Agriculture Technology in Africa
According to the World Bank, investment in agriculture is one of the most vital steps toward lifting entire populations out of poverty. Not only is the industry a hugely significant employer in many developing countries in Africa, but it also produces the vast quantities of food needed to combat food insecurity.

Adapting to climate-related environmental changes often requires finding innovative solutions, and the rapid expansion of agriculture technology in Africa offers some exciting prospects. Here are three countries that are using promising new tech to achieve this goal.

Seed-Bulking in Zambia

Zambia is a landlocked, largely rural country in southern Africa, and its agricultural sector makes up roughly 20% of its GDP. As in many African countries, Zambian farmers are large producers of cassava, a woody shrub whose root is an excellent source of carbohydrates. However, they were struggling to produce strong crop yields due to a lack of access to high-quality planting materials. The African Development Bank’s program, Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT), had an idea to help solve this problem: seed-bulking.

Seed-bulking is a method whereby farmers keep some seeds from their target crop to grow in a controlled environment. This helps to increase seed production, which means that farmers can then grow more crops and increase their yield.

Fifty-eight seed-bulking farms opened across Zambia in 2020 as part of TAAT’s initiative. It projected that this would allow farmers to produce 43,500 tons of cassava root, which, once processed, would be capable of feeding more than 3.6 million people.

More recently in 2022, the African Development Fund approved a loan of $14.4 million, some of which will be used to provide seeds and fertilizer to Zambian farmers. Alongside the innovative practice of seed-bulking, this could see Zambia vastly improve its yields across all crops, including cassava, and help avoid food shortages resulting from high demand for exports from neighboring countries.

NIR Spectroscopy in Ethiopia

In Ethiopia, where agricultural products make up a whopping 80% of exports, rain is a crucial component of agricultural practices. Unfortunately, droughts have ravaged the country for several years in a row, depleting the soil of its nutrient content and making it harder to successfully grow crops.

Figuring out how nutrient-rich soil is can occur through trial and error, but in such pressing conditions, time and resources cannot afford to go to waste using this method. This is where near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (or NIRS) comes in.

NIRS works by analyzing the amount of light that a material absorbs, which can indicate how much of a certain substance is within that material. This method can help judge the quality of soil based on what nutrients it contains, without requiring the use of environmentally hazardous chemicals.

Understanding the technology behind NIRS devices can be daunting for a layman, but using one is surprisingly easy, even for someone with no background in the sciences. According to AZoM, many models are portable, inexpensive and can provide reasonably accurate results in under a minute.

Despite all the positives, the use of NIRS devices has remained somewhat low as of 2021 – a paper published in the Agronomy Journal suggested that this is partly due to a lack of education about how important the nutrient content of crops truly is.

The use of NIRS devices has the potential to result in better-quality crops, for both people and livestock. Coupled with a public awareness campaign and investment in more NIRS devices, Ethiopian farmers could see more successful crop yields, enhancing their ability to feed their animals and themselves.

Smart Irrigation Systems in Nigeria

In the west African country of Nigeria, 36% of the labor force is employed in the agricultural sector. However, in 2020, a PwC report cited “outdated methods of agriculture” as a critical issue in the Nigerian agricultural industry.

There is definitely room for improvement – investment in modern agriculture technology in Africa as a whole would vastly improve efficiency and allow agricultural workers to produce larger yields. One such technique is irrigation, which is the process of supplying water to crops through channels in the ground; this way, farmers do not have to rely on rainfall to keep their crops growing. As of 2014, only 1% of Nigeria’s farmland was irrigated, according to the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

More recently, though, thanks to an initiative from the International Water Management Institute in partnership with the African Development Bank (ADB), 4,000 wheat farmers in Nigeria received training in effective irrigation technologies, as well as receiving “modern pressurized water conveyance-distribution system[s],” which ensure that less water is wasted during the irrigation process. Smart irrigation is not just environmentally sustainable – it reduces the number of time farmers need to be out in the field and provides improved water distribution to increase crop yields.

