How African youth are leveraging ICTs to tap into Africa’s agribusiness market

Arsene Simbi, the team leader of STES Group young innovators, showing how the solar-powered soil test and irrigation system works on August 21, 2018 in Kigali. Courtesy.

 Though Africa has the world’s youngest population with 60 per cent being under 35 years old, Africa Development Bank (AfDB) statistics show that the average age of farmers in Africa is 60 years.

This is with 420 million youth aged 15-35 and this segment of the population is expected to double to 840 million by 2040.

Farmers are also less educated, with younger and more educated Africans leaving rural areas, and moving to cities and urban areas.

Agriculture experts argue that some of these young people are discouraged by long standing challenges in accessing funds and land, reliance on manual technology in smallholder agriculture and minimal profits from farming.

These challenges they say can be addressed by modernization of agriculture through use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs).

There is a need to spark transformation of agriculture sector in Africa by seeking and supporting youth-led initiatives that leverage ICTs to respond to challenges faced by African youth today, experts argue.

Africa’s agribusiness (food and beverage) market is projected to reach $1 trillion by 2030 from over $313 billion in 2013, according to the World Bank.

The financier notes that such progress is expected to bring more jobs, greater prosperity, food security and significantly more opportunities enabling African farmers to compete globally.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently teamed up to identify and support innovative solutions to address challenges around food and agriculture.

The organizations came together recognising innovative business models and new technologies to unlock the largely untapped reservoir of youth employment opportunities in food and agriculture in Africa.

During the recent African Youth Employment in Agriculture Conference in Kigali, the partners hosted a competition dubbed #Hack Against Hunger competition with aim to create jobs.

Solutions presented at the competition:

AgriPredict digital platform is able to forecast the probability of pest invasions such as Fall Armyworm (FAW), a crop eating and destructive pest, which can cause significant damage to crops if not well managed.

The solution will provide users, such as smallholder farmers and commercial farmers, extension services providers, Non-Governmental Organisations, relevant Government institutions and environmental agencies among others, with adequate information for them to take preventive measures to mitigate effects.

The application, was developed in Zambia and is being run by a team of young innovators led by its founder, Mwiza Simbeye.

This information will be easily accessible via the web browser, mobile phones and social media. It will have both voice and visual features that will be user-friendly to anyone including persons with disabilities.

STES Group, a local company based in Kicukiro District, Rwanda, made of members from different engineering disciplines (Electronics and Telecommunication Engineering, Computer, Civil Engineering and Electrical Engineering), developed a technology that uses sensors to gather real-time data from farm allowing farmers to manage farming practices remotely.

With the technology, the irrigation system is automated and can be turned on/off remotely by the farmer. Using information displayed on their phones or computers, the farmers can regularly keep track of the weather-forecasts, the real-time factors changes and can irrigate accordingly.

In addition it collects and analyses data on nutrient value or fertility status in the soil so that the farmer can keep track of fertility of the farms accordingly.

This technology helps farmers interact and act on the soil parameters, predict agricultural yield, produce with an aim to satisfy international market standards, said a STES Group team led by Arsene Simbi.

Making agriculture work for the youth through technologies

About 65 to 75 percent of the people migrating from Africa are youth with most in search of employment opportunities, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The organisation estimates that tens of millions of jobs will have to be created each year in Africa as the continent’s population continues to grow progressively.

The agricultural sector including the related food systems and value chains, and use of ICTs in agriculture, can create wealth and generate employment for the youth to help curb migration.

FAO Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, said that due to continued population growth, rapid urbanization and dietary changes accompanying rising household incomes, Africa’s food demand is projected to grow in the coming years by more than 50 per cent, providing “an invaluable and untapped potential” to address youth unemployment challenges, albeit amid numerous constraints.

“In the coming years, more and more of the agricultural activities and employment will require digital skills,” he said.

He called on cooperatives to figure out “the best way to provide farmers and young professionals with technical assistance, capacity building, and access to modern technologies.”

UNIDO Director General LI Yong said that with increasing local and regional demand for food, the potential of integration of youth in agriculture service is vast and it is broad.

“This will require a transformation of food systems and the adoption of innovative technologies for gainful opportunities for manufacturing and processing industries,” he observed.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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