Is Africa set for agricultural disruption?


Ms Miriam Wanjiru, harvests kales on a farm in Elburgon, Nakuru County on May 04, 2023. PHOTO | JOHN NJOROGE | NMG

Agriculture plays a significant role in food security and is the engine of economic growth in Africa. And now, as the world is on the brink of the Fourth Agricultural Revolution (4AR), everyone should ask: “Is Africa Ready?”

Known as Agriculture 4.0, which refers to integrating advanced technologies into the agricultural sector, 4AR will introduce automation, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and a digitally enabled workforce. Its objectives are to revolutionise how we produce and consume food by making farming more efficient, sustainable, and productive.

The continent must take smart agriculture very seriously, not just for its food security measures but for its integration into global value chains.

Other technologies will also help to increase transparency and traceability across the value chain. By leveraging AI and other technologies, it will be possible to access markets like the European Union (EU), which has already established stringent regulatory mechanisms.

For example, applying AI to predict weather patterns, optimise crop yields and detect diseases and pests, is imperative to address problems like the fungi raised by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Since 2015, several scientific journals have predicted an impending disruption in the agricultural sector.

These predictions started when the 4IR began to take shape around the 2010s.

It was a period marked by the development and adoption of technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things and 3D printing, among others. As a result, the 4AR was born.

An article by the Journal Nature titled: ‘The Future of Food’ addressed the challenges facing global agriculture, including climate change, population growth, and the need for sustainable practices.

The article proposed various strategies for addressing these challenges, including using technology to improve crop yields, reducing food waste, and shifting to more plant-based diets.

Journal of Science also published an article titled: ‘The Future of food demand’. It discussed the impact of changing demographics, economic growth, and technological advances on global food demand.

Innovative technologies such as precision agriculture and gene editing could help increase food production and meet future demand.

By 2020, there was an avalanche of scientific publications, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, which published an article titled ‘Food systems and the global environment: An overview’.

The article discussed the environmental impacts of current agricultural practices and proposed several solutions, including reducing meat consumption, improving land use practices, and adopting regenerative agriculture.

Last week, Nature Journal also published another article ‘Address the growing urgency of fungal disease in crops’. The article highlights the WHO’s concerns about fungal pathogens that infect humans and warned that the increasingly abundant disease-causing fungal strains have acquired resistance to known antifungals.

There was an urgent need to take care of the devastating effects that the fungi have had and will continue to have on the world’s food supply is necessary for dealing with the biggest threats to food security and, by extension, human health.

Dealing with these emerging food security problems calls for adopting the 4IR technologies. Hence the question, is Africa ready for the 4AR?

It is important to note that when people began farming some 12,000 years ago, which marked the first agricultural revolution, Africa’s history was silent.

The second revolution in the early 17th century was characterised by the abolition of European feudalism and early mechanisation.

Africa, however, did not feature again. The third, which spanned between the 1950s to 2010s, was characterised by the introduction of chemical fertilisers, pesticides, and new high-yield crop varieties combined with heavy machinery.

And if exports are curtailed due to failure to leverage technology, the effect on incomes and jobs will be severe. As such, the continent must take the initiative to protect its social and economic interests.

Africa should, therefore, adopt a comprehensive strategy that emphasises building an environment conducive to adopting and applying new technologies in the agricultural sector.

By doing this, they can use the 4AR’s opportunities to increase agricultural output, lower poverty, and advance sustainable development.

Since it is anticipated that the 4AR will revolutionize the agricultural sector by increasing its productivity, sustainability, and efficiency, there is a need for Africa to enhance its technology infrastructure and build the capacity of the young generation.

Africa remains vulnerable. However, 4AR could address significant problems like food insecurity, climate change, and resource scarcity. The time to incorporate emerging technologies into the agricultural sector is now.

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