A guest op/ed from 2017 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Akinwumi Adesina–President, African Development Bank Group and 2010 recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award.
Digital technology has been accelerating and improving communications in Africa for over 20 years. In that time Africans have been able to leapfrog the costly landline phase, resulting in 500 million Africans currently having access to mobile phones. Mobile technologies generated 6.7% of Africa’s GDP and 3.8 million jobs in 2015. There will be 750 million African users in 2025, and falling device prices will mean that at least 350 million of these will be smart phone users.
Africa’s “iGDP” (which measures the internet’s contribution to overall GDP) is low, at 1.1%, around half the levels in other emerging economies. But this should rise to at least 5% by 2025, matching that of leading economies such as Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, if the internet achieves the same kind of scale and impact as the spread of mobile phones, iGDP in Africa could account for as much as $300 billion of total GDP, with internet access leaping to 600 million by 2025.
This is impressive growth, but the impact of digital technology on agriculture has been spectacular, and the mobile phone has also become a highly versatile agricultural implement with a large number of uses: in weather prediction and insurance systems, agricultural extension services, and providing access to information about optimal and timely applications of crop protection or fertilizer. It has also been welcomed and valued by farmers as enhancing better and quicker access to crop and commodity prices, new products, services, and market conditions.
More generally, digital technology, with its gender neutral applications, has significant professional benefits for the entire production value chain—by improving accountability and transparency, and for empowering women and young people for whom barriers to adoption have in the past often impeded their potential and contribution.
I took advantage of the benefits of well-applied digital technology during my experience as Agriculture Minister in Nigeria when we developed and used electronic wallet systems to deliver farm input support to farmers through electronic vouchers on mobile phones. Nigeria became the first country globally to do so.
The impact was massive. Over four years, about 15 million farmers were reached. Food production expanded by more than 21 million tonnes over the period. I was particularly pleased that 2.5 million women farmers benefitted. This all occurred by putting a digital technology–enhancing simple but vital communications–at the service of the requirement to reduce the risk of making loans to farmers.
And agriculture as a business is poised to become a much more attractive proposition for young people and entrepreneurs, thanks to the communications revolution that digital technology has produced. The African Development Bank is ready with a slew of programmes and projects to assist them.
In particular, the African Development Bank and the World Bank plan to invest $700 million through the programme “Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation,” part of the Feed Africa strategy for the scaling up of agricultural technologies to reach millions of farmers in Africa in the next ten years.
Communications are critical features in the way some of the bank’s key programmes will operate, including the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa that will seek out women’s enterprises in order to address the financing gap and access challenges faced by women operating in agricultural value chains in Africa.
Jobs for Youth in Africa 2016–2025 aims to harness Africa’s demographic dividend to drive robust and inclusive economic growth and will help generate some 25 million jobs and positively affect 50 million young people over the next decade. It will do this by creating better-tailored opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship, strengthening human capital, and creating durable labour market linkages.
The ENABLE Youth programme will provide access to capital and capacity to young “Agripreneurs” to create 300,000 agribusinesses and 1.5 million jobs in 30 countries across Africa, with an estimated investment of $15 billion over the next five years.
The Bank’s Boost Africa
initiative, supported by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, will support business incubation facilities and create a new class of young business leaders who will become job creators and not job seekers. It will support 3,000 new SMEs; create 25,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs; and improve environmental, social, and governance practices in African SMEs.
“Agriculture is becoming very cool.”
Digital communications will be vital for the success of these four key policies, but the image of agriculture itself needs wholesale revision. Agriculture is seen as old and traditional, as a hard and difficult labour that leads nowhere but subsistence.
But the potential of agriculture for economic revival and job creation is largely untapped. With population growth and rapid urbanization, the food and agribusiness industry in Africa is projected to grow to a demand of $1 trillion by 2030 from $330 billion. By 2050, Africa will have the combined population of China and India today. Consumer spending is projected to double to $1.4 trillion by 2020 and triple to $2.1 trillion by 2025, with business-to-business spending to rise to $3.5 trillion by 2025.
The African Development Bank knows that there will be jobs galore in the African agricultural sector in coming years. Innovation and new investments will create a snowball effect as agriculture modernises and aligns with industrial infrastructure and processes to conserve added value and new jobs for the continent.
These are just some of the reasons why agriculture is starting to be seen as a business for innovation, new technology, and investment. Communications will play a significant role in all stages of this growth in potential and in the bank’s efforts to find and apply the funds that will realise Africa’s economic future. The sector is going to create the next wave of African business successes even as investments chase the profits that will be made by the early entrepreneurs and “agripreneurs.”
Let’s face it. With potential outcomes like that, agriculture is about to lose its dusty, dowdy image. Agriculture is becoming very cool.
top pic from dw.com; bottom design from sfdb.org