Digitise agriculture or go hungry

Wednesday April 1 2020

Ms Christine Awori reacts after she was whipped

Ms Christine Awori reacts after she was whipped by a security operative on March 26, 2020. PHOTOS BY DAVID LUBOWAALEX ESAGALA  

By Christine Kasemiire

The coronavirus pandemic will never be forgotten and its effects will be felt by all people, regardless of political, social and financial status.
But the business lesson we have gathered through this difficult time is: every business needs digital transformation.
Digital services have transitioned from convenient to essential.
This became apparent last week after President Museveni declared a suspension of all public transportation for two weeks to avert the spread of coronavirus.

Online businesses
Online businesses in the line of e-commerce such as Jumia, restaurants and public transport all said were prepared to handle the situation.
Jumia said it has the capacity to take charge of deliveries during the pandemic, Krusty Krab restaurant said it is surviving because 90 per cent of its business is now through deliveries made on its mobile web application and third parties such as Jumia and SafeBoda.
SafeBoda, a predominantly passenger public transport enabler, immediately shifted focus to deliveries also ordered digitally.
“Following the government announcement to temporarily ban public transport, we will not be running our passenger service for the next 14 days in Uganda. We shall continue to offer home delivery services,” a statement by Mr Ricky Rappa, one of the directors at SafeBoda said in a statement.

Digital agriculture
But agriculture – the country’s lifeline especially in regard to provision of food, has gone digital silent.
While SafeBoda and other food and transport digital services deliver ready to eat food, the top line of the food chain, that is farmers are still under the radar.
The President ordered that non-essential goods should not be sold in the markets allowing only food stuffs.

A few hours after his address, a photograph of a lady being beaten for vending fruits in Kampala was taken by the Daily Monitor.
This is a clear indication that the agricultural sector is yet to fully leverage digital technologies to ensure business sustainability through access to market and information.

For instance, according to Mr Ronald Rwakigumba, Inclusive Digital Financial Services Consultant at United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), while the World Bank recommends a ratio of one extension worker to 500 farmers, the average in Africa is 1:3,000 farmers.
It is unsustainable to recruit more extension workers to reduce this ratio; thereby, creating a need to tap into technology.

However, challenges of digitisation in the agricultural sector cut across the knowledge and skills gap as well as affordability of digital devices among others.
It is now more evident than ever that agriculture, Uganda’s backbone, without which the country would starve, needs to get digitised.
Already, there are efforts grounded in this direction.
Those are some of the objectives set by UNCDF, which aims to reach the last mile with digital services through the five-year ‘Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era,’ project.

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The fund has partnered with different private sector players to support creation of digital solutions for a digital inclusive economy in the fields of agriculture, health, education and finance.
“The partnership is part of the ‘Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era,’ strategy, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), which aims to build an inclusive digital economy in Uganda,” Ms Jenifer Bukokhe Wakhugu, Deputy Head of Office at UNCDF Uganda, said in a statement by UNCDF.

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