By: Aimable Twahirwa
Faced with the food insecurity that threatens several hundred thousand people in Africa due to climate change, opinions are divided between experts and political decision-makers. Opinions are divided on the usefulness of scientific and technological innovation as a major driver for improving and optimizing agricultural productivity across the continent.
Gathered on the sidelines of an international conference held in Kigali from April 26 to 28, under the theme: “Strengthening the role of science, technology and innovation (STI) in the transformation of ‘agriculture and food’, some experts are convinced that African agriculture must radically change its model given the ever-worsening food problem.
For others, special attention must be given to solutions adapted to local realities for certain African countries, given that a series of scientific initiatives previously proposed in certain regions across the continent have sometimes come up against the blockages constituted by certain agricultural policies at the national level.
Technology and digital in agriculture
According to Dr. Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, Executive Secretary of the Planning and Coordinating Agency of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), which is a partner in this research initiative, “agriculture is of paramount importance for several major development goals in Africa”.
Official projections which show that the current situation is likely to worsen above all in the coming decades, given that demographic growth in Africa, with an additional 1.3 billion inhabitants by 2050, will put even more strain the African food system.
While African governments are encouraged to adapt innovative solutions in agriculture and agribusiness to ensure its food and nutrition security and harness the potential of agriculture for its development, some experts believe it is important that smallholders farmers can fully benefit from these services.
Among these innovations which must materialize through the adoption of new technologies and the digitization of the agricultural sector, in this case solar-powered irrigation systems, drones or even smartphones and connected objects, the experts gathered in the Rwandan capital are convinced that such technologies can be a game-changer by increasing the productivity and resilience of agriculture in a sustainable way.
According to Dr. Canisius Kanangire, Executive Director of the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF), a pan-African research structure based in Nairobi, Kenya, creating an enabling environment for technology and innovation remains essential for countries. Africans.
“This innovative approach is key to addressing the multiple constraints hampering the development of the agricultural sector across the continent,” Dr. Kanangire stressed.
Need for sustained investments
In collaboration with the various partners, the AATF wants to ensure that the countries of sub-Saharan Africa in particular can integrate these technological innovations into their agricultural projects given that the agricultural effort remains insufficient and given that a limited number of countries African countries have so far been able to honor their commitments to allocate at least 10% of their national budgets to agriculture.
For Africa to achieve the Agenda 2063 Aspiration of “ A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development ”, the continent needs to invest in modern agriculture to increase pro-activity and production as well as to harness the vast potential of Africa’s blue economy, experts say.
To date, African States, under the aegis of NEPAD, have not only made quantified commitments in Maputo but also enabled the establishment of monitoring and evaluation mechanisms for the implementation of these commitments, but experts deplore the lack of resources and statistical data in many countries.
Rwanda is officially among the countries investing the most public money in agriculture in proportion to the national budget (Maputo ratio above 10%).
The Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, Dr. Gérardine Mukeshimana still considers it “essential” to also accelerate the implementation of the “Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation in Africa 2024 (STISA-2024) “for a sustainable transformation of the agricultural sector in Africa.
“This strategy requires sustained investment in research and development ,” she stressed.
An innovation marked by specificities
Many other innovations have been initiated in most African countries, opinions are unanimous. They believe that technological advances must be consolidated and spread more widely throughout Sub-Saharan Africa in particular.
According to Dr. Martin Bwalya, Acting Director of Knowledge Management and Program Evaluation (Kmpe) at the NEPAD Secretariat , there is also a need to adopt technologies that cover the full spectrum of farming systems.
“But farmers need to adopt the appropriate technology and management practices within the specific agro-ecological environment for their region ,” he noted.
In Rwanda, for example, smart technologies and advanced methods for data collection have driven down the cost of precision farming, boosted crop yields and helped all farmers, from smallholders to to commercial giants.
Drone services offered by a local company focus on collecting data to provide farmers with the information they need to improve their farming practices. These services include mapping and surveying their land, developing digital elevation models and crop inventory, it says.