World Bank eyes a million farmers with ‘disruptive’ digital platform

A man inspecting his vegetable garden
A man inspecting his vegetable garden. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s most promising agri-tech innovations will be supported by the World Bank with the aim of having one million Kenyan farmers on a digital platform over the next three years.

At least 10 digital agricultural technologies were on April 6, 2019 selected to be part of a group that will be funded while also benefitting from incubation to form what the World Bank is calling the ‘disruptive digital technology’ strategy aimed at feeding the nation.

The plan seeks to fund innovators in agriculture to step up technologies to scale up food production.

The World Bank Group will work with the Korea-World Bank Partnership Facility; the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation; the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology; Kuza Technologies; Dalberg; the UN SDG Partnership Platform and others, to form the One Million Farmer Initiative.

The platform will address farmers’ challenges around productivity, market access, financial inclusion, and information, among others.


The first cohort of agri-tech innovators, along with two further cohorts selected annually thereafter, will be eligible to apply for competitive grants totalling $1 million to facilitate scaling up. They will also have access to incubation support for between 12 and 18 months.

Dr Parmesh Shah, World Bank’s lead rural development specialist for the African region, said the institution would inject two percent of the $450 million set aside for the programme in Kenya’s agri-tech sector for the next three years.

The World Bank says uptake of technologies is key in bridging Africa’s food deficit. This what the global financial institution is seeking to achieve under the digital initiative.

“We will do all that we can as an innovation eco-system to support agri-techs and accelerate the scale of digital agriculture technologies to address the principal challenges faced by the agricultural system,” said Simeon Ehui, Director of the World Bank’s Food and Agriculture Global Practice, responsible for Africa Europe and Central Asia.

The World Bank said it settled on Kenya for the pilot project because the country is “the digital innovation hub of Africa” and home to many of the continent’s start-ups on digital agriculture.

About 30 percent of agri-tech start-ups on the continent operate in Kenya and about 20 percent are headquartered in the country, according to the World Bank data.

Once it is piloted in Kenya, the progamme will then be rolled out in eight other countries on the continent.

The initiative ran a challenge competition on 5-6 April out of which 14 winners were picked from 23 shortlisted. Judges were looking for innovations capable of disrupting agricultural value chains and to do so at scale.

The various apps selected already have a total of 3,000 smallholder farmers as their direct customers.

Each year, new innovators will participate in the challenge and successful ones will be taken through an entrepreneurship bootcamp, given an opportunity to pitch to potential investors and ecosystem partners. At least 10 innovators will win the opportunity to participate in the agri-tech incubation yearly.

While Kenya accounts for a good number of agri-tech start-ups in Africa, their potentially transformative ideas have yet to have a significant impact. Such disruptive technologies require systematic investment in knowledge, innovation and incubation ecosystem, which still lack in most African countries including Kenya.

Almost one-quarter (24.2 percent) of Kenyans are estimated to still suffer from undernourishment, according to 2016 data from the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. This underlines the urgent need for agriculture innovations to meet their objectives.

The digital initiative will be part of the World Bank’s two major agriculture development initiatives in Kenya — the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project and the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project, both valued at nearly $500 million.

The main challenges that disruptive agricultural technologies (DATs) aim to solve include low productivity of crops and livestock, low profitability, poor access to markets as well as availability of credit, inputs and equipment. Another hurdle is decision-making that is not based on data.

Dr Shah said Kenya’s agricultural sector has great potential to capitalise on digital technologies and innovations to achieve agricultural transformation. “Disruptive agricultural technology is significant to Kenya and Africa because it has the potential to vastly improve farm productivity, help farmers to cope with climate risks and raise farm-derived incomes by taking the guesswork out of farming and marketing operations,” he said.

According to Mr Ehui, the integration of technology in agriculture will entice African youth to come up with innovations that can address key challenges of farming.

“It also has the potential to improve the quality, traceability, and marketability of farm outputs for increased farmer incomes,” he added.

“We know that the majority of start-ups never survive and scale past the pilot stage due to both financial and non-financial constraints.”

Kenya’s Principal Secretary for Agriculture Research, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, Hamadi Boga, said there are a lot of opportunities in the sector that remain under-utilised. “…the biggest challenge that we have might not necessarily be the existence of solutions but rather the sustenance and framework within which it would operate,” he said.

“We had a project with one of the telecoms and it collapsed on the basis of uncertainty on who would own and hold the data, and how it would be used.”