Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest area of arable uncultivated land in the world and a youthful population of almost 60 percent under the age of 25, which is expected to double by 2050. And while agriculture currently accounts for 30 to 40 percent of the region’s gross domestic product, employing an average of 54 percent of the working population, sub-Saharan Africa’s agricultural productivity has the potential to double or even triple.
However, agricultural transformation remains one of the region’s most pressing priorities that has been difficult to achieve. Limited public funding prevents the provision of adequate institutional support and suitable business environment, which in turn hinders private sector participation and investment in agriculture. Of the 1.3 billion people in Africa, almost 400 million are extremely poor, living on USD 1.9 or less daily.
Still, sub-Saharan Africa’s digital transformation is already underway, which can leverage the potential benefits of digitalization and new technologies for agriculture. Digital agriculture offers opportunities for farmers and rural communities in a digitally driven agri-food system that has the potential to transform the perception of women and youth of the broad agricultural sector as a positive and fruitful source of job opportunities along the agricultural value chains.
An inclusive, digitally transformed agriculture could help achieve meaningful livelihood improvements for Africa’s 250 million smallholder farmers and pastoralists, while ensuring that sub-Saharan Africa’s rural areas are not left behind.
AgriTech in 47 sub-Saharan African Countries
To better understand the status of digital agriculture transformation in sub-Saharan Africa, the FAO and ITU commissioned the Status of digital agriculture in 47 sub-Saharan African Countries study to assess and document the status of digital agriculture in the region, summarize key findings, and infer potential opportunities for digital agriculture transformation in sub-Saharan Africa in the respective 47 countries.
This study was conducted as desk-based research that consulted various national, regional and international reports. Additionally, the research team conducted an e-consultation process to gather views, as well as consulting FAO and ITU country teams to validate the respective country profiles. The study examined the digital agriculture transformation process through six thematic areas supported by relevant indicators that enable a better understanding of digital agriculture maturity at the national and regional levels.
Most of the countries studied in this report have the adequate infrastructure in rural areas to enable digitalization. That said, the state of digitalization infrastructure needed varied across countries. Overall across the region, urban areas are better served with electricity than rural ones, even though a higher percentage of people live in rural areas are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
Network coverage has increased, with 2G and 3G now more widespread across sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries in the region have also implemented 4G while a few are even testing 5G. In most countries, public and private operators play an active role in the telecommunication sector. Undersea cables are within the reach of most countries, but mostly coastal countries are nevertheless better connected while landlocked countries still face challenges.
2. Digital Adoption
Mobile Broadband is the common mode of accessing the Internet across sub-Saharan Africa, yet its growth remains lower than mobile cellular subscriptions. In most countries, mobile broadband prices and Internet enabled mobile devices are out of reach of most people. This hinders digital adoption, especially in rural areas with lower incomes and higher dependence on agriculture for livelihood.
3. Policy and Regulation
Most countries have enabling telecommunication regulatory frameworks although some existing national ICT policies are not up to date. Some countries in the region have agriculture policies that align with the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).
That said, digital agriculture is still not emphasized in these policies. Meanwhile, a few countries have started drafting digital agriculture strategies (for example, Benin, Rwanda, the Niger, Nigeria, etc.) and the African Union has published the Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa (2020–2030).
4. Business Environment
Most countries face constraints in creating a conducive business environment. These obstacles include high taxes, lack of credit facilities especially for women and youth, lengthy registration procedures, lack of institutional capacities, and limited entrepreneurial skills among rural and agricultural communities.
There is also lack of a mature business landscape for small business and start-ups to thrive. However, digital financial services have extended to the larger population, leading to financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement creates opportunities for digital agricultural entrepreneurs across the region.
5. Human Capital
Educational systems have improved across the region, with a notable increase in youth literacy. Overall digital literacy rates however remain low as most educational systems are yet to integrate ICT training in the curricula. Most schools in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa have limited or no access to connectivity and IT infrastructure.
Digital skills training is mainly provided by private educational institutions, mobile network companies and online platforms, or through programs and projects launched by development organizations, and mostly concentrated in urban areas. Gender divide is evident as girls and women lag in digital literacy in these 47 countries.
For most countries, the R&D ecosystem has not fully developed. Digital innovation in agriculture is available in some countries, but at a limited scale. Start-ups and innovation technology hubs work in silos, often lacking the requisite support and not many are related to agriculture.
In general, national agriculture research institutions have inadequate financial and human resources, limited youth engagement, and in some cases high dependence on external funding to support agricultural research and innovation. Collaboration between research institutions and the private sector is low.
A lightly edited synopsis of Status of digital agriculture in 47 sub-Saharan African Countries