PELUMI BOLAWA writes on the efforts of the United Nations and others stakeholders to address the agricultural data gap in Africa
The scarcity of high quality, timely agricultural data has a significant effect on countries’ plans to grow their economy and reduce poverty.
Low-income countries are hamstrung by agricultural and rural data for planning in the sector, according to a report on QuartzAfrica.
Agriculture accounts for more than 25 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product in some developing countries, employs 63 per cent of the world’s poor and has the potential to improve food security for 80 per cent of them, yet the investment has not translated into stronger economies and better livelihoods, according to lthe atest report by the United Nations.
In a report by the UN Special Envoy, Dr. Agnes Kalibata, and the Head of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Centre for Skills, El Iza Mohamedou, asserted, “One of the answers is data. Or the lack of it. Many low-income countries are limited by gaping holes in agricultural and rural data that could inform planning, budgeting and policy-making in this vital sector. The scarcity of high quality, timely agricultural data is directly complicating countries’ plans for economic growth and efforts to reduce poverty.”
UN food summit
As the UN convenes the world’s first Food Systems Summit in September this year, these data gaps take on added significance because this is a ‘super-year’ for food systems; a year in which food production, consumption and disposal finally received the requisite global attention.
To improving stability and prosperity for people and the planet, Kalibata and Mohamedou write that the summit is a massive undertaking, engaging millions, including scientists, farmers, youths, indigenous peoples, researchers, private sector, policy leaders and ministers of agriculture, environment, health, and finance among others.
Thy add, “As African women and believers in self-determination, we are looking to countries themselves to produce this missing data. They need to ensure the continuous generation and use of increasingly granular data to design national and regional policies that are relevant and effective. If countries own the full data production process, they can guarantee its sustainability.”
According to the report, only 10 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have data on the percentage of people by sex with ownership or secure rights over agricultural land. Further, because of the Coronavirus Disease, 90 per cent of national statistical agencies in low- or lower-middle-income countries are already missing data in agriculture and rural development report facing further difficulty operating due to funding constraints.”
The African Development Bank said, “There are new digital platforms that allow data on land and water resources produced through satellite imagery to be analysed and translated into accessible information.”
Artificial Intelligence is being used to analyse plant behaviour and help farmers better manage water consumption through improved irrigation systems. There are national initiatives too, such as countries that are providing agriculture extension services to farmers to help them analyse production and identify ways of increasing it.”
Also, the joint Digital Agricultural Profiles carried out by the AfDB, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations and CGIAR in three countries, drones, satellites, geographic information systems, weather stations and advanced analytics are some of the most promising technologies for providing solutions to Africa’s agricultural challenges.
Digitech to the rescue
The profile summit covering Côte d’Ivoire, Rwanda and South Africa highlight the challenges and opportunities to scale the adoption of innovative digital technologies in the agriculture sector. It includes national digital technology and the policy landscape, user demands along the value chain and available digital agriculture services and applications.
The Director for Agriculture and Agro-industry at AfDB, Martin Fregene, said, “The future of agriculture is data-enabled. Conventional approaches to food production are no longer able to keep up with Africa’s fast-growing food systems demands and the impact of climate change on agriculture. Technological innovations and digitalisation offer an opportunity to transform African agriculture to produce higher yields, increase value and ensure more nutritious foods on a wider scale.
“The Digital Agriculture Profiles provide a snapshot of how a country is positioned in that transformational process.”
FAO Investment Centre Director, Mohamed Manssouri, said, “Agriculture’s digital transformation is an exciting and fast-moving train, and we need to make sure that small-scale farmers, women and rural youth are able to benefit from these technologies. The profiles give international and national financing institutions, policy-makers as well as public and private investors a good and quick overview of a country’s current digital landscape, as well as the main constraints and opportunities for digital policies and solutions.”
The application of digital technology in agriculture is diverse. For example, using satellite data, farmers can monitor crop health, soil quality and water, and fertiliser usage. Sensors, automation and machine learning allow for the adaptation of more precise agricultural operations for specific locations and conditions. Digital payment systems, index insurance and mobile platforms help connect farmers to markets and financial services.
The profiles also offer analysis on the future of digitalisation. Project coordination was led by the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture’s technical community, the Data-Driven Agronomy Community of Practice, with contributions from researchers at the Alliance of Biodiversity International and (International Centre for Tropical Agriculture.
The Associate Director-General of the Alliance of Biodiversity International and CIAT and co-founder of the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture, Andy Jarvis, said, “It is critical that all development partners join forces with governments, the private sector and non-state actors to accelerate agricultural digitalisation and ultimately defeat hunger globally.”
The Food Systems Summit will improve food access to the majority of humanity. It also can help the world achieve critical progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
In Rwanda, an average 85 per cent of rural consumers will have access to basic mobile phone services in the next five years. In Côte d’Ivoire, access to digital technologies rose sharply in the last decade; almost every person in the working-age population currently have access to mobile phone, and nearly half of Ivorians use the internet.
Also in South Africa, precision agriculture is strongly adopted by large-scale commercial farmers; blockchain, barcoding and fleet tracking solutions offer unique benefits for the traceability of agricultural products.
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