COMMENT: Green revolutionaries to boost African growth

By Peter Burdin, former BBC Africa Bureau Chief.

The Green Economy has long been seen as a key player in Africa’s transformation.

This week the Tenth Annual Summit of the African Green Revolution Forum – hosted in Kigali by Rwanda -is discussing how best to move African agriculture forward.

The farming industry hosts 60% of the continent’s workforce and creates more than 40% of its GDP. Hundreds of thousands of livelihoods depend on it.

This virtual Forum has often been described as the world’s premier forum on African agriculture and this year is meeting at a time of global crisis in which the Covid-19 pandemic threatens jobs, yields and food security.

The virus has seen food processing plants slowing production or closing down completely, while the demand for exports such as flowers and fruits have  been hit hard bringing economic hardship to many farmers.

The pandemic disguises the reality that agriculture in Africa has much to be proud of. In South Africa, for instance, maize production this year is expected to be more than 30% higher than in previous years –and digitalisation is transforming the sector.

The impact of the African Green Revolution Forum can be seen from last year’s event when some 2,400 delegates from 89 countries took part, and $3 billion worth of deals were concluded in the wings of the Forum.

Last year Isaac Sesi from Ghana shared a $100,000 prize with Tswana Bonolo Monthe of Botswana. Isaac employed affordable technologies to help reduce post harvest losses while Tswana developed a technique to turn underused, indigenous fruits into gourmet low sugar preserves.

The Rwandan organisers hope these successes will be repeated this year – and they say the key is digitalisation as farmers  embrace data to boost production and sales and increase yields and profits.

Pilot studies across the continent have seen yields rise between 50% and 300% through better use of information, better seed selection, irrigation and mechanisation.

The Digital revolution provides the sector with enormous opportunities.  There are innovations to help overcome challenges in land and soil mapping, water management, pest and disease management, particularly important as climate change starts to impact on Africa with locust invasions, floods and drought becoming more commonplace.

Today, a farmer in a remote area of the country can use his or her phone to see satellite images of their farm, and select the best seeds, the best type of fertilizer, the best soil health package for their crops, and the best markets to sell their produce.

Other innovations are less widespread but could catch on soon, like the use of drones and artificial intelligence to help with pest and disease monitoring.

It is fitting that just down the road from the Forum is the home of the Agriculture Growth Network (AGN), (www.agnetwork.rw ) a social enterprise that helps some 800 small and medium scale farmers increase their productivity while creating jobs for the youth.

AGN was founded by Daniella Uwase and her fellow students from Kigali’s African Leadership University. The students train the local farmers in the latest techniques through e-learning platforms and provide microloans while connecting them to better markets for their products.

African Green Resources (www.afrigreenresources.com ) is another leading agribusiness company that trains farmers in good agriculture practices to achieve higher yields and build a sustainable agriculture economy.

African Green Resources also provides farmers with microfinance, particularly important during the pandemic when production and sales have been hit. 

It’s chaired by Zuneid Yousuf who also works with the Economics Association of Zambia.  Together they support a community entrepreneur development programme  which places great confidence in the ability of continent’s farming revolution to achieve food security, create jobs and build economic growth.

One of the long-term aim of groups like the African Green Resources, AGN and the delegates at the African Green Revolution Forum is to help millions of young Africans find meaningful employment in agriculture.  And all are convinced that embracing digitalisation will speed up that ambition.

The World Bank has pledged to invest US $50 billion in Transforming Africa’s Digital Economy, and it’s clear that if the delegates at the Forum have their way Africa’s farmers will be at the forefront of this investment.

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