SEATTLE — At a high-level conference organized by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation of Uganda and the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), scientists gathered along with regional government and civil society representatives to discuss how science and technological innovations in Africa could spur agricultural production and reduce food insecurity on the continent.
Dr. Cyprian Ebong, the executive director of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), pointed out lack of commitment and a recalcitrant status quo as reasons for the lack of speedy progress.
“There is tacit evidence that African governments and farmers are not committed to the use of science in agriculture,” Ebong said.
About 70 percent of Africans are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. With an increase in global population, due to the highest rate of population growth, Africa could feed over nine billion people by 2050 if it chooses to do so.
Still, the continent spends about $35 billion importing food despite its capacity to produce much of that food itself.
Scientists expressed concern about the increased use of chemicals to eradicate pests on the continent. More forests are being cleared to make way for farms and adversely affecting the same environment that breathes life into crops. They also underlined the high rate of post-harvest losses and said that the waste could be mitigated by the adoption of technological innovations in Africa.
“These challenges definitely require the application of science and technology to mitigate the impacts,” said Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, Uganda’s Minister for Science, Technology and Innovation. “Africa, therefore, needs to mainstream the utilization of science, technology and innovations to transform agriculture.”
The agricultural sector in Africa has the potential to diversify the continental economy, promote rapid industrialization, provide sustainable resource and environmental management, boost intra-Africa trade and create jobs. In a nutshell, the agricultural sector can eradicate poverty and hunger in a continent that has an enormous potential to feed itself.
Dr. Rose Maxwell Gidado, the coordinator of the Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology in Nigeria, noted the negative impact of climate change on agricultural production. “Climate change exacerbates pests and disease outbreak… It is our responsibility to deliver Africa out of starvation, hunger and poverty. Encourage, invest in and adopt science,” she told the conference.
So-called agro-tech startups are blossoming in Nigeria and offering middle-class farmers an opportunity to get involved in the agricultural sector without getting to the down-and-dirty business of manual farming, or even having to visit the farms themselves. FarmCrowdy and ThriveAgric have enabled middle-class Nigerians to invest between $200 and $750 for a harvest cycle and nab attractive profits in return.
Funding for these existing farms enables smallholder farmers in Nigeria, who make up the vast majority of farmers in the country, add to their basic production resources and utilize their crop output for an even better livelihood.
These hard-working farmers, who perform the daily drudgery of manual labor in the farms, are able to receive capital and equipment through a quick sale of their harvested output.
For example, FarmCrowdy boasts a network of over 3,500 farmers and provides them with funds, equipment and even technical support to plant and harvest crops. This way, not only can small-scale farmers increase their agricultural output, but they can also boost their local and regional economy through the hiring of more labor and increased production.
On its website, FarmCrowdy breaks down its objectives of technological innovations in Africa into four major goals. The startup promises returns between 13 to 25 percent after harvest to farm sponsors and empowers local farmers by expanding their farm operations and guaranteeing job security. It also contributes to domestic food production and improves regional food security by utilizing arable farmlands in rural areas.
Similarly, ThriveAgric uses a slightly different approach by crowdfunding farms through leasing farmlands from communities and planting crops on-demand by contracting farmers.
Sometimes, the matter is as simple as education.
“There is a lot of interest in agriculture among Nigerians, but there’s little guidance on how to go about it,” says Onyeka Akumah, CEO of FarmCrowdy. “We want to educate them about the process in a way they can relate.”
Changes can manifest if policymakers, farmers and other stakeholders work in collaboration and combine their efforts.
Dr. Denis Kyetere, AATF’s executive director, noted at the conference that “advances in agricultural technologies and biosciences, in general, [were]immense, thanks to the convergence of crop science, biology and chemistry engineering and digital technology.” But, “to fully take advantage of the new exciting developments in agriculture, changes need to happen on the policy front” to spur technological innovations in Africa and help improve food security.
There is also the question of the underprivileged. About 200 million of Africa’s 1.2 billion population still live in hunger or are malnourished.
Underscoring the fact that implementation of technological innovations in Africa needed to be equitable, Sarah Davidson Evanega, director of the Alliance for Science told the conference, “We have to ensure that this technology does not bypass the poor. It’s a story of social justice.”
– Mohammed Khalid