Rwanda can become one of Africa’s leading exporters of agricultural products

Agriculture is the oldest work field on earth, with evidence dating back as early as 9,500 BC. But despite its history, the sector is far from becoming irrelevant. In fact, the opposite is true: Even today, it is the cornerstone of all human life throughout the world, with an ever-increasing population that is making it more relevant every single day.

Being a historic sector, agriculture is always going through major developments and changes to fit the times and needs of populations. From the Middle Ages, when Muslim scholars and farmers applied hydrostatic principles to build the first water-weels, to modern applications of chemistry and genetics for more efficient and quality agricultural crops, new technological developments are utilized on a daily basis.

Yet despite the great progress, many farmers around the world continue to operate without access to advanced technological developments. In result, huge areas are inefficiently processed, leaving farmers unable to meet the growing demand for produce.

The problem: lack of productivity

Africa perfectly demonstrates this problem. Despite its huge lands, many of which are dedicated to agricultural crops, and despite the fact that most of the continent’s population are farmers, Africa is unable to meet market needs. The main reason is the growing demand (going hand in hand with the continent’s steady population growth), while the efficiency of most local farmers remains constant or rises at a slow pace. The gap created forces various countries across the continent to complete their demands through expensive global imports.

This wasn’t always the case. In the 1970s, Africa provided about 8% of total world exports of agricultural products. Today, not only is the continent hardly exporting, it has become the world’s largest importer, investing no less than $35 billion a year in importing various agricultural products. Only 5% of this amount is devoted to intraregional trade.

The main cause of these gaps is the extremely low productivity of farmers in various countries across the continent, due to the lack of available technological solutions. For example, 41 per cent of the agricultural areas in Asia are irrigated by various technological means, when in Africa the figure is only 5%. In many countries change is nowhere in sight, with only 7 out of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa meeting their commitment to spend 10% of their national budgets on agriculture.

An unprecedented opportunity

Rwanda, like most African countries, heavily relies on agriculture. As part of the effort to establish itself as a technological leader of the continent, Rwanda has been combining various technologies that significantly increased the productivity of local farmers. According to an analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agency, a local farmer in Rwanda produced 792,000 tons of grain in 2014 - three times more than in 2000.

This is just the beginning. As agriculture continues to advance globally, and many technological innovations are utilised every single day, the adoption and accessibility of technology and innovation can significantly upgrade the sector in Rwanda and streamline the process of agricultural production in the country. Thus, Rwanda can take the lead, and become a leading exporter of agricultural products across the continent, making import much cheaper for neighbouring countries.

Smart investment of resources and access to advanced technologies bring an unprecedented potential for sustainable development. Rwanda is now facing a tremendous opportunity to become a significant leader not only in innovation and technology but also in agriculture, which has been the cornerstone of human life for over 10,000 years.

The writer is the founder of Ignite Power, a solar power firm in Rwanda