Extreme poverty and hunger continue to fuel increases in food thefts and other petty crimes. If this ugly development is left unaddressed, the situation could become volatile causing an uprising against those in governance. For history pundits, you may recall that a similar situation happened in the 18th century France.
Although I do not advocate a life of crime or rebellion, the truth is that hunger is powerful enough to distort a person’s sense of right and wrong. Over 155 million people experience acute food insecurity at the crisis stage.
Imagine that every minute as many as 11 people die of hunger and malnutrition, which is more than the current global death rate of COVID-19 (seven people per minute). This goes to show just how dire the whole situation is turning out to be.
Around the globe, many countries are facing growing levels of acute food insecurity. This has succeeded in undoing decades of development gains. As much as we may dream of achieving zero hunger by 2030, recent predictions show that countries will fail to achieve even low hunger within the next nine years, no thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If rich and developed countries could express concern over food insecurity and hunger, then Africa needs to be in crisis mode, exploring sustainable ways to address the growing threats of food insecurity and hunger. One of the solutions that readily come to my mind is technology. As the case is in various aspects of human endeavours, technological innovations have and will continue to shape agriculture.
Despite the African continent holding the world’s most arable lad and the agricultural sector employing over half of the population, Africa is still struggling with the twin problems of food production and food insecurity.
Going by reports, Africa holds a spot as the continent with the highest percentage of hungry people despite having the world’s most arable land. Granted, we have an abundance of natural resources, but much of our economy has always predominantly relied on agricultural, and subsistence farming.
Covid-19 is an occurrence that everyone loves to blame. While it can be traced to most of what ails the world, it may not necessarily be the only factor driving hunger and undernourishment. The ongoing climate crisis has been one factor in food insecurity, but beyond this, conflict continues to be the primary driver of hunger especially where the most vulnerable populations are concerned.
Conflict ravages food systems, accelerate undernourishment and child mortality rates, destabilises agricultural production, stalls economic development, and forcibly displaces communities among which include children, women, old and/or disabled people. In one of my previous pieces on ICT Clinic, I examined the link between low food production and domestic insecurity in the Nigerian context as well as how technology can be fully leveraged to solve these interrelated problems.
It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. This has proved to be true in so many ways. Going back to the Covid-19 pandemic, as much as it exacerbated challenges to Africa’s food and agriculture sector and to its millions of smallholder farmers, the pandemic has fast-tracked innovative efforts to develop and unleash the transformative power of digital technology. To what end? In this case, digital tools are being deployed to address agricultural problems in ways that bear no resemblance to past practices and traditional solutions. Let’s consider some of them.
Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors can equip farmers and those in the agricultural value chain with access to real-time data and computational power, making possible more effective selection and timing of product-to-market decisions.
In cases of low yield due to poor soil, farmers can take up precision farming which allows them to optimise and increase soil quality and crop productivity using control systems, robotics, drones, GPS guidance, and automated vehicles.
Through wireless remote monitoring and control systems, farmers can gain better control and visibility over the operations of their irrigation systems, and make informed decisions on the use of water, chemicals, and energy.
Africa’s path to development needs to pick up at a pace faster than the rate at which its people are producing offspring. The continent’s population has been projected to double in size from around 1.3 billion to 2.5 billion by 2050. For Africa to develop, its output growth needs to outpace this population growth. It goes without saying that our current food insecurity and weak agricultural systems must be solved way before then. But there’s good news.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation had said that the agricultural market in Sub-Saharan Africa alone would grow from $200bn in 2015 to $1tn by 2030. This equates to a five-fold growth. Having understood the numbers and the accompanying opportunities, astute entrepreneurs in Africa are developing solutions that enable farmers to increase their yields and improve their storage systems. Others are empowering smallholder farmers by giving them access to the market, providing financial services.
If you were to ask children in their early years what they would like to become when they grow up, you would hear them mention their dreams to be lawyers, doctors, pilots, and so forth. Hardly will you hear one that would confidently tell you s/he wants to become a farmer. Even as young as children are, they understand that some professions naturally come with glamour.
Before I digress, one new report concludes that youth engagement in agriculture will be instrumental to Africa’s recovery from the economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite their scepticism, many young people view it as a productive livelihood necessary for a nation’s growth.
Interestingly, the survey found that young people are interested in getting into agriculture but they hesitate to venture into the field due to a lack of access to agricultural technology, finance, and training to build sustainable businesses and thriving careers.
African governments and stakeholders have the responsibility to encourage young people to participate in agriculture giving them the right support. Technology is an indispensable tool to drive this transformation.
ICT Clinic by CFA is published weekly in the Sunday Punch