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Is technology the key to tackling poverty in Africa?

In Blog

Smallholder farmers make up a whopping 70% of the population in Africa, and the continent is home to half the world’s unused fertile land. Africa therefore has huge potential in its agriculture sector and many consider the continent to be the future breadbasket to the world. However, to date poor infrastructure, limited markets, weak governance, and civil wars have hampered the continent and so its potential has never been realised.

With the world’s population set to rise to 9 billion by 2050, there are fears that a global food crisis awaits us. As such, Africa’s agricultural potential is firmly in the spotlight. Organisations committed to supporting development in the African agriculture sector are developing some exciting technologies that are helping overcome some of the traditional challenges that many farmers face.

Technology to reduce food waste
Take lack of infrastructure for example and its contribution to food waste. Worldwide about 45% of fruits and vegetables are lost or wasted every year. In the developed world, where the cold chain is established, most of that waste happens at the consumer end of the chain. However, in emerging markets where many smallholders have no access to electricity, and transportation of goods is
hampered by poor roads and lack of refrigerated vehicles, most waste occurs before crops even make it to market.

However Wakati has come up with an ingenious technology that enables Smallholder farmers to store their produce on their farms in a protective microclimate inside a tent without the need for cooling. It is powered by a small solar panel and uses one litre of water per week. Similarly, thermogenn is reducing milk waste by developing high-performance off grid evaporative coolers.

Preserving foods is another approach to reducing food waste on the farm, and our dried mango producer, Azuri Health uses solar dryers to preserve the surplus mangoes from Kenyan mango farmers. They also teach farmers how to build and use their own solar dryers, helping the farmers increase their income through a higher value, non-seasonal product.

Technology that connects and educates
With millions of smallholder farmers living in some of the most remote, and inaccessible parts of Africa, one major challenge is reaching out to people to share information and learning on the most effective farming practices.
However, with 90% of smallholder farmers now owning a mobile phone, the use of mobile technology is beginning to have a real impact.

In Kenya, the largest mobile phone provider, Safaricom has developed Digifarm - a technology that provides smallholders with adaptive learning systems and access to educational and informational content. To date Digifarm has connected 700,000 farmers with educational information designed to improve their yields, and a government subsidised voucher scheme to access top quality fertilizer.

Meanwhile Sauti (which means voice in Swahili), through its text based app provides any trader with a basic mobile phone access to real-time market prices, exchange rates and trade procedures. Supporting informal trade in this way can empower women, reduce poverty and improve food security. 

Image: by Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Technology that improves farmer payment terms
With the banking system in Africa inaccessible to many of the continent’s poor, mobile money is advanced here. And many companies have harnessed the mobile money network to ensure farmers are paid fairly and in a timely fashion.
Ten Senses for example, who supply our Macadamia nuts have developed a proprietary software that enables farmers to have their nuts weighed at a buying station on scales linked to a smartphone. The weight is registered on the software without the need for human inputting (very important in countries where corruption is common), and this triggers immediate payment to the farmer using mobile money.

At a time when Africa’s youth are opting to abandon their agricultural heritage to pursue more lucrative jobs in the city, more favourable payment terms may help
contribute to slowing the exodus. 

These are just a few examples of well planned investment and innovation projects that support smallholders to harness the potential of their land and move beyond subsistence farming to farming for profit. As such, projects like these have the potential to not only transform the lives of some of the world’s poorest people, but also feed the world in years to come.

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