Agriculture: the future of Africa between tradition and innovation

Agriculture, fishing, farming, access to microcredit for rural women and employment of women in rural areas. The secret of the next economic development of Africa might indeed be rooted in its very ancient crafts.

by Elisabetta Demartis in Dakar (Senegal)

While farmers use their cell phones to keep updated with food prices on the market, women build web platforms to attract financing. Apparently, the interplay of tradition and innovation generates out-of-the-box solutions – so innovative that they could potentially overcome many of the problems historically afflicting Africa. Given that the biggest resource Africa has is its arable lands, all of this could indeed make it the richest country in the world.

On April 19th, the Africa Progress Panel presented the Grain Fish Money report at the West African Research Center in Dakar. Under the direction of President Kofi Annan, a group of private and public sector experts was given the task of generating widespread policy-making influence on the sustainable development of the African continent. The meeting was run by Marieme Jamme, founder of Africa Gathering and nominated by Forbes in 2012 among the 20 “Youngest Power Women in Africa” .

The 2014 report (available in French for download) highlights the huge progresses of Africa in the last few years, in just about all fields. Particularly, the primary sector sounds promising, especially when giving a closer look to agriculture and fishing. According to the report, however, the big part of what comes from this sector stems from illegal activities that are responsible for the loss of 50 million dollars of illicit capital altogether. Said loss spreads worldwide, accounting for 5.7% of the Gross Domestic Product of the entire continent.

The report also provides a general understanding of the main hurdles to productive processes and the development of Africa, focusing on sectors pivotal to the “rebirth” of the continent, such as agriculture and fishing. Illegal deforestation, unreported fishing and overreliance on import are among the major factors preventing the full development of the primary sector. Nevertheless, it sees a growing commitment by many organizations throughout Africa that have developed web and mobile applications platforms specific for the work of farmers and fishermen. They are collectively known as ICT4Agriculture, encompassing the whole set of technological innovations developed to ease information access and communication among primary sector players.

The aforementioned report outlined (see figure below) the more representative projects among those arising from the continent. They spanned from mobile applications on food prices on the market and the food supply localization to web platforms sharing the best agricultural practices, to mobile banking systems intensively used to buy and sell food products.

 

 

 

After the debate, innovation technology was pointed to as a solution to some of the problems outlined in the report. Additional suggestions involved three broad areas of competitiveness in Senegal. Suggested fields for improvement were, the role of women in local communities and their access to credit, the rights and practices of fishermen engaged in illegal fishing, and the role of Senegal within the agricultural and fishing industry relatively to nearby countries.

– using ICT and mobile devices for strengthening communication and disseminating information among the various primary sector key players;

– training of said players in managing informal micro activities and provision of legal support, especially to women;

– supporting agriculture and fishing as viable professions for the youth and spreading tools for direct financing without excessive bureaucracy;

– educating the locals in the consumption of local products and the various issues surrounding illegal fishing;

– regulating import-export practices so to prevent governments from signing up agreements with multinational business that exploit local resources;

– improving the infrastructures and stimulating market competitiveness.

“African products, such as fishing,” wrote Kofi Annan in the report “can not just merely nourish people, but can contribute to the development of the entire globe. In fact, we all can benefit from them, provided Africa becomes a prosperous, stable and fair continent”.