According to Further Africa, in August 2022, the Nigerian government approved an investment worth $24 billion for smart irrigation infrastructure. It should significantly reduce water consumption on farms and improve the ability of Nigerian farmers to produce large quantities of crops, a crucial factor in combatting hunger and lessening Nigeria’s reliance on food imports.

Looking Ahead

When it comes to agriculture technology in Africa, the sector is always evolving. Investment in new and efficient techniques and technologies is crucial, not only for adapting to the rapidly changing climates on the African continent but also for combatting the famine that occurs with these changes. 

– Abbi Powell
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccine Production In Africa
Low-income countries have faced extremely disproportionate rates of COVID-19 vaccinations in comparison to the world’s higher-income countries. “High-income or upper-middle-income countries” have received
more than 87% of the world’s administered vaccines and low-income countries have received only 0.2%. Around the world, more than 700 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered. Reports have stated that 25% of the 700 million doses administered went “into the arms of Americans.” On the other hand, Africa has the lowest vaccination rate of any continent in the world. Only 11% of the entire African continent received doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 5% received both doses. With a population of about 1.3 billion, the solution to the continent’s low vaccination rate might be through developing the capacity for COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa.

The Solution

The U.S. is one of many countries that has offered support for the vaccination effort in Africa. As of November 2021, the U.S. delivered more than 60 million vaccine doses to African countries. Despite outside help, the majority of Africa’s population still remains without their first dose. One source asserts that “a lack of manufacturing is one reason that only 11% of the continent’s people have been fully vaccinated.” So far, 99% of the vaccines distributed in Africa came from outside the continent. With such a low vaccination rate, Africa faces pressures to expand vaccine manufacturing at home. There were many international efforts to help address this challenge. Governments, international organizations and private companies are offering funds and other resources to support the development of COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa.

Funding From the US and Other Countries

In July 2021, The U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) approved a $3.3 million grant to help develop “a vaccine production hub that will serve Senegal” and other West African countries. The money is a “technical assistance grant” to Fondation Institut Pasteur de Dakar (IPD), a Senegalese vaccine manufacturer, according to International Development Finance Corporation. The DFC would partner with USAID and “receive [additional] grant financing from the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the French development agency, AFD and the European Investment Bank (EIB).” This grant intends to expand the vaccine production capacity of IPD and promote the development of a production hub in the West African region.

In June 2021, the U.S. government partnered with the French and German governments, investing $700 million in Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Limited, South Africa’s largest pharmaceutical company. This investment intends to support the South African company “produce up to 500 million doses” of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by 2022. 

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Technology Transfer Hub in South Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced the opening of a technology-transfer hub in South Africa in June 2021. It established this hub to support “low- and middle-income countries… produce mRNA vaccines” by providing technical knowledge and other resources, such as “training and financial support.” The establishment of this hub directly aids African countries in obtaining the “necessary human capital” to produce vaccines at home. The technology-transfer hub “is located at Afrigen, Cape Town, South Africa” and the research being used will be shared with local manufacturers. In recent news, researchers at one local manufacturer, Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, have succeeded in producing “very small quantities” of a COVID-19 vaccine “based on Moderna’s data.” 

Intellectual Property (IP) Rights

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines was able to produce its own version of the vaccine after the WHO “advised them to copy Moderna’s vaccine in part because the company… has said it will not enforce its COVID-19 patents during the pandemic.” In accordance with Moderna’s statement, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is reportedly discussing an agreement that would “waive intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments during the pandemic.” This waiver will be crucial to countries that “lack vaccine manufacturing and research” by providing them with the necessary tools to immunize a greater number of people.

India and South Africa initiated this agreement and it received support from more than 100 countries, including WHO and UNAIDS. If this waiver comes to fruition, it will allow low-income countries with low vaccination rates, like many regions in Africa, to potentially produce their own and distribute a much greater number of doses. As of May 2021, the U.S., Russia and China all issued their support for an intellectual property waiver on COVID-19 vaccines.

