Human food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to meetrising demand and Africa is home to more than half of the world’s unusedarable land, according to United Nations research.Africa’s farms have failed to cash in because of a lack of access toinfrastructure, training, capital and rapidly advancing technology. Areasbeing farmed by African smallholders are only producing around one metrictonne per hectare, compared with seven tonnes in developed markets.The growth of Africa’s middle-class combined with a fall in the prices oftechnology has opened up opportunities for investment in farms on theworld’s poorest continent.“Africa is key to global food supply and we need to unlock its potential,”said Mark Davies, a dotcom veteran who runs Esoko, which provides adviceto farmers and links them with traders in a virtual marketplace.Esoko charges farmers $1 a month to use the service and businesses paybetween $3,000 and $20,000 annually. Other apps recently launched include aKenyan cattle-monitoring app called iCow and online marketplace M-Farm,which has partnered with Samsung.By 2025, half of Africa’s 1 billion population will have Internet accessand there will be 360 million smartphones on the continent, according toMcKinsey consultants.Internet technology could increase annual agricultural productivity inAfrica by $3 billion-a-year, McKinsey says.Mobile Access“People who don’t have access to running water or electricity have accessto a phone that is more powerful than computers we had a few years ago,”said Sami Ibrahim, lead developer at Glasgow-based technology start-upCojengo.“That creates a huge opportunity,” said Ibrahim, who along with his ITgraduate colleagues developed VetAfrica, an app which provides veterinaryadvice.Cojengo has been backed by Microsoft and, like most technology firmstargeting African agriculture, it is also working with foreign aid donors.Growth in agriculture is twice as effective at reducing poverty as othersectors, aid agencies say, but tech firms are also hoping to turn ahealthy profit. Cojengo wants VetAfrica to build a database it can sell toAfrican governments, NGOs and pharmaceutical companies.To spur growth in African agriculture, however, governments need toimprove transport and power infrastructure, and banks need to lend tofarmers.“The number one challenge for smallholder farmers in Africa is access tocredit,” said Kola Masha, founder of Nigerian firm Doreo Partners.“As smartphone technology becomes cheaper we’ll see an increasinglypositive impact,” said Masha, who has linked-up with Swiss RE to insurefarmers against drought.“Last Frontier”Masha hopes to reach 1 million smallholders by 2025 by providingtechnology, fertilizer and seeds to farmers, who pay him back when theirprofits increase.Agriculture giants like Syngenta and Monsanto are investing in technologyin Africa but micro-tech firms are also popping up in off-the-beaten-trackareas.Botswana start-up Modisar tracks cattle herds and gives advice on feed,vaccinations and finance by text message. It won the Orange African SocialVenture award last year.Cameroon’s Mewanko Farm has set-up an online market place for farmers tosell fresh produce in a scheme it hopes will increase the income of 13million people.The growth in the use of technology in Africa could bring hundreds of millions of poorly-organised and isolated people in rural communities intoglobal markets.“I think of this as the last frontier on earth for the Internet,” said Esoko’s Davies. (Reuters)
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