Technology in West AfricaThroughout history, new technology has always been one of the key factors in driving both the economy as a whole, as well as a specific economic sector. New inventions drive new innovations, and as a result, significant advancements are made. Now, technology is driving agriculture in West Africa as well, with both new and familiar ideas paving the way forward. Here are some of the most notable technologies and advancements pushing agricultural expansion in West African countries like Ghana, Senegal, and Nigeria.

Clean Energy in Ghana

One of the keys to most modern technology involves energy: sustainable energy, of course, being among the most ideal (and often cheapest) options. Solar power is making electricity available for more and more West Africans every day. There is also a massive project in the works to create a solar power facility in Ghana. Composed of 630,000 photovoltaic modules, the Nzema Solar Power Station will bring electricity to the homes of more than 100,000 Ghanaians. With this clean energy, new technologies that push agriculture and other economic sectors forward can be powered.

Access to Smartphones

Tied closely with the push for energy is the advancement of the smartphone across West Africa. Smartphone ownership has increased to around 30-35 percent in Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria. Smartphones are an absolutely integral driving force for agriculture and technology in West Africa. With access to a smartphone and the internet, farmers can gain easier and more convenient access to information about local markets and upcoming weather forecasts, improving their ability to adapt to shifts in both the environment and the economy. Not only that, but smartphones also allow farmers to purchase insurance and get other financial services, such as banking.

Technologies Boosting Agriculture

In Nigeria, one company named Hello Tractor is making use of the increased spread of smartphones by creating an app designed for renting and sharing tractors with farmers. Farmers can use the app to communicate with nearby owners of tractors, and schedule bookings for the usage of those tractors on specific days. This reduces the barrier of entry to farming as a profession, and as a result is a massive boon to the agricultural sector. With West African companies such as Hello Tractor innovating upon smartphone technology and the Internet of Things, technology in West Africa is once again driving agriculture.

There are also other technologies which may be potentially transformative to agriculture in West Africa. The more recent advancements in 3D printing may offer another pathway to increase efficiency. In West African companies with less intricate transportation infrastructure, 3D printing offers a cheaper way to obtain farming tools by producing them yourself rather than paying expensive shipping fees. In Nigeria, there is a permanent set-up dedicated to manufacturing replacement parts for local industries in order to provide them more efficiently and at a lower cost. The market for this is expanding as well, as there are U.S firms investing in this technology in the region. The installment also offers training programs for local workers so that they can learn the skills necessary to operate such technology.

Another potential, yet controversial advancement is in the sector of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). In Ghana particularly, cowpea is a crop prized for its energizing properties, eaten traditionally by farmers before working in the field. However, the crop is dying faster each year due to insects. GMOs could offer one potential path to solving this issue and stabilizing cowpea for West African farmers. Though scientists are still in widespread debate about the safety and usability of genetically modified cowpeas in particular, the technology could regardless offer another potential path to advancement for the West African agricultural sector.

Future for Technology in West Africa

Ultimately, the most important and consistent technology for the future of agriculture in West Africa is found in information technology. Smartphone presence becoming more widespread allows access to market data, weather data, financial services, and even access to rental services like those of Hello Tractor. Western Sydney University is also working on a mobile application specifically streamlined for usage by farmers, providing access to many of these services all in one app.

Overall, it is clear to see that technology is driving agriculture in West Africa. With all of these new advancements, it is reasonable to expect West Africa to continue pushing its agricultural sector forward. With solar power expansion, 3D printing, smartphone access, and rental services like Hello Tractor, the informational landscape of West Africa will be transformed significantly over the next several years.

– Jade Follette
Photo: Flickr

Three Entrepreneurs from Ghana, Cameroon and Rwanda are applicants to The Anzisha Prize. The prize aims to support young, African entrepreneurs who have created innovative change in their communities by addressing social issues or starting successful small businesses.

Twelve of the finalists win a free, week-long trip to South Africa to participate in entrepreneurship workshops and conferences at the African Leadership Academy campus near Johannesburg. The grand prize winners are then selected from the top twelve and receive $75,000 dollar prizes that will give their small businesses a jump-start as well as publicity.

In 2015, the organization selected winners from a pool of around 500 applicants. The amount of applications this year is a record—but only 27 percent of them were women applicants.

Despite the low number of women applicants, there are many women entrepreneurs in Africa. However, they are often forced into innovative solutions out of need, rather than a desire to do so. How We Made it In Africa described in an illustrative example, “This means that they might be self-employed by selling fruit on the side of the road, but the opportunity for them to grow beyond the informal stage may never present itself.”

