Survey from Heifer International finds rapid growth of new high-tech farming tools and identifies new ways to connect them with farmers
Heifer International announced a report detailing the importance of engaging African youths in agriculture and the critical role they will play in the sustainability of the agriculture sector and economy.
The report “The Future of Africa’s Agriculture: An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology” incorporates the responses of over 30,000 young Africans as well as hundreds of farmers and farming organizations. As the world’s second most populous continent and home to an overwhelming under 25 population, the study emphasizes the need for new investments to stimulate access to innovations that could encourage African youth to specialize to the field.
“As a continent with a thriving young population, Africa’s agricultural sector must provide the investments in agritech innovations that will encourage youth to embrace agriculture-related endeavors, because they are the key to revitalizing Africa’s food system,” said Adesuwa Ifedi, Senior Vice President for Africa Programs at Heifer International. However, the report points out that financing and proper training to ensure the accessibility of opportunities to specialize in the sector are scarce.
The report surveyed farmers, agriculture technology startups, innovation hubs and technology organizations in 11 African countries to identify the challenges smallholder farming communities face. It also suggests potential areas of innovation and growth in Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Other findings of the study looked into how the global pandemic is affecting African farmers. Out of the featured agricultural organizations in the report, about 40% were forced to close down temporarily while 38% experienced a reduction in the average purchase amount per customer due to the pandemic. Another 36% still do not have the financial capital to revive their businesses.
“Youth engagement in agriculture will be essential to recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic,” said Adesuwa Ifedi. Investing in agritech innovations will both rejuvenate the continent’s agri-food system and develop economic opportunities for young Africans.
In spite of challenges, the report also details the many ways young African entrepreneurs across the continent are developing innovative and effective agritech tools and services for smallholder farmers. Usage of artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information software (GIS), virtual reality, drone technology, application programming interface (API) technology enable farmers to perform a variety of tasks including measuring rainfall, controlling pests and analyzing soil nutrients.
For instance, a company in Ghana is providing drones that offer precision application of pesticides and fertilizers even serve as “scare crow drones” for farming. In Kenya, a company is making obtaining a tractor as easy as booking an Uber. Ifedi noted that these and other endeavors explored in the report show the potential to harness home-grown innovation to accelerate a strategic transition to sustainable, profitable farming across Africa.
According to the United Nations, young people below the age of 25 make up about 60% of Africa’s entire population and more than about half of the rural population is employed in the agriculture sector. Yet, only about 23% of the total of youth engaged in the field use any form of agricultural technology.
The report reveals that access to financial capital and capacity building will spur youth interest in agriculture and allow smallholder farmers to embrace advanced technologies. Findings also indicate that improved livelihood and economic growth are some of the benefits of introducing agritech to traditional farming on the African continent.