Pandemic like COVID-19 and Russia-Ukraine war shows the vulnerability and dependency of poor countries for food security. One in every five people in Africa is facing hunger. In the African continent, 283 million people are fighting hunger. In such a scenario digital agriculture can pave the way for food security and reduction in poverty.
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Conditions are particularly worsening for East African countries like Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda witnessing extreme hunger and poverty due to armed conflicts, weather conditions, drought and global food inflation and supply chain disruption due to the Ukrainian war crisis. African people are on the verge of dying from the shortage of food and nutrition.
World Bank Groups developed a COVID-19 Household Monitoring Dashboard for measuring the impact of COVID-19 on smallholders of around 83 poor and developing countries. According to such surveys, 80% of households reported a decline in their income due to COVID-19 impacts. In Ghana, 76% of families whose main source of income was agriculture reported a decline in their income.
Agriculture contributes 23% of African countries’ GDP and is one of the major sectors of the economy. Around 60% of working population in Africa works in agricultural fields. That’s the reason why agricultural failure leads to more than 12 million children being severely malnourished due to food insecurity and 33 million people are at the gate of starvation due to food shortages.
Hence, the development of the agricultural sector can help African nations to see prosperity and become food secure. Further, it can help the rising population growth and reduce the burden of shortage of arable land in future.
Most farmers in Africa explained challenges regarding lack of information and access to markets and logistics, need for money, inputs, agronomic advice, and transportation facilities.
In such a situation, there seems a hope in digital agriculture, which is the combination of agriculture and technology. Technology can help farmers to become resilient to unseen and random shocks like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digital agriculture is the flawless integration of digital technologies with livestock and agriculture management and other agricultural processes.
Various technological tools and techniques are used to collect and analyse data for predictive agriculture. Farmers can have fast, accurate and efficient decision making.
Technologies that are commonly used in digital agriculture are sensors, UAVs, communication networks, cloud computing, data analysis, artificial intelligence and machine learning and other advanced machinery and tools.
Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) mentioned benefits that can help small farmers are access to data, information, market, reduced operational costs, enhanced production and better supply chain management.
The younger generation especially wants to go for digital agriculture but they are unable due to a lack of training and funds.
Hence, Governments can provide finance, develop knowledge dissemination centres and provide skills to the larger population to adopt digit solutions for agriculture.
Governments and people need to realise the immense potential of digital agriculture for the development of the African region and its people.
Opportunities for Agricultural Revolution
Digital agriculture has multiple benefits throughout the agricultural food chain as documented in a report, “Digital Technologies in Agriculture and Rural Areas“, released by FAO.
- Management of resources can be highly optimised with high anticipation, traceability, and accuracy.
- Data and information can be readily available to the small farmers that will help them in the decision-making process.
- Real-time decisions can be made for the care and utilisation of agricultural inputs like fertilisers, seeds, water and manure according to the exact need and climatic conditions. It will reduce the wastage of resources and make the agriculture output less costly. Farmers can avail themselves more market price.
- Fields, crops and animals can be tracked at the farm level.
- The health of livestock can be tracked on a real-time basis with health devices attached to them. So that required care is given to them on time.
- Digital agriculture helps in developing agricultural systems that are highly predictable and productive and adaptive to climatic conditions.
- There are benefits to a clean environment and climate change as resource optimization would lead to less resource burden and wastage.
- People can reap social and cultural benefits as well with improved communication, development, peace and prosperity.
- Overall farmers can achieve success in higher food security, sustainable livelihood and overall improvement in living standards.
Challenges to adopting digitalization
There is no denying that digital agriculture can change the landscape of the African economy. But it is also true that it would need dramatic changes in farming systems, communities’ mindsets, rural ways of doing agriculture, and resource management. This would definitely be a challenge and requires systematic and holistic efforts from the top to down level. International Organizations like FAO, UNO, and World Bank Group, national Governments, domestic NGOs, knowledge centres, research groups, universities and farmers at large need to be adaptive and supportive. They need active collaboration and communication to make things a reality.
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Funds, knowledge creation and dissemination, and skills development are the important milestones to look after.
Conditions for implementing digital agriculture systems
Following are the bare minimum conditions that can be fulfilled to transform the agricultural sector towards more efficient and productive farming systems through digitalisation.
- Development of basic ICT infrastructure.
- Provide education in ICT.
- Government policies and plans to support digital strategies and e-programs.
- Spread the use of mobile, internet and social media.
- Make the farmers aware of agriculture entrepreneurship and digital innovation.
- Establish partnerships between agriculture research scientists working in labs to the farmers at the agricultural grounds. So that farmers can take knowledge and help from the scientific knowledge and skills while scientists can get the real time and behavioural data and feedback directly from the grounds to direct research more towards the local needs of the farmers.
- Government can establish incubators and accelerators programmes to impart skills to the farmers to better utilise digital technologies at the farms.
- Further, the government can provide easy access to equity funds and loans to the farmers.
Successful introduction and implementation of digital technologies in the agriculture sector depends on government support to provide enabling social, economic and policy infrastructure to fully develop the digital agricultural ecosystem in the countries. As technology makes changes with high disruptions, it takes time for society and economic systems to adopt changes and hence they change progressively. Hence, a balance can be created by the government to make an environment for the uptake and effective utilisation of digital agriculture.