This month saw the inaugural East Africa Digital Conference and Exhibition, focused on realizing the benefits of the digital transformation of farming for the continent. This includes artificial intelligence and automation.
The East Africa Digital Conference and Exhibition was held on May 29, 2018 at the KALRO Headquarters, in Nairobi. The theme for this first event was about harnessing the benefits of technology and strategies to drive adoption of digital tools. The event was organized by Smart Farmer Africa in partnership with KALRO and Standard Media Group. The conference brought together government ministries, international development agencies, smallholder farmers, larger farming groups, and agriculture, technology companies. The main topic of discussion was ways that technology can help farmers, and others in the agriculture value chain, to gain benefits from digital technology. A second theme was ways through which a wider adoption of digital tools can be driven. Through the digitization of agriculture, agricultural producers can gain wider access to markets. Technology also helps to improve seeds quality seed and assist with factors that will affect crop quality, such as predicting adverse weather patterns and allowing remediation actions to be taken. The need to adopt new technologies is also affect by predicted rises in global population, which in turn will impact upon food supply. In order to feed a projected nine billion people by the year 2050, this will necessitate a 70 per cent increase in food production. Given that not all land is suitable, increasing the efficiency of existing farms and farming practices is essential. However, there are challenges, as identified in a Cisco review of AgriTech is low income countries. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, there are an estimated 500 million smallholder farmers in Africa and South-East Asia, providing as much as 80% of the food consumed in these regions and supporting up to two billion people financially. To provide ICT access to smallholder farmers will prove enormously challenging. These farmers are often among the poorest people of the world, they tend to live in remote areas, and they have little experience in using and applying technology. The answer to these changes is data, and the technologies that enable the collection and analysis of data. The value of agriculture data ranges from information relating to buyers and exporters to information about inputs, like soil types, growing best-practice, weather, and pest control. Moreover, data can shed light on market movements, including pricing and local, regional or global demand. When linked to blockchain, information relating to traceability, covering everything from deliveries to food safety can be collected. The possibilities are considerable; the strategy to deliver such technology is the challenge.