Despite the fact that we are increasingly hearing about the thriving start-up hubs in Cape Town and Lagos or the thriving Fintech ecosystem in Nairobi, Africa’s wealth is stored up instead in the red earth of its plains and farmlands, immense natural resources that are still largely untouched or undiscovered. And it’s not just mineral wealth either, Africa is equally as rich in agricultural resources where recent technological advances are turning the sector into a powerhouse for growth: a cornerstone for the Continent’s economic future.
For example, Groasis Technology (GT) is an inexpensive new technique that allows crops to be planted in previously degraded farmlands and rangelands: structured to enable a water column to be built up under the bole of the plant by collecting dew and rainwater, which is then fed back over a period of time to prevent short term evaporation. The result is a plant capable of living for that crucial few extra weeks while it reaches out for the water reserves held deeper in the soil. These plants are much more resilient, able to survive lengthy periods of drought in previously arid areas and, more importantly, can be farmed to make the most of Africa’s land resources.
The Groasis technology also allows organic matter to build up in the ground, providing valuable nutrient sources for humans and animals so there are added possibilities for livestock farming too.
And at Lake Hawassa in drought-affected Ethiopia, Farm Africa are currently promoting “climate-smart” agricultural technologies that address rangeland degradation and promote diversification. Under the initiative, local Farmers are trained in the technologies necessary to sustain increased production levels and reinvigorate rural economies without damaging local ecosystems.
Small wonder then that delegates attending the August Digital Africa 2020 Conference in Tokyo found themselves focusing primarily on African Agriculture, where Digital Technologies are now an integral part of the Continent’s farming renaissance. Indeed, according to Michael Hailu Director of the Technical Centre for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation, “Without digitally transforming agriculture you cannot hope for sustained development”. New technologies are the key to unlocking the enormous potential of Africa’s agricultural value chains.
Digital technologies are now making it much easier for Africa’s Farmers to source development finance (with faster, non paper based loan applications) and historic supply bottlenecks are being freed up with devices such as the new Kobo360 app that matches real time transport resources with available farming stock. At the same time much improved digital literacy rates are enabling easier and faster payments to be made (in a region that has historically been significantly under banked).
So with characteristic simplicity, Jennifer Blanke, Vice President of Agriculture, Human and Social Development at the African Development Bank could barely contain her excitement in Tokyo: “There are juicy returns to be made…. African Agriculture is digitizing and offers great opportunities and potential. Now is the time for all of us to run in that direction…we all have to have our running shoes on”.
She should know…
The SLC African Fund aims to build on the opportunities offered by sub-Saharan African Markets and deliver long term capital growth as well as income distribution: working to solve social and environmental challenges and at the same time deliver sustainable profits for investors.
If any of us are asked about Africa’s natural resources, we all I think have an immediate image of its minerals and commodity reserves (particularly the part they have to play in current Sino investment programmes). But it is undoubtedly true agriculture and agribusinesses are each an enormous natural resource of their own in Africa, and it would be rash to forget them.
Especially so given the increasing demands, a rapidly growing population will place on the farming sector in Africa: everything that can be done should be done to open up previously arid areas for cultivation of crops and livestock farming.
I’m delighted to see that digital technologies are playing their part in that process.