Photograph — Felicia Ochelle

A prime example of the surge of agribusiness endeavours in Africa can be found in the rapidly growing world of digitally-enabled agriculture services, which are proving particularly popular among younger Africans. The theme of this year’s AGRF was “Grow Digital: Leveraging Digital Transformation to Drive Sustainable Food Systems in Africa.” AGRF 2019 featured a rigorous and informative series of technical assessments, policy analyses, and political discussions that produced a new level of consensus that could dramatically accelerate efforts to use digital innovations to make farming in Africa more productive, profitable, sustainable and inclusive.

The discussions were anchored by the presentation of the Digitalisation of African Agriculture report from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and Dalberg Advisors. Its key findings include the fact that some 71 percent of users of digital agriculture or D4Ag services across the continent are under 35. The CTA report found more than 90 percent of the market for digital services that support African smallholders remains untapped and could be worth more than $2.26 billion. The study also found nearly 400 different digital agriculture solutions are currently in play, serving 33 million registered farmers across sub-Saharan Africa. 

The report estimates the number of registered farmers and the number of digital solutions is growing so rapidly that they are likely to reach the majority of the region’s farmers by 2030.

“Digitalisation can be a game-changer in modernising and transforming Africa’s agriculture, attracting young people to farming and allowing farmers to optimise production while also making them more resilient to climate change”, said Michael Hailu, Director of CTA.

At the AGRF Presidential Summit, moderated by the Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, African leaders discussed the different ways digital technology is becoming a fixture of the African farming landscape.

“When we talk about using digital technology in agriculture, it’s about de-risking the sector,” said Rwanda’s Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Edouard Ngirente. He said Rwanda is using the new efficiencies available via digital tools to help farmers anticipate the impact of climate change, facilitate business efforts to manage value chains, and create accessible and affordable insurance products—all of which reduce risks associated with agriculture and attract new investors.

“Digital technology is getting easier and easier to manage, especially innovations like mobile payment platforms,” said H.E. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria “Even the most vulnerable populations are able to use their phones to access  mobile payment systems.”

In a related development, AGRF 2019 featured discussions with senior officials from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to create a new International Digital Council for Food and Agriculture to evaluate the latest advances in D4ag technology and facilitate collaboration among key stakeholders. CTA has noted that a stakeholder alliance is crucial for promoting greater investment, knowledge sharing and partnership building.

Billions in new investments for Africa’s digital infrastructure 

There was much discussion at AGRF 2019 about the need for investments in the basic infrastructure and data systems that will provide the critical foundation for D4Ag services. To that end, there was news at AGRF that the World Bank plans to invest $50 billion in Transforming Africa’s Digital Economy.

The Bank is committed to ensuring every African, including every African business and government, is digitally enabled by 2030. The investments include support for broadband infrastructure; digital skill development; digital platforms; digital financial services; and digital entrepreneurship. One key goal is to double access to broadband services across the continent by 2021.

Additionally, a $500 million commitment to developing agriculture opportunities for young Africans, a “Deal Room” that delivered some $200 million in new investments, billions to support digital infrastructure crucial for powering innovative farmer services, significant actions on climate change adaptation, and the launch of a major food trade coalition: These are among the highlights of the 2019 African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which attracted some 2800 participants from across Africa and around the world this week for three days of intensive consultations in Accra. 

“The potential benefits of the AGRF to the African continent are beyond contention,” said Ghana President H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo. “We must galvanize our collective resources and energy to fully exploit the opportunities it presents.”

AGRF is the world’s premier forum for African agriculture, pulling together stakeholders across the agricultural landscape to discuss and commit to programs, investments and policies to achieve an inclusive and sustainable agricultural transformation across the continent. This year, the event returned to Ghana, host of the first AGRF in 2010. Ghana is also the home of former UN Secretary-General, the late Kofi Annan, founder of both the AGRF and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), and a leading voice for the power of smallholder farmers to drive major reductions in poverty across the continent.

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