African women usually lack access to education on financial and development skills; this is due to the fact that males are typically sent to school more often than females.

Still, the following Anzisha Prize women have overcome the odds and made positive, impactful changes in their communities through their entrepreneurial innovation.

Mabel Suglo: Assembling Shoes to Employ the Disabled

Mabel Suglo is a 21 year old woman from Ghana, a co-founder of the Eco-Shoes Project. The initiative helps disabled artisans assemble desirable, marketable shoes out of used tires and recycled clothing.

The Project began in 2013; today five people work for Suglo.

“There are millions of discarded car tyre stockpiles and waste materials in Ghana which pose an environmental and health hazard. Eco-Shoes rescues some of the millions of tyres and other material waste creating an environmental nuisance, to make fashionable and comfortable shoes.” said Suglo, according to How We Made it in Africa.

If Suglo wins the Anzisha Prize, she plans to invest in more sophisticated machinery to increase shoe output. She also wants to create an e-commerce site and give her workers improved training in technology.

Vanessa Zommi: Tea to treat Diabetes in Cameroon

In 2013, when Vanessa Zommi was only seventeen, she founded Emerald Moringa Tea in Molyko, Cameroon. The company treats the moringa plant, transforming the raw substance into a healthy tea that treats diabetes.

“The World Health Organisation’s research estimates 190 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide. This research further estimates that by the year 2025, there will be about 330 million patients in the world. Studies show that drinking moringa tea after a meal can ease digestion, and after two hours of intake, sugar levels in the body drop.” said Zommi, according to How We Made it in Africa.

Zommi plans to expand her company in the future; she currently employs six people and sales are limited to Molyko, Cameroon. She hopes the prize money will assist her in this expansion.

Chantal Butare: Milk Cooperative to help Farmers Sell

Chantal Butare, a twenty-one-year-old graduate of the University of Rwanda founded a dairy cooperative that aids farmers who produce milk in accessing markets.

Butare started the Kinazi Dairy Cooperative in 2012; she noticed farmers, especially women farmers, often struggled to sell all of the milk they produced.

The Cooperative, to date, has helped over 3,200 farmers. It employs twelve milk collectors who supply Rwanda and Burundi.

“My vision is to help eradicate poverty and hunger among vulnerable people in my community,” said Butare, according to How We Made it in Africa.

Aaron Andree

Sources: Anzisha Prize, How We Made It in Africa
Photo: Clinton Foundation

Recent progress in Africa’s agriculture sector faces a number of potential threats according to Dr. Agnes Kalibata, the president of Alliance for the Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Kalibata, formerly the Rwandan Minister of Agriculture and Animal Resources, cites global climate change as African agriculture’s biggest threat if it’s not met with increases in further investment.

Thanks to recent financing in the form of development aid, agriculture insurance and foreign direct investment (FDI), many African farmers have developed the means to overcome the formidable climatic and economic conditions that threaten food access for hundreds of millions of people. But Kalibata says that without sustained investment, Africa’s food needs, which are set to triple by 2050, could prove unattainable.

“[Climate change] is eroding the momentum we had gained in terms of getting farmers to use improved seeds and buy fertilizers,” said Kalibata. “If a farmer puts his small savings into seeds and fertilizers and loses the whole crop, that’s the end of his whole career … Farmers are getting less rain, it’s more irregular and it’s beginning to affect their production and undermine the investment they are making.”

In a policy paper presented at the development finance summit in Addis Ababa earlier this month, AGRA estimated that the value of African agricultural output could increase from $280 billion to $800 billion by 2030. In order for the sector that employs around two-thirds of Africa’s population to realize this possibility, potential investment needs to be substantially increased and diversified.

One such opportunity for American investment comes in the form of agriculture insurance, which people and countries are increasingly relying upon to withstand conditions out of their control, such as natural hazards and climate-related disasters. Because agriculture is a high-variable venture, particularly in the harsh environments of sub-Saharan Africa, farmers are often left without the means of recovering lost investments or repaying debts associated with past loans. Insurance coverage enables those farmers to participate in riskier but more lucrative activities, like diversified harvests or mechanization.

Investment in African agriculture comes with economic and moral implications that reach deeper than the immediacy of food insecurity. Access to reliable sources of food is essential for countries in the early stages of economic development and, once established, can empower people and countries to achieve previously unattainable levels of security and self-determination.

“Agriculture is everyone’s business: national independence depends on its development because it enables us to escape the scourge of food insecurity that undermines our sovereignty and fosters sedition,” writes The New Partnership for Africa’s Development CEO Ibrahim Assane Mayaki in the United Nations’ Africa outlook. “[It] is the sector offering the greatest potential for poverty and inequality reduction, as it provides sources of productivity from which the most disadvantaged people working in the sector should benefit.”

