Agricultural Technology in AfricaThe COVID-19 pandemic has stopped progress on a major factor of the economy in Africa: agriculture. Farmers can only use 6% of Africa’s land to plant and grow crops. However, the agriculture industry in Africa employs 67% of the continent’s citizens. Each country in Africa contributes 30% to 60% of its GDP and about 30% of the value of exports to agriculture each year. Thanks to the pandemic, this crucial piece of the puzzle has started to disappear. New ideas, like pursuing agricultural technology in Africa, have helped keep production going to provide food to the continent.

Africa’s Supply Chains

Issues like food contamination, falsified medications and the loss of stock on certain products have heavily affected supply chains in Africa. According to KDHI-Agriculture, the pandemic only emphasized these issues. National lockdowns stopped the operations of many organizations, which held up supply chains. No new problems came from the pandemic stalling operations, so new solutions can help recover Africa’s agriculture industry.

Agricultural Technology in Africa

Agricultural technology in Africa is not just limited to one area. There are plenty of different technologies that are helping solve the slowing of production. Traceability technology is helping increase transparency within supply chains, tracking items from start to finish. As a result, higher-ups can track a product from its start as a raw material to the final product that ships from a factory or farm.

This increase in information about the product not only helps decision-making but also speeds up the supply-and-demand process. Many different technological processes go into this, like blockchain, artificial intelligence and collaborative platforms. As a result, it is clear that Africa is serious about rebuilding its economy.

In 2020, 295 of the 437 active digital agriculture services in Africa had a devotion to finances and advising. Only 16 of the services went toward smart farming. Items like traceability technology only account for 4% of these agricultural services. The Leibniz University of Hanover in Germany saw that agricultural technology in Africa is effective in helping the agriculture industry, so the university created a project to help to further develop this technology.

Leibniz University‘s UPSCALE Project

The UPSCALE project began in November 2020 and helps expand push-pull technology across whole fields and regions so that problems like food security resolve. The project also helps the environment. In the end, projects like these will help develop solutions and tools for increasing farm incomes in sustainable farming systems.

Looking past the pandemic, Africa is still dealing with high rates of poverty, with 36% of the population living in extreme poverty and 20% of the population dealing with hunger. Agricultural technology in Africa will help feed many people more efficiently. Hopefully, the UPSCALE project will attract more international attention and will help Africa’s agriculture industry in the long term. 

– Matt Orth
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Agriculture Technology
Agriculture is a cornerstone of human development and one of the most easily accessible methods of generating food. However, agriculture is also one of the riskiest ways to feed a community due to the unpredictability of the weather and pests that could spontaneously destroy an entire year’s worth of crops. Many countries, like India, struggle to maintain farms due to a lack of water, infrastructure and storage facilities. It is no surprise, then, that experts across the world argue that advancements in agriculture technology could prove invaluable in the fight against poverty due to larger crop yields and more success during harvests. Although no one has found a definitive solution to effectively grow enough food to feed those in poverty, numerous organizations have developed potential solutions to the problems that plague agricultural communities.

5 World Leaders in Agriculture Technology

  1. Farmmi: One organization making efforts in agriculture technology is Farmmi, an agricultural product supplier responsible for most of China’s supply of Shiitake mushrooms and other fungi. Recently, Yefang Zhang, Farmmi’s CEO, announced a partnership with the China Democratic League on Poverty Alleviation Initiative. During this partnership, Farmmi plans to provide new job opportunities for those living in impoverished village communities, give agriculture technology advice to farmers free of charge and sell local agricultural products in Farmmi Stores. Representatives of Farmmi will also meet with the China Democratic League continuously to discuss optimal ways to help poor villages in China with their farming, and ways to implement new action plans for agriculture effectively.
  2. Yunshang Agricultural School: In the Gui’an area of Beijing, China, citizens have a large selection of programs in which they can improve both the dependability of their crops and the amount of food they produce during harvest. One example lies in the Yunshang Agricultural School, an institution to help educate the farmers of the area on scientific planting. In these classes, farmers learn the most optimal ways to grow their crops by planting seeds in different formations or at optimal times. Citizens of the Gui’an area have also been utilizing smartphone technology to monitor their agriculture, like installing cameras to check the growth of greenhouse crops instead of examining them one by one. This education on agriculture and utilization of technology in farming sparked the construction of the Gui’an Agricultural and Tourism Industry Demonstration Park in 2015. This park contains several greenhouses and many different agricultural activities for tourists, including tropical fruit picking halls and a demonstration on smart agriculture, but the biggest impact lies in the park’s efforts to fight poverty. Currently, the Gui’an park is collaborating with 11 villages in the area through the Big Data Agricultural Precision Poverty Alleviation Agreement. With this agreement, the Gui’an Park aims to help poor villages grow high-value crops through the teachings of the Yunshang Agricultural School. As long as the people of the Gui’an area continue to focus on agricultural technology and education, more and more farmers will have the resources necessary to feed the people in their communities.
  3. Internet of Things: As the agriculture technology market grows, so does general interest from corporations. One example is Internet of Things, a tech company that has developed sensors to monitor the soil moisture of crops. These monitors can connect to a smartphone or personal computer, allowing farmers to save time that they would usually spend testing the soil. Internet of Things also plans to provide irrigation sensors and actuators, which will maximize water efficiency with crops. This should ensure that crops never receive too much or too little water, and minimizes water waste. The International Business Machines Corporation predicts that these tools from Internet of Things will improve crop yield by 70 percent by 2050. With these innovations Internet of Things has made a massive advancement in agriculture technology and its application in impoverished areas could prove invaluable in the fight against world hunger.
  4. H2Grow: Established in 2017 as part of the World Food Programme, H2Grow is an agriculture technology organization dedicated to helping poor communities build their own hydroponic systems so that they can grow food in previously barren areas. In areas with little to no soil, like a desert, traditional farming is nearly impossible. Hydroponic farming, however, involves no soil because the farming occurs either entirely in water or with some soil substitute like moss or peat. The removal of soil in the farming process allows the plants to receive their nutrients directly from the water while they grow and generally results in larger, healthier plants. With this practice, H2Grow has helped many communities grow their own food since its inception, sourcing 714 applications for hydroponic farming systems in 2019. As H2Grow installs more and more hydroponic farming systems, the world may see a day when every country has the ability to grow its own food.
  5. GrainMate: Launched in December 2017 by Sesi Technologies, GrainMate is an electronic meter invented to help impoverished farmers and businesses test the moisture levels in their grains. Monitoring the moisture level of grains helps a farm prevent detrimental losses during storage. If a farmer uses GrainMate and finds that his wheat is drying out, he can take the necessary steps to restore the grains to a safe moisture level, preserving them for as long as possible and maximizing the effectiveness of his crop yield. Sesi Technologies has received many orders for GrainMate, like one from Vinmak Farms in Ghana, that stated that its device is a good quality product to use on farms. With GrainMate in its arsenal, the farms of Africa have an advantage in the unpredictable nature of agriculture.

