One third of humanity is fed through an estimated 500 million smallholder farms with less than two hectares of land. In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa the dependence is even higher, where small farms produce about 80% of the food consumed. These holdings are typically managed by families with limited technical and mechanical support and with poor access to finance. It is often difficult for them to make ends meet, let alone grow their business. Looking ahead, the impact of climate change, water scarcity and increasing land scarcity will make this even more difficult. With the world’s population expected to grow by 750 million in 2020, and demand for food to increase by 70% by 2050, it is clear that something has to be done to improve the efficiency of food production and distribution.
Factors that trigger innovation tend to be either policy or market driven. Below are a few of the innovations being used to increase productivity:
Electronic Voucher System was launched by the Federal government of Nigeria to give local farmers access to subsidized seeds and fertilizers. That innovation reached 1.5 million farmers its first year, impacting 7.5 million people in those households. In rural Zimbabwe, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has implemented an electronic voucher (e-voucher) system to help cash strapped small-scale farmers access agricultural inputs.
African Risk Capacity (ARC) is a specialised unit of the African Union that provides crop insurance to AU member states in addressing climate risk and its impact on food security. The ARC is a pan-African approach in mitigating the climate risk
The Dutch Agriculture Development and Trading Company developed a technology that brings a mobile cassava processing plant to villages and enables farmers in Mozambique to process their roots into cassava cakes that can be stored for up to two years – opening new markets that was once limited because of root spoilage during transportation.
Regional Innovation Systems African countries are increasingly focusing on promoting regional economic integration as a way to stimulate economic growth and expand local markets. Considerable progress has been made in expanding regional trade through regional bodies such as the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC). There are six other such Regional Economic Communities (RECs) that have been recognized by the African Union as building blocks for pan-African economic integration. So far regional cooperation in agriculture is in its infancy and major challenges lie ahead.
Entrepreneurship/Agripreneurship Martin Fisher is the co-founder and CEO of KickStart, a non-profit organisation specialising in irrigation technology targeted at improving crop productivity in sub-Saharan Africa. KickStart sells portable pumps, such as the MoneyMaker Hip Pump and the Super MoneyMaker Pump, costing between $35 and $95, to small holding farmers in Mali, Tanzania and Kenya.
Mobile phones are also assisting farmers in Kenya, by bringing market-related produce prices to their attention. The Kenyan Agricultural Commodities Exchange has partnered with mobile operator, Safaricom, in launching SokoniSMS64, a text messaging platform that provides pricing information to farmers. M-Farm offers a similar service. Mobile app, iCow, billed as “the world’s first mobile phone cow calendar,” allows dairy farmers to track the gestation periods and progress of their cows. It makes use of SMS and voice services to do so. Weather apps such as FarmSupport, accessed through the Internet and mobile phones, are helping farmers across the continent by providing up-to-date weather forecasting. The app also collects crowd-sourced information from farmers on which crops they planted where, and their yields, as well as the types and amounts of fertiliser used. The crowd-source feature uses a modified Geo-Wiki, promoting two-way communication between data providers and farmers. This data is then collated by researchers and could lead to the development of more accurate early warning systems for food security and to better estimates of the current yield gaps in Africa.
Innovation in agriculture will indeed go a long way to boosting productivity, creating employment and bettering food security on the continent.
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