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Article by Kingsley Egbo, a Commonwealth Scholar writes from the UK - Image Source: www.tekedia.com
It has been a remarkably year, 2016, with its attendant successes and failures for peoples, industries and nations. More remarkably, it has been a year of great technological strides and achievements with technologies that provided avenues to solving big problems and opening up opportunities, ranging from self-driving cars to Advanced Robotics, Improved Data Science, Genomics, Improved Solar energy technologies etc.
Agricultural stakeholders and technology enthusiasts in Africa also witnessed the introduction of the Zenvus Technology, a unique innovation from a team of highly talented individuals led by Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe driven to exploit the ever burgeoning power of technology and science to revolutionize farming output efficiency and productivity in Africa.
“Zenvus is an intelligent solution for farms that uses proprietary electronics sensors to collect soil data like moisture, nutrients, pH etc and send them to a cloud server via GSM, satellite or Wifi. Algorithms in the server analyze the data and advice farmers on farming. As the crops grow, the system deploys special cameras to build vegetative health to help detection of drought stress, pests and diseases. The data generated is aggregated, anonymized and made available via subscription for agro-lending, agro-insurance, commodity trading to banks, insurers and investors”, Prof Ndubuisi Ekekwe.
The Zenvus technology among other things would allow farmers and stakeholders make informed decisions by providing real time data for the farmers and stakeholders thus eliminating guesses on timing, procedure and crops for farming. Indeed, as the American Data Scientist W. Edward Feming quipped , “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion” we have long continued to rely on opinions and poor forecast to make decisions on Agricultural investments and this has taken a toll on agricultural yield. The technology also provides data analytics that relate information on possible outbreak of pests and diseases in farms which usually reduces yield, allowing farmers to initiate preventive measures.
This is a timely innovation for an industry that has been tipped to boost many economies in Africa with many African leaders pledging commitment towards Agriculture in the present and future. It is a peerless stride in an industry seldom associated with innovation in Africa. However, as continuous push is being made for a deeper penetration of mechanized farming in Africa, it is necessary to remind ourselves that Agriculture has remained an industry driven by innovation and technology in the developed societies. Agricultural yields have been maximized through innovation, technology and science as demonstrated by countries like Israel. In the economic account of Israel in their phenomenal book, Start-up Nation, the authors recounted that President Shimon Peres had asserted that Agriculture is ninety-five percent science and five percent work. This drove his underlying commitment for innovation in Agriculture which saw Israel increase its agricultural yield seventeen times within twenty-five years.
The promise of this innovation is apparent and its impact is scalable and measurable. Little wonder that within months of its introduction, the technology was a finalist of the 2016 Singularity University Food Grand Challenge and have been featured in many leading technology reviews. The technology has also recorded noteworthy milestones within the last 6 months of launch, such as a grant support from Facebook to develop the artificial intelligence which will power farming decision making via Zenvus Bot which is on beta at the moment.
The technology has also been quickly adopted by leading Agricultural stakeholders and policy proponent in Africa. For instance, Zenvus will begin piloting its technology for African Development Bank which wants to deploy it across all farms it is providing funding. The Bank of Agriculture, Nigeria is also adopting Zenvus as the technology platform to drive agricultural innovation in Nigeria. More recently, Zenvus have signed a contract with an African farm union to support 12.2 million farmers from 2017.
Nonetheless, more commitment would be required by the government and its attendant social institutions across Africa towards delivering needed incentives that can encourage and support more farmers in integrating this technology to increase crop yield.
As Professor Joel Mokyr noted in his book, The Lever of Riches: Technological Creativity and Economic Progress.
…to encourage technological creativity and innovation in a society, …three conditions have to be satisfied,… there has to be a core group of ingenious and resourceful innovators who are both willing and able to challenge their physical environment for their improvement,… Secondly, economic and social institutions have to encourage these potential innovators by providing the right incentive structure and thirdly such society most encourage diversity and tolerance.
The team at Zenvus technology has done an exceptional job in developing this technology; it would be great if such technological creativity comes under the aegis of the governments and agricultural stakeholders in Africa who can devote resources towards scaling this technology for farmers because of the positive impact on farm productivity accruable to this technology. This could hold the key to more productive farming in Africa from 2017 going forward.
