Columnists

Agritech is the next frontier in growing Africa food security

drone

Charles Ageng'o spraying coffee at a client's farm. farmers are now embracing the use of drone technology. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • Over the past five years, funding in agritech start-ups across the African continent has been rising consistently, according to data from Disrupt Africa, with hot spots emerging in Kenya and South Africa.
  • Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information on crops and weeds.
  • African farmers will need to increase their productivity to provide food and economic growth to support its growing population.

Agritech is a small but fast-growing segment of the start-up universe that’s aiming to improve or disrupt the global food and agriculture industry.

Over the past five years, funding in agritech start-ups across the African continent has been rising consistently, according to data from Disrupt Africa, with hot spots emerging in Kenya and South Africa.

While African agritechs raised more than Sh6.4 billion in 2020, up 23.7 percent from the previous year, they still represent 8.6 percent of all start-ups across the continent. Kenya has led the way mainly because of deals in the last two years, including the $85 million raised by GRO Intelligence, and other big deals involving Twiga Foods and Apollo Agriculture.

These investments in African agritech are quite timely as agriculture and food security in Africa have been under the pressure of many challenges such as low productivity, lack of knowledge and exposure to new farming techniques, and limited financial support.

Add to that, Africa’s weather is unpredictable, its population is exploding, and farming practices deplete the farm soil and exacerbate deforestation and water scarcity. Farmers often lack technical expertise and young people are migrating from rural areas and into cities. Furthermore, African farmers will need to increase their productivity to provide food and economic growth to support its growing population.

Poor digital literacy and unwavering respect for traditional ways of working still persist. Africa remains the most food-insecure region in the world and a net importer of food. Finally, we are also in the very early days of understanding what funding models work. And we can’t forget the existential threat of the climate change.

These challenges are prompting investments in newer technologies. Lately, there has been an increased use of various technologies in agriculture in Africa, such as Internet of Things (IoT), open source software, cloud computing, artificial Intelligence, drones, and big data analytics.

Many tech start-ups have developed solutions targeting various aspects of agriculture, including finance, supply chain, retailing, and even delivering information on crops and weeds. These solutions are accessible to farmers through front-end devices such as smartphones and tablets, or even SMS.

Some agritech start-ups in Africa have come up with solutions that have led to an increase in productivity of the farms. Drones are a breakthrough technology, helping farmers oversee their crops, and manage farms. They capture photos of crops, soil or weeds, giving insights to farmers, saving time and energy, while also helping them find potential issues which could impact the productivity.

Other technologies enable smart farm management through the use of networked sensors providing details of the crops, soil, equipment or livestock.

There are also new financial services for farmers, covering credit, farm inputs, insurance and market access through machine learning, remote sensing, and mobile technology.

There is a need for wide adoption of these tools to benefit Africa.

Efayomi Carr, Principal, Flourish Ventures.