Large Pharmaceutical Firms Building Facilities in Africa

In addition, a few large pharmaceutical companies have agreed to build manufacturing plants in different areas of Africa. Companies such as BioNTech and Moderna have made recent strides to support COVID-19 vaccine production in Africa. The German company BioNTech worked with the U.S.-based company Pfizer to produce its mRNA vaccine, and it has announced plans to build vaccine production facilities in Rwanda and Senegal. In March 2022, Moderna signed an agreement with Kenya’s government. The plan is to build a vaccine manufacturing plant in the country, which is to be Moderna’s first plant in Africa. The biotech company also stated that its landmark goal is to “produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year” which will go specifically to the continent of Africa.

Investments from the African Development Bank (ADB)

To offer more support for COVID-19 vaccination production in Africa, the African Development Bank announced “plans to invest up to $3 billion to support the pharmaceutical industry over 10 years.” It stated that funds will go towards improving transportation and infrastructure, medicines regulation and pharmaceuticals manufacturing (which includes vaccines). Additionally, African Union member states made a commitment to producing 60% of “routinely used vaccines” at home within the next 20 years. 

– Ashley Kim

Photo: Flickr

Renewable energy in MoroccoMorocco has long been considered the jewel in the crown of African nations in its substantial effort in the transition to renewable, green energy. The North African country currently relies on green energy for 37% of its national usage. It has taken strong strides to alleviate its dependence on fossil fuels. To replicate this success for the continent, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is pursuing investment for regional interconnected green energy projects.

Morocco’s Commitment to a Greener Future

Morocco’s recent innovations have only been possible through a manageable scheme of commitments in transitioning to renewable, green energy production.  The Ouarzazate Solar Power Plant is one stand-out achievement. It is the largest concentrated solar power plant in the world to date.

Today Morocco’s access to electricity is at a monumental 100% nationwide. This success was spearheaded by the actions taken by the Moroccan government, particularly in the the 1990s.  It recognized the alarming state of energy poverty, especially in the rural demographic. Through these actions, the access to electricity has continuously increased, providing the necessary power to reach remote communities, and providing the most basic needs like improved access to water.

Of course, significant outside investment enabled these substantial advancements in Morocco’s renewable energy. For example, in 2012  the Moroccan Agency for Sustainable Energy and ACWA Power signed a contract that promised $900 million to initiate the first project at Quarzazate. Since then, Morocco has continued to lay the foundation for future sustainable projects. Morocco is planning to increase its share of renewables to 52% by 2030, 70% by 2040 and 80% by 2050.  

COVID-19 Hurts African Access to Electricity

Unfortunately, Africa’s energy production does not reflect Morocco’s innovation and future security with renewable energy.  Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, struggles to provide reliable electricity to its more than a billion inhabitants.  Further, after making some strides from 2015 – 2019 to increase electric accessibility by 9%, COVID-19 squashed that progress. Specifically, Africa follows the global trend of losing momentum in reducing energy since 2020 due to COVID-19’s disruption. According to the International Energy Association, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without access to electricity rose to 77% from 74% before the pandemic.” 

African Development Bank Pushes Renewables

A lack of investment in renewable energy projects across Africa is central to continued energy poverty. That’s why in a bid to kick-start future renewable green energy investment across the continent, the AfDB has made clear its intentions to bolster its partnership with China for investment in the renewable energy sector. China is investing in the Africa Growing Together Fund for energy and infrastructure projects.

Daniel Schroth, Director of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Department of AfDB, emphasizes that the African continent has a wealth of renewable potential in solar, wind, geothermal and wind. He advocates for an integrated system because as he notes, “The sun might not be shining in one part but not in other parts. The wind might be blowing in one part but not in the other parts. If you integrate them into one system, you can balance the power use. And so AfDB puts a strong emphasis on critical regional interconnection projects.”

This strengthening of ties represents just one of the commitments that the AfDB expects to deliver. In 2021, it announced the second phase of its Desert to Power initiative, which aims to provide electricity to 250 million people by the year 2030.  As stated in its executive summary, the project strives to, “harness the vast solar power potential across the Sahel region to provide access to electricity and enable socio-economic development as well as resilience in the region.”

