Let there be technology in the agriculture sector
Posted Wednesday, July 16 2014 at 01:00
Africa is currently engrossed in the Information Technology (IT) wave that seems to be sweeping every country off its feet. IT is one of the professions that the youth of today easily identify with and its ‘coolness’ is comparable to that attained by the music industry.
With the growing youth population and increasing unemployment, many youths with a chance to study are looking at IT as one of the ways they can emancipate themselves. This has led them and the institutions they are a part of to venture into innovation. Most countries in Africa today have an IT innovation hub of sorts. In countries like Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa have had these innovation hubs for a couple of years now.
On the other side, the African farmer is daily toiling away trying to improve their worth and the use of Information and Communication Technologies has already had a significant impact on them. There are various programmes in place that enable information availability to these farmers like pricing, crop and animal care, marketing, value addition among others.
Bridging the information gap
Once I was on the road in one of the rural localities of Uganda and I found this lady with a basket of tomatoes. Instinctively I decided to stop and buy from her since I knew that the price would be lower than in the city. To my shock she quoted a price in the same range as that of my urban market. Further inquiry revealed to me that she used her phone to always keep abreast of the city prices in order to get a fair deal from the middlemen that buy from her.
Historically, radio and occasionally Television were the major communication technologies used to reach out to farmers and it was a largely one way approach availing them weather information and advertising input suppliers. Extension services were always physical face to face activities that also had a patronising approach. Farmers had challenges learning easily from one another especially across different geographical locations.
But over the past two decades, Africa has had e-agriculture initiatives in place courtesy of the work by some Non-Governmental Organisations like the Busoga Rural Open Source Development Initiative and Women of Uganda Network, IT innovations like Drumnet, Farmer, Esoko, Community Knowledge Worker, Farmers’ Friend among others. However, with all due respect, a number of these innovations are products of people who hardly know what it’s like to be a farmer.
They may have read about farming but that is as far as it goes for them. A visit to the budding IT hubs in Africa today will reveal the fact that they are patronised by youths who have had a largely urban upbringing and can hardly identify with the rural dwellers.
While their innovation intentions may be legitimate, they simply are incapacitated when it comes to prescribing the right solutions for the farming audience.
This has as a result created a gap between the numerous IT innovations that are touted as life changing applications at competitions and their eventual applicability in the field. The situation has been exacerbated by the financial rewards that are being doled out to untested ideas as a means of encouraging the innovators causing many to turn into rent seekers.
If an Agro-ICT Innovation Hub existed, it would make it easier for one to blend the technologists with these subject matter specialists hence benefitting the industry in the long run.
As we all know, Mobile is not the only form of delivery that can be used to extend ICTs to farmers. By borrowing from their rural lifestyles, one can use Community Centres to act as knowledge and technology access points using communal services and products.
One key characteristic about African rural dwellers (who are largely into farming) is their openness towards communal use of services. This is manifested through fetching water at a common well, prioritising the participation in the weekly market day, gathering daily to share news and ideas at the small trading centres or village squares (mainly men) and other similar activities. This implies that televisions, computers complete with Internet access and printers can be deployed within the community.
The Digital Impact Awards Africa have just been launched and on close analysis, the agricultural sector is conspicuously absent among the award categories. This is a slap in the face for a sector that is a significant contributor to the GDP of most African countries. What better digital impact can one achieve than in agriculture from which the majority of Africans earn a living? Is Digital Impact only measured based on Twitter, Facebook and Youtube activity?
The author is an ICT and agro entrepreneur.