Kingsley Egbo, a Commonwealth Scholar writes from the UK
Digital Media for Africa Agribusiness Magazine by Alex Hitzemann
By Alex Hitzemann
This year’s FOECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook is a special edition featuring an in-depth look at the opportunities and challenges facing Sub-Saharan Africa in the next decade. The 140 page report is a wealth of information thanks to all the resources and talent employed by the UN, FAO, and OECD. We are very fortunate to have individualized predictions for each crop and analysis of which specific factors could trigger growth spurts in the Sub-Saharan agribusiness market.
The Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) region contains around 950 million people, which is approximately 13% of the global population. Despite drastic changes to economies in this region, agriculture remains a crucial sector providing livelihoods for millions of people. Agricultural makes up a significant portion of most Sub-Saharan countries GDP, ranging from from 30-60 percent.
The report finds that while the outlook for agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa is broadly positive, it could be much improved by improvements in government policies across the region, by an increase in strategic public and private investments (especially in infrastructure) and by suitably adapted research and extension. Such investments could improve access to markets, reduce post-harvest losses, and make much needed inputs more widely available.
A great example of exactly this kind of investment is the new Norwegian funded company Arise. Arise is a cooperation by Norfund, FMO and Rabobank which seeks to invests in financial institutions in SSA to grow their financial services and capability to supply capital to small-holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. The establishment of joint ventures, such as this, will contribute more to the development of banking than just one bank or investment fund on its own.
FAO reports that foreign investment and external financial flows into Africa have quadrupled since 2000. These flows are expected to increase two times further in the next decade.
Sub-Saharan Africa will continue to experience rapid population growth. This, in combination with rising incomes, urbanization, and continuation of current policies and market structures, the production of food crops in many countries is projected to grow more slowly than demand.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s net imports of food commodities are anticipated to grow over the next decade, although productivity enhancing investments would mitigate this trend. Food import dependency of resource poor regions, such as North Africa and the Middle East, is projected to intensify providing a huge market for any grain exporters in Africa. In SAA countries grain imports will increase 50% in ten years. Comparatively, North Africa will only see only as 15% increase.
Due to extremely high population growth, SSA has a very young population. The World Bank predictes that more than half of young Africans will enter agricultural careers, mostly in the format of small family farms. Inovating ways for youth to participate in agriculture has the potential to greatly reduce poverty and hunger. Success for these young African farmers relies on their education of land access and tenure, access to financial services, access to markets, access to green jobs and involvement in policy dialogue. All of this has the potential to make the agricultural sector more attractive to young people, providing an additional push that may be needed for them to enter the sector
FAO believes that the single greatest factor in improve crop outputs over the next decade will be yield improvements. Currently, it’s not uncommon to see post-harvest crop losses above 50 percent in the region. In the next decade African farmers will gain new metholodgies and technologies to improve their yields. The opportunity for large fertilizers and machinery companies to penetrate the African market is likely to greatly increase as farmers seek new ways to improve their output.
Yield improvements will account for 80% in the increase in crop output in Africa from now to 2020.
Recently, there has been a furry of concern about land-use and crop rotation in the region. But continuous cultivation of existing plots would not necessarily pose problems for sustainable intensification if sufficient use of fertilizers, soil amendment practices and other land-augmenting investments are employed and coupled with continued education to maintain and improve soil quality.
However, a large body of literature in SSA points to soil degradation arising from unsustainable cultivation practices in regions with a high population density, for example parts of Kenya and Malawi. Continuous cultivation and lack of crop rotation deplete organic carbon levels, making soil less responsive to fertilizer application. This also makes it more difficult for smallholder farmers to benefit from yield gains offered by plant genetic improvement.
There is also an opportunity to improve output by increase agricultural area sustainability. This is likely to make up a much smaller part of the growth in the region. The majority of new crop areas in Africa will be dedicated to cereals. Africa’s existing agricultural resources (crops and fisheries) can all be characterized as underutilized.
Maize production is expected to increase considerably, especially in Eastern Africa. Ethiopia alone accounts for almost 40% of additional production to 2025, followed by Nigeria (14%) and Sudan (10%). Increases in caloric intake in Africa will remain modest.
