Ideas & Debate

Data way to grow Africa’s agriculture for food security

data (4)

Summary

  • The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reports that over 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food.
  • A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods.
  • It seems only fitting then, that in 2020, the theme for World Food Day is ‘Our Actions are Our Future’.

One of most the prominent challenges facing Africa is providing food security for its citizens. While many farmers still rely on traditional techniques to coax a living from the land, there are opportunities to use cutting-edge technology to drive Africa towards a food-secure future.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations reports that over 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods. It seems only fitting then, that in 2020, the theme for World Food Day is ‘Our Actions are Our Future’. Accelerating innovation in agri-tech will enable data-driven farming that can optimise yields, boost farm productivity and increase profitability – all while feeding a nation.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in agriculture uses cutting-edge data, advanced analytics and machine learning to bring centuries-old farming knowledge into the modern age, giving farmers the ability to optimise crop yields and mitigate the effects of climate change through tools like smart irrigation. With agriculture sustaining 70 per cent of Africa’s livelihoods, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that all farming communities are equipped with the latest tools including AI,Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing to improve productivity and sustainability across the sector, leveraging our extensive partnerships and initiatives network in the process.

There has been reference in the recent past of AI replacing people in jobs, but what happens when AI and IoT devices enables people to spend less time on menial manual labour and more time boosting productivity and crop yields? AI and cloud technology can be used to monitor soil, climate changes and more to make better decisions on when, where, and how much to plant on farms. Precision farming, brought about by the adoption of advanced technologies into the agricultural sector, will revolutionise food production.

In Kenya, SunCulture helps farmers improve their crop yields through solar-powered irrigation systems. Using IoT technology, SunCulture customers are generating 10 times more annual income, experiencing a 300per cent increase in crop yields, and saving 17 hours of manually moving water per week.

The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending recently entered into a agreement with Microsoft to collaborate in helping farmers become more productive, reduce costs, practice sustainable agriculture and achieve better agricultural outcomes through the deployment of the FarmBeats platform, which harnesses sensors, drones and cameras for seamless data collection, helping farmers improve crop yields as well as increase income. As many as eight million farmers and 4 million hectares will be positively affected.

Particularly for smallholder farmers, it’s a challenge to get reliable weather and market information in real time that can help with agricultural decision-making. But almost every farmer has a phone in their back pocket.

A mobile platform was recently been built by a team of Microsoft developers to democratise access to information using a feature or a smartphone. Farmers can access information on pest and soil diagnosis, market prices, agricultural news, success stories from neighbouring farmers, weather, soil testing and personalised recommendations for maximising yields based on their soil tests, with an intended initial impact of 100,000 farmers.

Other agri-tech social entrepreneurs are effecting real changes for farmers and their supply chains. Twiga Foods is a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform that links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities. N-Frnds brings the power of digital via mobile to subsistence and smallholder farmers in Africa and other emerging markets, and has nurtured a community of farmers who can communicate with each other without the need for an internet connection or mobile data. It also provides access to financial services for market segments that are traditionally underserved by formal banking and insurance.

Microsoft believes in increasing access to agricultural knowledge through collaboration. It takes an entire ecosystem to initiate change, and that includes companies, government departments and agencies, and a network of start-ups and entrepreneurs, all with a common goal of solving food insecurity.

Microsoft, through the 4Afrika initiative has collaborated with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa to co-create technology solutions in Africa as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries by 2021.

We are also working with ministries across Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to drive impact in agriculture.

The Kenyan National Agriculture Platform is a key initiative to drive digitalisation in agriculture. Earlier this year, Microsoft started engaging with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives to collaborate in accelerating digital transformation in the agricultural sector in Kenya.

By harnessing agri-tech, we can help solve the pressing issues around food security to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #2 of Zero Hunger, and enhance economic development in the process.