African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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* All opinions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Information provided by mobile phone can help farmers adapt to climate change and boost African economy

Akinwumi Adesina is President of the African Development Bank. Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

After a bleak 2020, a new year brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people have been pushed into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future looms as the economy is expected to return to growth this year .

Africa now has the opportunity to reset its economic compass. To rebuild not only better, but greener. Especially since the next crisis – climate change – is already upon us.

African food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come in.

With mobile phone ownership in sub-Saharan Africa alone set to hit half a billion this year, digital text messaging services can reach even the most remote villages. And at least a fifth of these phones also have smart features, which means they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness increased the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out middlemen increased the price of maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farm gate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance and greater economic security, which in turn allows farmers to increase their resilience to climate change – by experimenting with new drought-tolerant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages along with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant and when to harvest.

In Niger, a telephone education program improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

Data fingerprints created by phone users can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services are also speeding up the dissemination of information through social media, helping farmers discover new drought-tolerant crops or services that can increase productivity. The free mobile phone app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to Internet services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, the Hello Tractor equipment-sharing platform helps farmers rent machines by the day or even by the hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the organization non-governmental Project Concern International with the World Food Program and the Ministry of Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so that problems can be detected quickly to help take corrective action.

The digital transformation of food systems is clearly having great results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated more than half of its climate finance to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to increase their yields by 60% on average thanks to the application of digital technology for example.

This is why the World Adaptation Center and the African Development Bank launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $ 25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative adaptation to climate change. across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes these projects easy to replicate elsewhere and at scale, even in large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

In addition, adaptation projects have proven to be highly profitable, often providing several times the value of the initial investment and thus helping African economies to grow faster and create many more much needed jobs.

It is therefore imperative that the global determination to rebuild economies in the aftermath of Covid-19 be harnessed in the most effective manner. We should not just repeat the mistakes of the past. We need to rebuild stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are integrated to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more self-sufficient farmers.

We have the means and the technical capacity to put Africa on the path to food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help lift millions of people out of food poverty. We must not waste this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

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