Agricultural technology is extensive. Agritech can be as complex as an actual farm robot, using artificial intelligence and machine learning, to plant, water, and weed your grow beds. Or it can be as simple as a USSD code that lets a rural farmer access this week’s weather forecast and planting advice on a 15-year-old cell phone.
With global attention on the drastic need for food systems change, all eyes are on agritech to provide solutions. This has led to a flood of opportunities and incredible growth in the sector in recent years.
Growth in African Agritech
Africa is booming. According to research done by Microsoft, reported in Farmers Review Africa, “Between 2016 and 2019, the sector grew by 44% year-on-year and the continent has registered the highest number of agritech services in the developing world, reaching over 33 million smallholder farmers to date.”
Even considering the effects of the pandemic on world economies, the AgFunder 2021 report found that global agrifood technology companies raised more than US$30 BILLION in investment during 2020. And in Africa, investments in agritech companies grew by 23.7% in 2020 reports Business Daily Africa.
Why the Growth?
The challenges faced by food systems in Africa are numerous. And challenges mean opportunities. But African food systems aren’t the only ones that need a refresh. Globally there is a mass movement to rethink the way we produce food to be beneficial for the planet and for people.
Discovering fresh Africa-centric solutions to guide struggling communities out of poverty and into a food secure future, will set an example for global food systems change.
The real test for agritech will be whether it can help farmers and the agri-food value-chain build resilience.
Resilience against shocks
Agritech is “increasingly playing a crucial role in cushioning small-scale farmers against the crop-damaging effects of climate change and the economic pain of the pandemic,” says a recent article by Thompson Reuters Foundation.
The piece highlights how Kenyan farmer Wesley Lang’at made the switch to phone-assisted farming to access inputs, financing, and weather information. This move allowed him to reinvent his small farming business to be more profitable despite the pandemic.
Across Africa, digital platforms offering market linkages have seen a spike in users since the start of the pandemic. Farmers are searching for customer who will pay a fair price. They are trying to maximise their income without losing their hard-earned profit to middlemen.
This definitive shift in farming behaviours has been noticed.
Eyes on Africa
A recent Mckinsey report found that, “In sub-Saharan Africa alone, more than 400 digital agriculture solutions are in use, including applications in financial services, market linkages, supply-chain management, advisory and information services, and business intelligence.”
Additionally, “the Ireland government has declared Africa a key partner with which it wants to collaborate on sustainable food production and technology development,” states an Engineering News article.
The wheels have been set in motion. More funding opportunities like Pitch AgriHack, and the Ayute Africa challenge, sponsored by Heifer International, are incentivising young African women and men to bring their solutions to market.
Increasing productivity, increasing incomes, and creating an environment that allows a sustainable primary production value-chain to flourish, is what agritech is all about.
The future and the opportunities belong to the young African agritech entrepreneurs who positively impact real outcomes for farmers.