Event Summary // Digitizing Africa’s Agriculture: So Near but yet So Far
On Tuesday, December 7, 2021, at 12:00 noon, The Global Policy Institute and Bay Atlantic University held an event via Zoom titled: “Digitizing Africa’s Agriculture: So Near but yet So Far”
As stated by Leonard Mizzi, Head of Unit at the European Commission, DG for International Cooperation and Development, “Digitalization is crumbling all sorts of borders and African agriculture will be deeply impacted. Technologies can help stimulate innovation for sustainable agri-food systems and produce better and safer food while preserving natural resources and biodiversity.”  However, proposed solutions must be tailor made to be technically, culturally, and financially sustainable. This webinar will comprise the experiences and perspectives from 3 different African agricultural development practitioners to highlight both constraints and opportunities to improving Africa’s agricultural productivity, resilience, and competitiveness.
Event Summary

Africa’s demand for food is growing. Between 2010 and 2030, the total worth of its food industry is projected to hit the $1 trillion mark. While existing technologies like improved seeds and fertilizers will be critical to meeting this demand, Africa’s farmers will need additional new tools to improve yields and get their goods to market. Digitalization can deliver these tools.

Africa has already been experiencing rapid digitalization in many sectors, mostly due to the rise in mobile phone penetration, which has also led to increasing internet usage. Notably, the price for mobile internet in Africa dropping by 30% since 2015.  However, even with the rapid growth of start-ups and tech companies delivering services to the agricultural sector, most digital solutions are not yet reaching poor, rural and smallholder farmers and value chain actors.  The harsh reality is that in most cases, digital solutions in the agriculture sector are currently outpacing the readiness to adopt them.  This is mostly because African agriculture is predominantly smallholder driven.  Thus, as oddly as it sounds, there is a risk of widening the digital-gender divide if the benefits of private sector-driven innovations are not shared equitably, especially for women and smallholder farmers who are the weakest and often voiceless actors in the value chain.

The three speakers spoke passionately about their digitally enabled initiatives which are efficiently and sustainably unlocking the potential of smallholder farmers and the agribusiness sector.  The technologies discussed include data capturing, analyzing, and information dissemination models to make more informed operating decisions.  Others spoke about blockchain trading platforms and innovative practices help farmers increase their yields and incomes by sourcing inputs such as seeds, fertilizers, and other crop protection products with better quality and at lower rates.  Other types of virtual platforms that were mentioned help identify input suppliers, off-takers, sources of finance, new markets, and technical assistance.

The last major topic mentioned was the need for African Governments to develop the digital architecture required to help drive private sector investment in areas as diverse as production, postharvest handling, market access, finance and supply chain management. The three main actions raised were: 1) create a fair, transparent and smart regulatory environment that consumers and service providers can both have confidence in, 2) adopt national digital agriculture strategies, coupled with public investment plans, and 3) prioritize high-quality, skilled-based digital education, especially amongst young people.

By the end of the session, the panel was certainly in agreement that inclusive, digitally enabled agricultural transformation could help achieve meaningful livelihood improvements for Africa’s smallholder farmers and pastoralists as well as drive greater engagement from women and youth by creating employment opportunities along the value chain.

The Sustainable Agriculture in Africa webinar series is being put together by Dr. Adam Saffer, the President of Gateway Development International, an impact investment advisory and consulting firm focused on climate smart agriculture, renewable energy, inclusive workforce development, and job creation. Adam brings over 30 years of international development experience in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.

Kiprop Chirchir, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mamlaka Foods
Kiprop, a Kenyan national is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Mamlaka Foods. Kiprop is an Agri-Tech Entrepreneur with over 15-years’ experience in commodity trading, logistics and the media industries. In 2017, Kiprop founded Mamlaka Foods and has been building a team that is revolutionizing Africa’s domestic farm produce market and expanding the export market by leveraging on technology and strategic partnerships. Mamlaka Foods is a Kenyan start-up that is eliminating inefficiencies in the supply of fresh produce by leveraging on end-to-end technology along the supply chain to ensure better quality produce and give farmers and consumers better prices. KC will speak about the emergence of digitalization in the rapidly growing field of aggregation/off-taking in the very competitive Kenyan market.
Robert Okine, Founder and CEO of Better World Systems
Robert is the Founder and CEO of Better World Systems (“Bewsys”). The mission of Bewsys is to deliver life-changing software solutions that enrich lives and transform organizations. The focus is on developing unique digital solutions for the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Robert leads on digitalization projects, working with development partners from conception to development, implementation, and handover operations, delivering life-changing digital solutions that enrich lives and transform organizations. Robert has led projects in 63 developing countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and the Pacific regions, focusing on digitalization to achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs).  In 2021, Robert Okine was named the United Nations Global Compact SDG Pioneer for Digital Innovation and Inclusion.  Robert will be speaking about the utility of software platforms to help address the SDGs, with a focus on agriculture and SDG 2 (Zero Hunger).
Roland Fomundam, Founder & CEO, Greenhouse Ventures Cameroon
Roland Fomundam is a Cameroonian born, and U.S trained, Business and Technology Development expert. He holds a Master of Science in Technology Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University.
For the past 15 years, Roland has been driving projects and initiatives that promote the transfer of knowledge and technology as a means to introduce valued innovations into his home country of Cameroon. Through research and the introduction of several sustainable technologies, Roland then founded GreenHouse Ventures – an agriculture company introducing climate smart greenhouses in Cameroon.
Today, his company owns the largest number of greenhouse farms in Cameroon – an academy that trains several participants in the green and sustainable agriculture – being the first of its kind in the nation and a market distribution network that ensures the sale and distribution of all greenhouse grown crops in Cameroon. Roland is the president of FUNIC University Cameroon and a visiting lecturer in multiple universities.
Adam Saffer , CEO, Gateway Development International
Opening Remarks:
Paolo von Schirach, President, Global Policy Institute, Chair Political Science and International Relations, Bay Atlantic University