Investing in digital agriculture can assist Africa beat the pandemic

* Any views expressed on this opinion piece are these of the writer and never of Thomson Reuters Basis.

We have to bridge Africa’s information hole to strengthen meals, well being and financial safety, and overcome a predicted continent-wide recession

Africa is feeling the financial blow of COVID-19 earlier than the impression of the illness itself. For whereas the continent of 1.2 billion folks has registered fewer than 3% of the world’s coronavirus instances to date, the financial fallout has been extreme.

Lockdowns, the collapse in oil and commodity costs and the breakdown of many provide chains are punching enormous holes via nationwide budgets. This in flip has restricted the flexibility of governments to fulfill folks’s rapid well being and survival wants.

With a continent-wide recession looming and the UN predicting a “hunger pandemic” within the wake of the coronavirus, there are two methods wherein the world can assist proper now: with information and with investments that strengthen Africa’s meals safety.

Well timed local weather information can assist farmers make higher selections, corresponding to when to sow crops. Well timed well being information can detect outbreaks of infectious ailments and cease their unfold. Knowledge is a useful resource, like seeds, water or cash – and as with different assets, some nations possess an abundance of knowledge, whereas others have little. The personal sector can assist bridge Africa’s information hole and in doing so make a long-lasting contribution to the continent’s meals and well being safety. 

Knowledge travels on digital networks, that are principally privately-owned on the continent, and it’s true to say that the unfold of digital know-how has been one of the vital putting African success tales over the previous 15 years. Final month, greater than half a billion Africans accessed the web.

Throughout the present pandemic, cellular cash providers have been a lifesaver – permitting road distributors and the self-employed to stay in enterprise and transactions to happen with out the danger of contagion from dealing with money. The large recognition of mobile money apps – of the 1 billion registered accounts worldwide, virtually 500 million are in Africa – is obvious proof of the urge for food for these providers. Personal-sector funding in cellular broadband will type the spine of recent information providers for the continent.

Proper now, Africa is making full use of its digital communications networks to gather info on the pandemic and to push out well being and hygiene messages. Name any telephone in Ethiopia today and you’ll hear a jingle concerning the significance of hand washing and social distancing. The World Well being Group (WHO) is utilizing an information assortment system initially set as much as battle polio to trace Covid-19 infections.

It depends on 6,000 neighborhood members – from conventional healers to village chiefs – in 11 nations to report symptomatic patients to the WHO through their cellphones. In West Africa, nations are deploying expertise and surveillance strategies developed throughout the 2014-15 Ebola outbreak and in Ghana, the start-up Farmerline is sharing very important Covid-19 updates with farming communities via a voice messaging service.

All these initiatives, along with Africa’s expertise in coping with earlier epidemics, are serving to to gradual the unfold of contagion. However extra must be completed and at scale. For this to occur, start-ups and established companies, NGOs and authorities businesses, customers and repair suppliers want to return collectively to set priorities and pool assets.

Many actors are already working collectively to ship tailor-made digital providers for agriculture. Google, NASA and Columbia College’s Earth Institute, for instance, are making satellite tv for pc local weather information obtainable to African governments through their Enhancing National Climate Services (ENACTS) initiative.

The supply of higher local weather information is informing higher policy-making and can be permitting different providers to develop: farmers in Rwanda and Ethiopia, as an example, now have entry to credit score and insurance coverage based mostly on regional rainfall indices compiled with ENACTS information. These providers had been merely not obtainable when local weather info was patchy and non-standardised.

Begin-ups and NGOs are additionally working to ship well timed info to farmers. This takes many kinds: market costs for agricultural commodities delivered to farmers’ cellphones, local weather forecasts and recommendations on methods to cope with livestock illness or pest outbreaks. All permit farmers to make extra knowledgeable selections on when to plant and when to promote, a possible lifesaver for the 60% of Africans whose earnings relies on the land.


One other precedence space for funding is agribusiness. The personal sector must play its half in ending starvation and malnutrition on the continent. Moreover, investments in native meals manufacturing will pay for themselves many occasions over – by stabilising farm incomes, enhancing well being and vitamin, and making nations much less depending on meals imports.

In Rwanda, Africa Improved Meals (AIF) – a public-private partnership – buys maize and different crops from 24,000 smallholders and processes these into “tremendous cereals” with added vitamins. For an preliminary $70 million funding, AIF calculates its enhanced cereals reach 2 million children, along with offering a steady earnings to farmers, principally ladies. An impartial research performed by the College of Chicago estimates that from 2016 to 2031, AIF will generate practically $758 million for the folks of Rwanda.

This can be a essential second for African nations, that are combating overlapping well being, financial and local weather crises with solely a fraction of the assets obtainable to the industrialised world. African leaders have this yr requested collectors for an additional $100 billion in debt relief and economic aid.

Wealthy nations ought to do all they will to fulfill this request. Specifically, they need to not reduce improvement support, which is normally set as a share of the developed world’s now shrinking GDPs. Everybody has a key position to play in constructing out the continent’s digital networks, in increasing lifesaving information providers and investing in agribusiness. That is the second to consider essential initiatives that may be scaled as much as ship higher well being, meals and financial safety for Africa.

Ban Ki-moon is the eighth Secretary Normal of the United Nations and Chair of the World Heart on Adaptation. Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the World Heart on Adaptation.

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