East Africa will see the greatest changes. Its possible that the eastern part of the continent will see up to 8 percent increases in daily caloric intake by 2020. On the other hand, central Africa will remain relatively the same in the coming decade only increasing daily intake by 1.5 percent in the same time period.
There is a large opportunity for fisheries. Projections reflect a 36% increase of food fish supply by 2025 compared to the average 2013-15 level, but accounting for significant population growth, the per capita increase is a mere 3%.
Milk production also has enormous potential in economic development and food security in rural areas. This makes dairy an important subsector in SSA. Particularly in Southern and Eastern Africa, commercialisation of the sector has illustrated dairy’s potential to provide a regular income source that reduces poverty and improves living standards. Eastern Africa currently constitutes more than half of total milk production in SSA and a vibrant
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By Nawa Mutumweno
Norwegian firm, Yara International has been officially launched in Zambia, taking over the operations of Greenbelt Fertilizers Limited at a cost of about $51 million.
Whereas the transaction was first announced in December 2015, it was subject to approval by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).
Greenbelt Fertilizers is a leading fertilizer distributor for Zambia, Malawi and Zambia.
Yara International says it has been motivated to acquire Greebelt Fertilizers Limited due to the investment-friendly policies introduced by the Zambian government which are conducive to business, thus attracting long-term investment into the country.
Yara business unit downstream Africa chief executive officer, Bernhard Fonsenka, said by acquiring Greenbelt Fertilizers, Yara will be able to provide sustainable crop nutrition, increase crop yields and farmers’ incomes.
‘’We invested in Zambia because we were motivated by the investment-friendly attitude that we have witnessed through the process of this acquisition. We observed that investment authorities, regulators and partners, all have the determination to attract long-term commitment by easing the cost of doing business,’’ he said at the launch of Yara Zambia on May 4, 2016.
‘’While Yara boasts of its ability to deliver the world’s best agronomic practices and resources to local farmers, it will continue to ensure that the farmer remains at the heart of everything we do with the aim of sustainably increasing their profitability, thereby improving their livelihood,’’ he added.
Speaking earlier, Agriculture deputy minister, Maxus Ngónga said the coming in of Yara in the agriculture sector will bring competition in the marketing of fertilizer.
‘’This investment has come at a time when Zambia is diversifying its economy and our commitment is not only to make Zambia the food basket of the region, but also attract investments that will help us achieve that dream.
‘’As a nation, we are delighted to have a new entrant in the fertilizer sector because this creates competition and helps to push the prices of the product down for the benefit of the farmer,’’ he elaborated.
Norwegian ambassador to Zambia, Arve Ofstad is optimistic that Yara, as a commercial producer of fertilizer, will add value to the Zambian economy through job creation and better yields for farmers.
By Nawa Mutumweno
Zambia is among 12 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa expected to benefit from the newly launched Stress Tolerant Maize for Africa (STMA) project that will develop improved maize varieties with resistance and tolerance to drought and diseases affecting maize production.
The varieties have been launched to help the region boost food security.
The STMA project introduced by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), will help increase maize productivity by about 30 to 50 percent and provide 5.5 million smallholder farmers with improved maize varieties.
According to the ProAgri latest report, other beneficiary countries are Benin, Ghana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe.
STMA project leader, Tsedeke Abate, said the four-year project will improve maize production for over five million smallholder farmer households by the end of 2019 in the targeted beneficiary countries.
‘‘STMA will use modern breeding technologies that will confer the desired resistance to pest and diseases, and tolerant climate stresses like drought and heat to benefit farmers within their socio-economic capabilities, that often dictate their access to important farm inputs such as fertilizer and improved seed,’’ he said.
The project will apply conventional breeding techniques to develop maize varieties and hybrids capable of resisting environmental shocks, including drought, low soil fertility, heat, pests and disease.
‘’The project also seeks to increase commercialisation of improved multiple stress-tolerant maize varities with gender-preferred traits,’’ he elaborated.
STMA will also link up national and regional initiatives to develop strategies that bridge the yield gap and dramatically increase maize production at smallholder farm level.
Continued collaboration with partners will enhance sustainable maize research and development systems in target countries through sustained variety release deployment and adoption which has been insufficient in many sub-Saharan countries, Mr. Abate added.
STMA is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).