One of the most important challenges facing Africa is providing food security to its citizens. Although many farmers still rely on traditional techniques to advance their lives out of the country, there are opportunities to use the latest technology to drive Africa to a food-safe future.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that more than 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and adequate food. A steady increase in hunger since 2014, coupled with increasing obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and sharpen actions to strengthen food systems and protect people’s livelihoods.
It only seems appropriate then that the theme for World Food Day in 2020 is ‘Our actions are our future’. The acceleration of innovation in agri-technology will enable data-driven farming that can optimize yields, increase farming productivity and increase profitability – and that while a country feeds.
AI in agriculture uses leading data, advanced analysis and machine learning to bring centuries-old farming knowledge into modern times, providing farmers with the tools to optimize crop yields and reduce the effects of climate change through tools such as smart irrigation. With agriculture sustaining 70% of Africa’s livelihoods, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that all farming communities are equipped with the latest tools, including AI, IoT and edge computing to improve productivity and sustainability across the sector, and use our extensive network for partnerships and initiatives in the process. .
There have been references in the recent past to replacing people in work, but what happens when AI and IoT devices enable people to spend less time on manual labor and increase more time to increase productivity and crop yields? AI and cloud technology can be used to monitor soil, climate change and more to make better decisions about when, where and how much to plant on farms. Precision farming, brought about by the use of advanced technologies in the agricultural sector, will revolutionize food production.
In Kenya, SunCulture helps farmers improve their crop yields through solar-powered irrigation systems. Using IoT technology, SunCulture customers generate 10 times more annual revenue, experiencing a 300% increase in crop yields, saving them 17 hours of manually moving water per week. And by using TVWS technology (TVWS) that expands high-speed Internet access to underserved areas, SunCulture offers precision farming to more smallholder farmers.
The Nigerian Incentive Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Loans (NIRSAL) recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft to work together to help Nigerian farmers become more productive, reduce costs, practice sustainable agriculture and achieve better agricultural outcomes through the implementation of FarmBeats. platform, which uses sensors, drones and cameras for seamless data collection, helping farmers improve crop yields as well as increase revenue. Up to 8 million farmers and 4 million hectares will be positively affected.
It is especially a challenge for smallholder farmers to get reliable weather and market information in real time that can help with the decision making of agriculture. But almost every farmer has a phone in their back pocket.
A mobile platform was recently built by a team of Microsoft developers to democratize access to information using a feature or a smartphone. Farmers can access information on pest and soil diagnosis, market prices, agricultural news, success stories of neighboring farmers, weather, soil tests and personalized recommendations for the maximum yield based on their soil tests, with the initial impact of 100,000 farmers.
Other social entrepreneurs in agri-technology are making real changes for farmers and their supply chains. Twiga Foods is a mobile-based food supply platform that connects smallholder farmers in rural Kenya with informal retailers in cities. N-Frnds brings the power of digital via mobile phones to subsistence farmers and smallholder farmers in Africa and other emerging markets, and has cultivated a community of farmers who can communicate with each other without the internet connection or mobile data. It also provides access to financial services for market segments traditionally served by formal banking and insurance.
Microsoft believes in increasing access to agricultural knowledge through collaboration. An entire ecosystem is needed to start change, and that includes companies, government departments and agencies, and a network of startups and entrepreneurs, all with a common goal of resolving food insecurity.
Through the 4Africa initiative, Microsoft has partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to create technological solutions in Africa as it works to improve food security for 30 million agricultural households in 11 countries by 2021. The partnership stands for investments such as our support of the World Bank’s 1 million farmers platform, which aims to bring one million farmers to a digital platform over the next three years.
We also work with ministries across Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to promote the impact on agriculture. In Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture, the involvement includes intelligent crop detection and forecasting of water demand. The main focus is on successful agricultural engagement to promote good agricultural practices, secure data sharing between agricultural entities and linked farms that enable data collection via agricultural IoT sensors. In addition, Microsoft, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, commissioned by Research ICT Africa, to help identify opportunities in the industry to make farming more efficient and cost-effective, and to highlight key regulatory and policy issues.
The Kenyan National Agricultural Platform is an important initiative to promote digitalisation in agriculture. Earlier this year, Microsoft began working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives (MoALFC) to work together to accelerate digital transformation in Kenya’s agricultural sector.
Across the continent, from South Africa to Kenya, Ghana, Egypt and beyond, we are working hard to enable agricultural technology through various channels and partnerships. Technology has the potential to change farming, with smart tools and platforms for precision farming, weather forecasting and maximum use of scarce water resources. Using agri-tech, we can help solve the urgent food security issues to meet Zero Hunger’s Unsustainable Development Goal # 2, and improve economic development in the process.
Amrote Abdella is Regional Director: Microsoft 4Africa