Despite around 80% of East Africans relying on agriculture for their livelihood, the sector remains underrepresented in both research and investment. What are some of the major challenges that technology can address within this industry?
Technology offers the opportunity to create impact at scale. Take extension for instance, through digital platforms with human-mediated interventions, technology can be used to provide e-extension services to millions of farmers at one go, on demand.
Technology can help tackle the problem of ageing farmers. Technologies such as hydroponics (growing crops without water in greenhouses) can attract young people to agriculture; solving three major problems at once: youth unemployment, food insecurity and the ageing farmer population in Africa. By taking drudgery out of farm operations and engaging youth in attractive, short-season, high-value crops such as lettuce and sweet pepper, we can show them that farming pays and encourage them to stay on the farms not necessarily in rural areas but in emerging peri-urban farming hubs.
Technology can create inclusive agri-markets. Fintech solutions can provide real-time data on produce markets, prices, demand and supply thereby taking the guesswork out of produce marketing for farmers. Through mobile-money-based payment solutions farmers can be paid in near-real time for their produce based on weight and quality, thereby increasing trust in market systems and encouraging them to invest in "farming as a business" – i.e. investing in quality inputs and good agronomy to optimize returns.
What is one particular trend or development in AgriTech people should be keeping an eye on?
I would have to say combining the power of big data, advisory services and fintech. These are game changers creating sensible trend data on demand and supply, for raising productivity, and overall enabling farmers to make more money from their farming operations through streamlining access to credit, farm insurance and payments for farm produce.
What excites you most about working in the African agribusiness sector?
At a personal level, I am excited by the increased attention and investment that African agribusiness is getting. I launched my agribusiness strategy consulting career in 2016 with the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) as my first client. Then, for my first challenge, I had to design a value proposition for funders to invest in gender-responsive AgriTech solutions developed in Africa, by Africans for Africa. AWARD was then pioneering research in this field and wanted a program to shine the spotlight on these innovations and showcase their bankability. This is how Gender in Agribusiness Investments in Africa (GAIA) came into being.