7-8 JUNE 2017 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Innovative agriculture for next generation farms

Innovative agriculture for next generation farms

Sparking youth interest in technology-driven agriculture and achieving food security

debate
D7
Wednesday, June 7, 2017 -
18:00 to 19:30

Key points

  • Unlocking Africa’s potential is key to feeding the world.
     
  • So-called smart farming can deploy technology to make farmers more competitive.
     
  • Agricultural development could also help create badly needed jobs.
     
  • Decisions on technological change must be taken locally and not in the capitals of developed countries.

Synopsis

Unlocking Africa’s potential is key to feeding the world in the decades to come. African agriculture faces considerable challenges, given the poverty of much of its soil. But the continent has huge amounts of unused land and untapped reserves of water. It also has the youngest population of any continent. With the number of jobs being created each year running at less than one-third of those needed, a vibrant agricultural sector could help to bridge this employment gap.

Participants heard about two examples of how high technology can be used to boost the productivity of African agriculture. The Nigerian company Zenvus has developed technology that allows farmers to monitor their crops and land more efficiently, registering the state of the soil or the threat from pests, telling them when to irrigate or when to use fertiliser. The technology can make it easier for farmers to raise credit with banks, something that can be difficult because credit institutions have an independent means of verifying the information that farmers provide.

The Geneva-based International Trade Centre, a joint venture of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization, presented its soon-to-be launched Sustainability Network, through which users can share their business and sustainability profiles with buyers, traders, standards organizations, certification bodies, financiers and others.

But there is a paradox in the emphasis placed on high technology as the solution to Africa’s agricultural problems. There are already many means available to boost farm productivity, one panellist noted, but farmers continue to ignore them. One example is better-quality seed, which, although available, is not used. Another example is fertiliser. In some areas, farmers could triple their output with a small addition of fertiliser. The problem is not technology, the panellist explained, it is access to markets. Farmers are not interested in producing more if they cannot sell the additional output.

African agriculture needs the creation of an enabling environment, including better access to markets and better infrastructure. Only then will technological innovation have a significant impact. This requires leadership, such as that shown by the Rwandan government over the past 10 years, during which its output of crops such as coffee and tea has soared. African agriculture needs to become more business-oriented.

The formation of cooperatives can strengthen the market bargaining power of farmers. Latvia offers an example. The country exported no grain or milk until a group of farmers came together 15 years ago to form a cooperative. Production has tripled and Latvian grain is sold on the international market.

Panellists agreed that decisions on technological change must always involve local communities and cannot be imposed from outside. Technology must always work to the benefit of the farmer. The solutions to Africa’s development issues will not be decided in Paris, London, Washington or Geneva: They can only be taken in Africa by Africans.

Young people are attracted by technology and technological innovation could be a means to draw young people to agriculture, or to keep them from leaving the farm, which would help ease Africa’s unemployment problem.

Insight

Not all innovation is technological. Technology can help address a range of development problems, but it is not a silver bullet. Education and training are also important.

Organised by

  • Moderator
    Lanre Akinola
    Editor
    African Business
  • Maira Dzelzkalēja
    Vice President
    Copa
  • Ndubuisi Ekekwe
    Founder and Chairman
    First Atlantic Semiconductors & Microelectronics
  • Michael Hailu
    Director
    Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation
  • Kanayo F. Nwanze
    Member of the Global Agenda Council on Food Security
    World Economic Forum
  • Karim Lotfi Senhadji
    OCP Africa CEO
    OCP Group
  • Joseph Wozniak
    International Trade Centre
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