify or streamline their farming operations. And, more importantly, it gives their children time to focus on their own education, growing a capable generation of future farmers who are serious about protecting the environment.
Agritech minimises food waste
Food waste is one of the biggest barriers to feeding the planet. In Foley’s five step plan to feed 9 billion people he says, “An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed.” Fixing this one problem will have the single biggest impact on food availability.
Across Africa, post-harvest losses are a massive problem. Poor infrastructure like damaged roads, lack of transport, and few cold storage solutions to keep food fresh in the sweltering heat, means yields are lost before they even reach the marketplace.
Pitch AgriHack winner Fresh-in-a-Box in Zimbabwe overcomes this specific problem by rethinking the logistics of traditional agriculture. They ask, why can’t fresh food simply go straight from the farm to the consumer? Through their e-commerce platform and direct delivery service, they offer farmers and consumers a waste-free solution, with guaranteed freshness and no middlemen to inflate the prices.
Agritech overcomes finance barriers
Finance and investment for agricultural endeavours is a sensitive topic, especially for smallholders. Finance institutions require farmers to provide collateral for loans, and interest rates are often too high for agricultural operations that have a long-term profit horizon. Digital financing and investment platforms, designed specifically with farmers in mind, are reducing this barrier-to-entry fast.
FarmCrowdy in Nigeria and GrowAgric in Kenya, both previous Pitch AgriHack winners, are platforms that provide an end-to-end value chain service to secure their investment in small farms. But they don’t just give farmers money to get their operations going. They also provide training on best practises, supply quality inputs to help their farmers increase yields, and guarantee a market for the crops. To protect against a worst-case scenario, they also provide insurance on the harvest.
Holistic value-chain services that leverage agritech helps to maximise yields on existing farmland, and by empowering smallholders to make real profits from their hard work, they increase the prosperity of rural communities. Transferring the latest best-practises in nature-positive food production is helping these farmers to be better stewards of their environment.
Do you have climate-smart agritech solution that will help to build a better food system and a healthier planet? Then Pitch AgriHack 2022 is for you! African founders or co-founders, aged 18-40, of technology-based and digital services businesses in the agriculture sector are eligible to enter. Applications for Pitch AgriHack are open from 20 June 2022 to 29 July 2022 at https://genafrica.org/pitchagrihack.