Looking Forward

Despite COVID-19 setbacks, it is clear that Africa is ramping up its renewable energy pursuit through programs such as AfDB’s Desert to Power and through courting investors such as China. This drive, influenced by the successful renewable energy program in Morocco, should make significant strides in reducing energy poverty across the continent.

– Jamie Garwood
Photo: Flickr

Improving Energy in AfricaOne in 10 people in the world (800 million) have no access to electricity and the access of an additional 2.8 billion people is considered insufficient and unreliable. In regions with insufficient access to electricity, the standard of living is poor, particularly with regard to adequate healthcare and education. Africa is such a region. Half of the population of sub-Saharan Africa lives without electricity. Improving energy in Africa is essential for economic growth and prosperity across the continent.

The Consequences of Inadequate Energy Access

Energy is vital to reduce the cost of business activities and for creating economic opportunities and jobs. More than 640 million Africans lack access to electricity. When the sun sets for these individuals, workable hours in the day end. Insufficient access to energy can also restrict the economy more indirectly, by way of increased risk of deaths related to wood-burning stoves, restricted hospital and emergency services and compromised access to education.

Along with appropriate infrastructure, household health and productivity are essential for boosting economies. The persistent use of wood-burning stoves is evidence of lacking infrastructure that presents a burden to health and productivity. This dated method has drawbacks that include indoor pollution, deforestation and unpaid time spent collecting biomass fuel. In 2017, an estimated 600,000 Africans died due to indoor pollution.

Fulfilling household responsibilities requires more time and must be done within restricted hours when electricity is unavailable. These responsibilities often fall on women and children and prevent their participation in the formal economy or pursuit of education that could encourage later participation. African economies suffer because of these barriers to participation. Industrialization is key to economic growth in Africa. To industrialize the continent, energy in Africa needs to be sustainable and easily accessible to all.

Improving Energy in Africa

Africa already has significant capacity for improvements in energy. Much of this potential lies in renewable energy sources. For example, one-fifth of Africa’s current energy is produced using hydropower. Hydropower, however, is only being utilized to one-tenth of its potential. Along with hydropower energy, solar, biomass, wind and geothermal energy all show promise for further development.

There are several existing avenues for further development of energy in Africa. As a shift toward renewable energy is gaining momentum across the globe, largely due to its environmental advantages, the resulting new and affordable technologies may provide the needed boost to further industrialization in Africa. Ensuring that renewable energy innovations reach Africa and are suited to build on current capabilities is essential for economic growth throughout the continent.

The 2020 African Economic Conference (AEC)

The African Development Bank (AfDB), the Economic Commission for Africa and the United Nations Development Programme jointly hosted the 2020 African Economic Conference (AEC) from Dec. 8 to 10. The conference facilitated presentations and discussions among leading academics, early-career researchers, policymakers and decision-makers. The central theme of the conference was how to ensure continued sustainable development in Africa amid the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Specific topics included the role of governments and private institutions in regulating and developing African economies, adjusting goals and methods to conditions brought on by COVID-19 and preparing Africa for future resilience in crisis. The conference has been held since 2006 and helps to maximally inform efforts toward development in Africa, consider the challenges unique to local economies and emphasizes the importance of sustainable and renewable energy.

The New Deal on Energy in Africa

The AfDB Group is leading the New Deal on Energy in Africa to help develop energy in Africa and achieve universal electricity access for Africans by 2025. Its strategy is to build awareness of barriers to economic development, secure innovative funding for energy developments and strengthen energy policy and regulation. According to the AfDB, without stable energy in Africa, the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved. The emphasized ideal for energy in Africa is renewable; nevertheless, efficient and less expensive methods of energy production can quickly work to stimulate the economy. Gas will be an important transition fuel as efforts are made to establish cleaner, maintainable methods.

Electricity Access for Economic Growth

Improving energy in Africa means that the continent needs reliable power grids and universal access to electricity to further economic stability. The path to sustainable energy in Africa is evolving thanks to new momentum derived from the global and continental potential for renewable energy development. Keeping energy progress in mind throughout pandemic response efforts is a goal of international organizations as they work together with Africa toward economic growth across the continent.

Payton Unger
Photo: Flickr