The Food for Peace Reform and Electrify Africa Acts introduced earlier this year mark a number of Congressmen’s sustained efforts to make African development a focus of U.S. foreign policy. But in order for Africa to meet its future agricultural needs, investors and donor organizations will need to take further steps to establish infrastructure, mechanization and resistance to climate-related challenges. Those investments in food security could help to deliver increased opportunities for the African and American economies alike.

Zach VeShancey

Sources: The Guardian, AGRA, United Nations
Photo: Flickr

EthiopiaEthiopia is the second most populous country in Africa, with 94.1 million people. Poverty has long been an issue for Ethiopia, and while many remain under Ethiopia’s poverty line of earning $1.25 a day or less, the nation has made great strides in the past 10 years to reduce poverty and improve health.

Ethiopia’s economy has been thriving in the recent past. Between 2004 and 2011, the economy grew at a rate of 10.6 percent per year. Ethiopia increased exports in order to help it account for this economic growth, and that has led to more prosperity throughout the country.

This decrease in poverty can also be attributed to strides in agriculture. In 2005, Ethiopia introduced new agricultural practices which resulted in increased production. As The World Bank states, this agricultural growth has allowed for a 4 percent reduction in poverty each year. The use of fertilizer, along with high food prices and good weather, has given poor farmers with access to markets a higher income.

Ethiopia also instituted the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP). The World Food Program writes that there are 7.4 million people participating in the PSNP. The program works to end chronic food insecurity through transfers of food or cash (or a combination of both).The PNSP asks that those who are able-bodied in the households who receive their help participate in activities which will help them have more resilient livelihoods and less chance of food insecurity. These activities include building community infrastructure, such as building schools, roads, and hospitals, and rehabilitating land and water resources. The PSNP has helped 1.5 million people who were in poverty to be lifted out of poverty.

Economic growth, an increase in agricultural production, and programs such as the Productive Safety Net Program have paid off. From 2000 to 2011, poverty in Ethiopia declined from 44 percent to 30 percent. As the World Bank says, this “translates to a 33 percent reduction in the share of people living in poverty”.

This decrease in poverty has helped the health of Ethiopians as well. From 2010 to 2015, the level of child mortality has been lowered by two-thirds. The average lifespan has also increased by about an year annually from 2005 to 2011, making an Ethiopian’s lifespan 63. Malnutrition rates have come down as well. 75 percent of the population was malnourished in Ethiopia in 1990, while today it has fallen to 35 percent.

Since 2004, four million Ethiopians have been able to rise above the poverty line. However, there is still work to be done. 25 million people in Ethiopia are still suffering from poverty. The World Bank suggests that in order for the trend of a decrease in poverty to remain, ongoing efforts to promote self-employment have to continue. Firms have to enter Ethiopia, and urban migration has to be encouraged.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: The WFP, World Bank 1, World Bank 2, The Sudan Tribune, Voice of America, BBC

Yaya Touré, who plays midfielder for the UK club football team Manchester City, is used to scoring goals on the pitch. Now he is instead talking about scoring big goals for humanity by working to end extreme poverty.

Touré, who has partnered with the One Campaign, an international non-profit agency which works to fight extreme poverty and preventable diseases in Africa, recently stated in a self-written article regarding development efforts in Africa, “If we work together and play by the rules, humanity can score the great global goals of ending hunger and extreme poverty and building sustainable communities. “

He has also expressed his hopes that Africa can one day become, “The young, dynamic and driving continent it should be, no longer relegated to the subs bench – and help make a better world for us all,” and that he believes, “There has never been more to play for.”

Tourè, who is a citizen of the Ivory Coast and was raised in this sub-Saharan nation, recalls how he channeled all of his energy into education and sport as a young child. His knowledge and personal experiences within a developing region has provided him with a unique perspective about which methods of development will prove most effective within Africa.

He argues that for example, governments within Africa must give women who are smallholder farmers the ability to receive bank loans and property rights. This advancement would not only further promote gender equality, but would also help over 100 million people out of extreme poverty and hunger. Touré also believes that both boys and girls must have equal access to primary and secondary education facilities, which must provide opportunities to learn numeracy, literacy, and IT skills.

With 70% of African workers earning a living from agricultural practices, he argues that the governments of Africa must invest within the agriculture industry in order to both produce larger quantities of food resources and encourage sustainable practices. Touré, who also serves as a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Environmental Protection Agency, has joined many other African celebrities in calling upon African leaders and the international community to invest more resources across the continent to smallholder farmers.

