The Case for Digital Smart Platform for Agricultural Value Chains

Digital innovations can transform rural Africa as well as the agricultural sector while tackling other emerging challenges in Africa, from unemployment, especially the youth groups, food insecurity, and the need for further economic growth. In recent decades, Africa achieved some progress in addressing critical challenges to the sustained agricultural revolution, economic prosperity, and improved livelihoods. Nonetheless, the collective pressures of demographic changes, urbanisation, shifting diets, climate change, and protracted crises require a new set of innovative solutions. The growing use of digital technologies, tools, and services is extensively visible, including in the agricultural sector, and will play a vital role for African countries in meeting their targets on reducing poverty, and improving nutrition, and food security (IFPRI, 2020).

New digital technologies and services are already having a considerable impact on how food is being produced, processed, marketed, traded, and consumed across the continent. How African countries position themselves to harness and deploy digital technologies will determine the speed and nature of agricultural and economy-wide transformation in Africa. As pointed out by Kosec and Wantchekon (2020), any agriculture digitalisation strategy needs to be designed to fit local environments and meet the needs of all value chain actors, while creating new opportunities for Africa’s youth and women. The benefits of digitalisation are evident across much of the agricultural value chain, from providing access to information and other services, including finance, all the way to improving links to markets. Technologies involved include Blockchain, Big Data Analytics, mobile data access, and the Internet of Things, as well as more low-tech, frugal innovations. Apps such as FarmCrowdy and FarmDrive in Kenya use Big Data to build credit scores for farmers and have since helped thousands gain access to loans. Tools such as Nigerian firm Zenvus’ SmartFarm sensor and Ghana’s Ignitia’s weather forecast model provide farmers with soil and weather data, building their resilience to raise productivity and navigate shocks. Meanwhile, Hello Tractor technologies in Nigeria and Kenya and TROTRO Tractor apps in Ghana help farmers identify nearby tractors available for rent (Kosec and Wantchekon, 2020).

There are a set of conditions to be met to foster the development of digital platforms for agricultural development in Africa. Such an enabling environment must include (i) regulation for the use of digital technologies; (ii) fiscal incentives to encourage end-user adoption in which the private sector can leverage its innovation capacities; (iii) an emphasis on skills development to improve digital literacy; (iv) research and development; (v) reliable infrastructure to connect those in the most remote rural areas to ICT services; (vi) the creation of information and innovation hubs that stimulate the generation of new ideas and solutions for the use of ICT along the food value chain; and (vii) South-South cooperation (IFPRI, 2020).

Unlike previous years, the advent of multiple new vital technologies enable the ability to develop digital smart farms and distribution systems, and promise a significant change in transforming agriculture and food systems in food depleted countries, to create genuinely sustainable food ecosystems that meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (Maru et al., 2018). A Digital Smart Agriculture Platform (DSAP) can be employed in cost-effective phased approaches where utilising currently available infrastructure can be leveraged for everyone in the value chain; farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and government to work together to optimise the food supply ecosystem. Such an ecosystem can provide the ability to monitor, manage, respond, and report vital, actionable data essential to optimising crucial decisions.