Transforming rural agriculture through technology and innovation

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Transforming rural agriculture through technology and innovation

Despite the African continent holding the world’s most arable land and the agricultural sector employing over half of the population, Africa is still struggling with food production and food insecurity.

For a long time, the continent’s agricultural sector has been characterized by small farms, low yields and limited opportunities for innovation. Especially in the Sahel, the Great Lakes region, and the Horn of Africa, food insecurity is growing due to climate change and related challenges, with food production gravely affected by changing rainfall patterns. With over 239 million of its population classified as undernourished, more proactive and innovative measures are needed to boost agricultural production and increase food supply.  

Industrial agriculture has the potential to drive economic development, contribute to food security and generate income for millions of rural farmers. Recent years have seen a growth in digital innovations that can address the different challenges in the agricultural and food industry. Startups led by the private sector are tackling issues ranging from access to markets to provision of financial services. However, despite innovations and viable business models, challenges persist. This is due, in part, to constraints in sharing knowledge and lesson learned among countries and regions of the Global South. As a result, agricultural solutions have failed to achieve the wider impact that could modernize and transform the agricultural and food industry sectors of the continent.

South-South and triangular cooperation (SSTC) can provide a solution to these challenges. Through the exchange of knowledge and resources, this cooperation allows Southern actors to respond efficiently to common issues faced by developing countries. IFAD's collaboration with AGRA through the Leveraging South-South and Triangular Cooperation to share rural development solutions for private sector engagement grant is embedded in this perspective. The two agencies are working to identify innovative rural solutions from the private sector in Africa and in Asia and the Pacific regions that can be shared and replicated for the benefit of target communities. A few of these are presented below. 

Counterfeit seeds

Two-thirds of Tanzania’s population is engaged in agriculture, mostly as small scale farmers. There is a high demand for seeds and pesticides; however, the supply has faced some challenges, especially due to the dubious origin and quality of these inputs. Cases abound of farmers being duped into buying counterfeit or recycled seeds in the belief that they are potentially higher-yielding hybrid ones.

Quincewood, a Tanzanian mobile services company, is working with the Tanzania Seed Certification Institute to help smallholder farmers detect counterfeit and adulterated inputs. Through eHakiki, an e-verification solution for tracking genuine agricultural inputs, farmers can verify the authenticity of seeds or pesticides via their mobile phones at agro-dealer shops. Each packet of seeds bears an eHakiki verification label with a unique code, which farmers use to see if the seed packet has been certified by the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute (TOSCI) and is suitable for use. The same procedure is applied to pesticides, which are subject to verification by the Tanzania Pesticide Research Institute (TPRI). EHakiki is positively affecting thousands of lives in Tanzania's largest economic sector by reducing the prevalence of counterfeit and adulterated agricultural inputs.

Access to agricultural information

In northern Ghana, agricultural extension services are limited in their ability to reach often-remote communities and promote improved farming practices.  Through the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project, the Amplio Talking Book (ATB) has provided information to over  23,000 women farmers and their families in the Upper West Region. Designed for settings with limited or no access to the internet, they are pre-loaded with technical lessons, songs, drama skits and interviews to promote behavioral changes in farming practices. Topics include sustainable agriculture, financial literacy, value chain development, health, nutrition and gender. Beneficiaries have reported increased farm yields, as well as an overall improvement in their quality of life. 

Rural agricultural mechanization

Agricultural machines in most of Africa are often too large to be useful for the small plot sizes farmed by its smallholder farmers. This lack of mechanization means most farm work is manual – from land preparation to crop threshing, resulting in lower productivity and incomes, a limited ability to expand farmland and avoidable post-harvest loss. 

Nyabon’s solution packages and sells low-horsepower tractors targeted at specific crop value chains.  The company rents out tractors that are suitable for farms of 0.5 to 5 acres, to be used for land preparation, weeding, threshing and winnowing, canal maintenance and transport of produce. Farmers are trained in mechanization and agronomic practices and supported to link up with credit institutions and produce markets.

This collaboration between IFAD and AGRA reflects the enhanced efforts of the Fund to engage the private sector as an important partner for sustainable economic transformation. In this particularly critical period, the innovative products and services in technology, digitization and mechanization that the grant has identified can improve nutrition and open up new markets and job opportunities, especially for the youth. To ensure scaling-up, adaptation and replication in other regions and contexts, these solutions will be featured on the Rural Solutions Portal, the Fund’s web-based platform for knowledge sharing and SSTC.

For more case studies, visit the Rural Solutions Portal.