He explains in his article that a youth football team requires potential and resources; even if you have the best talent available, they will not develop without the necessary support, training, and resources. Touré compares this situation to the youth of Africa; there is a capacity to build a team with unlimited capacity. He wishes, “For all the young men and women of Africa to have a decent chance of meeting their potential in life. But, for them to be the engine of global progress, they themselves need fuel: for their stomachs, and for their minds.

Touré argues that the rapid growth of Africa’s population, which is estimated to reach two billion people by 2040, must be met with strong efforts by the international community to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty. He has expressed his faith in the potential of the youth of Africa, and believes that, “Unleashed and supported in the right way, these young people could act like rocket fuel to turbocharge African and global prosperity.

James Thornton

Sources: The Guardian, Malawi Nyasa Times, Think Eat Save
Photo: Flickr

The Debate on GMOs in Nigeria

A small study conducted seven years ago showed that a majority of Nigerian scientists had low awareness about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and their harmful effects. But today, with the help of the Internet and the explosion of social media in Nigeria, people are even more aware.

And with this awareness comes resentment and resistance.

By becoming educated about genetically modified plants, opponents have pointed out their damage to biodiversity. Native plants have become sparse compared to the genetically modified plants that seem to grow with ease.

Opponents have also raised the question over whether consuming genetically modified plants has negative health consequences.

Although Nigerian scientists and GMO supporters reassure that genetically modified food is safe for the consumer, the critics counter that developed countries do not consider GMOs to be safe. By taking into account that developed countries have even stronger risk assessment and regulatory systems, there are still many critics in Nigeria.

GMOs have been coined “the Monsanto Poison” in Nigeria because of the Monsanto Company’s role in Agent Orange. This herbicide was used during the Vietnam War by the United States and has had lasting effects on the health of veterans. Agent Orange was strategically used to deplete vegetation cover and as a way to force starvation on the population. This has caused Nigerians to have a generally negative view of GMOs.

However, there are still some scientists and proponents in Nigeria that would like to expand the use of genetically modified plants. By being able to modify the plants, scientists are able to better understand their biology and physiology.

Genetic engineering has also improved crops such as cotton, soybeans, tomatoes, coffee and bananas. Plants can also be modified to have a higher protein content and higher oil yield. This could all improve the nutrition of those that consume them.

Scientists in support of GMOs in Nigeria also note that GMO technology could be a solution to the challenges that face global food production. Climate change, population growth and competition for land have all affected how food is produced and its quantity.

The debate over the safety of genetically modified organisms has been developing for over 40 years. However, if this technology can be scientifically proven to be safe for consumers, GMOs could feed the world’s hungry. The approval of GMOs in Nigeria would not only be a huge success for science, but also for those in need of food.

GMOs could be the key to solving food shortages, but only time will tell if GMOs are deemed safe for consumers.

– Kerri Szulak

Sources: Genetic Literacy Project, Risk Science Center
Photo: biodiverseed

The African Women in Agricultural Research and Development program (AWARD) seeks to realize the untapped potential of women scientists in Africa. As a career development program, AWARD offers competitive fellowships to African women in agriculture.

These women have a common goal to eliminate hunger and poverty in Africa through agricultural research. Research areas are widespread, but have included plant pathology, water management and poultry science. Fellowships have been granted to women from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds.

So, why women? Why is it specifically important to support female agricultural scientists in Africa?

Most African smallholder farmers are women, but only one in four agricultural researchers is female. There are traditional and cultural barriers to women’s participation in agricultural science and to education in general. In this traditionally male-dominated field, women need support to develop leadership skills.

The AWARD program offers mentorship and development of science and leadership skills for women in agriculture. The goal is to provide women with a position where their voices can be heard in the field of agricultural science. 390 African women scientists have benefitted from this program.

Food security will require changes in field and laboratory work, and women have much to offer in this area of study. Dr. Jane Ambuko, supported by the AWARD program, started a project to introduce farmers to a cold-storage option for their food products. The CoolBot system is less expensive than traditional cooling systems and can preserve fruits and vegetables.

According to the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, “four billion dollars’ worth of food is lost annually due to inefficiencies across the agricultural value chain after crops are harvested.”

The CoolBot system and the work of Jane Ambuko offer a solution to combat food waste and improve the economic livelihoods of families in Africa. This is one example of a research innovation, developed by a woman, that can help save lives by reducing hunger. The goal to end global poverty is more attainable with the inclusion of women.

– Iliana Lang

Sources: African Women in Agricultural Research and Development, Agricultural Science & Technology Indicators, AGRA, Feed the Future
Photo: FAO