AFRICA – The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed shocks on the agriculture industry and its effects will most likely reverberate throughout the coming decade.

The pandemic hit at a particularly critical time when the economies of a number of countries in the region were recovering from the impacts of recent droughts and severe flooding and dealing with the worst desert locust invasion in 25 years.

According to a recent 11-country survey by Heifer International, some 40% of agriculture organizations were forced to close at least temporarily due to the pandemic.

Meanwhile, 38% experienced a reduction in average purchase amount per customer and 36% still do not have the financial capital to grow back their businesses.

The study was undertaken among 29,900 youths, 299 smallholder farmers and 110 agriculture technology startups, innovation hubs and technology organizations in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

But despite the challenges faced, the budding entrepreneurs developed creative, useful agritech tools and services to boost farm productivity and profits in the region via artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information software (GIS), virtual reality, drone technology, application programming interface (API) technology and a variety of precision tools for measuring rainfall, controlling pests and analyzing soil nutrients.

Only 23% of youth engaged in agriculture are using any form of agricultural technology

For example, a company in Ghana, VC4A, is providing drones that offer precision applications of pesticides and fertilizers-they can even serve as “scare crow drones”-and a company in Kenya, hello tractor, is making obtaining a tractor as easy as booking an Uber.

These and other endeavours show the potential to harness home-grown innovation to accelerate a strategic transition to sustainable, profitable farming across Africa.

“Youth engagement in agriculture will be essential to recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic, both to rejuvenate the continent’s agri-food system and develop economic opportunities for young Africans,” Adesuwa Ifedi, senior vice president for Africa Programs at Heifer International.

However, while there are a wide range of agritech innovations that could propel African farmers to profitability, only 23% of youth engaged in agriculture are using any form of agricultural technology-noting a lack of financing and training.

The report, “The Future of Africa’s Agriculture: An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology.” points to the need for new investments to stimulate access to innovations that could encourage African youth now turning away from agriculture to reconsider opportunities in the sector-especially given the need to generate jobs and repair food systems battered by the pandemic.

“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 Ifedi.

In addition to that, access to financial capital, capacity building and land will spur youth interest in agriculture.

Smallholder farmers will also embrace advanced technologies if the tools are affordable, and they can receive training in how to use them. 

Following the findings of the survey, Heifer International is seeking to invest up to US$1.5 million in agritech businesses run by young Africans in 2021 through its AYuTe Africa Challenge.

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