Digital technologies can spur rural development

Friday May 17 2019

Francis Otto

Francis Otto  

The future of Africa food systems will be determined by digital technologies. You may not believe this, but as long as digital technologies continue to play a disruptive role in our lives, agriculture is not spared.
There is a significant role that digital technologies can play in overcoming the isolation of smallholder farmers and supporting agricultural development hence, speeding up rural development.
Farming is one of mankind’s oldest endeavours, and digital technologies are among its newest and most disruptive. Digital technologies are described as disruptive when they significantly alter the way farming business or entire industry operates. Digital technologies are powerful and can change the practices in the entire food value chain.
By thinking in terms not just of crops or yields or prices, but rather of an integrated food system that links all players in the agricultural economy, digital technologists help us to see African agricultural issues in a new light.
Knowing that Africa’s agriculture is majorly in the rural areas and managed by small-holder farmers, we can easily link rural development to agricultural development. And looking at the trend in the developments brought about by digital technologies, one can comfortably predict that digital technologies can result in rural development.
From mobile phones to big data, nutrition to climate change, we can clearly see that digital technologies come in different ways to change the way farmers go about with what they do to bring food from their gardens to the markets or shops from where we buy them.
The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), is a network of 105 universities in 37 countries in Africa and is headquartered in Makerere University in Uganda with an agenda geared towards rural development and strives on a common purpose of strengthening the capacities of its members to foster innovations responsive to the demands of small-holder farmers through training of high quality researchers and promotion university-community interactions.
Realising the power of digital technologies in agricultural development, RUFORUM has developed a programme called African digital agriculture programme (AfriDAP) to champion digital initiatives to help transform agriculture in Africa with particular interest in promoting rural development.
The RUFORUM digital agriculture initiatives can transform Africa’s food system in different ways such as expanding farmers’ access to capital and resources, disrupting value chains through economies of scale, allowing smaller players to be integrated into the value chain, and disrupting the management of natural resources through precision tools, helping to boost food production sustainably.
In digital agriculture, there are digital tools such as mobile phones that have become vital in transforming farmers’ lives. For example, with the touch of a button on their phones, farmers can be able to do a diagnosis of the viral infections for their plants and store the data remotely or send the information to a cloud based repository.
Digital agriculture initiatives also bring about opportunities for all the stakeholders (farmers, buyers, consumers, etc,.) in agriculture value chain to interlink. Through the digital solutions, the stakeholders are able to interact freely from across the world and access a variety of information on soil, land, plants, and other resources more widely available, allowing farmers to apply inputs like fertiliser and water in a more precise manner. It also provides a great opportunity to generate massive digital data for future use in making decisions for effective agriculture.
Digital technologies can help positively transform practices in the entire food value system, transforming the lives of farmers, many of whom live in rural areas and thus bringing about rural development.

Dr Otto is the knowledge hub manager at RUFORUM.