The use of agriculture technology is the most effective way to minimize world hunger. Whether it is a device that monitors the moisture level of crops or an initiative to educate citizens on optimal farming techniques, programs and innovations like these will continue to grow and develop to provide the quickest, cheapest access to food for disadvantaged communities.

Charles Nettles
Photo: Flickr

As of June 2014, 2.7 million Ethiopians experienced “Crisis and Emergency” levels of food insecurity according to the World Food Programme. Only a quarter of arable land in Ethiopia is being used for agriculture and the limited technology available to subsistence farmers means many crops rely on rainfall for water. This is an increasingly risky move as droughts the world over get longer and harsher. Yet, a low-tech, self-watering greenhouse designed by the nonprofit Roots Up could help Ethiopian farmers increase their yields.

The Dew Collector greenhouse is designed to collect both rainwater and condensation. As temperatures rise during the day, water evaporates from the plants inside the greenhouse. The farmer can open a flap at the top of the building to allow cool evening air in, which causes the water to condense into dew that is then redirected into a collection tank for re-use. The water collected from the greenhouse’s condensation is so pure that it can be used for drinking and bathing, not just irrigation.

According to Mathilde Richelet, the co-founder of Roots Up, “People have access to very little drinking water all year long… They have a long way to the river, which is practically dry during the dry season, and this water has a very high level of turbidity. So the dew-collector greenhouse has several purposes. First, it will allow farmers to collect the appropriate amount of safe drinking water needed for the body a day. Then, farmers can irrigate their plants.”

Elegant solutions like the Dew Collector greenhouses are going to be vital in the next few years. Ethiopia is facing an ongoing drought and an influx of refugees from neighboring countries gripped by violent conflict. The world at large faces similar problems. The World Food Programme reports that 805 million people are undernourished worldwide, and 2013 saw the world’s population of refugees top 50 million for the first time since World War II. A growing population of displaced people combined with a growing water shortage due to climate change spells trouble for countries in conflict-ridden parts of the world.

Roots Up aims to launch the first of its greenhouses in Northern Ethiopia this year, with support from the University of Gondar. Its long-term goal is to train farmers in northern Ethiopia to use affordable technology to become financially and technologically independent. This training will help wean the community off expensive food aid programs and set them up with a sustainable alternative. Eventually, Roots Up hopes to help farmers in north Gondar establish profitable agricultural enterprises of their own, such as growing fruit trees.

Amazing innovations like the training programs and greenhouse that Roots Up have created are fantastic and will eventually improve the lives of many people. However, these alone will not solve the underlying problems causing these challenges. The international community must continue its efforts to stop climate change and peacefully resolve conflicts if countries like Ethiopia are to continue to grow and thrive. Hopefully the next decade will see progress on all fronts.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: Mic, Roots up, Inhabitat, Fast Company
Photo: Inhabitat

Near the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, coffee is a staple crop. Coffee growers range from huge commercial enterprises with factories and automated systems, to family farms doing everything by hand. The commercial farms have the clear advantage, but a new technology designed by an international crew of innovators may help the smallest farmers close the gap.

To make coffee, farmers must harvest the bright red coffee cherries and split them in half to access the bean inside. This process, called pulping or shelling, is vital to coffee production and is extremely labor intensive. Doing it by hand is too slow to be feasible. While the big factory farms have machines that require very little labor to operate, smaller villages make do with hand-powered cranks that require a great deal of strength and patience.

The MIT-sponsored International Development Innovation Network Summit this past year played host to hundreds of inventive individuals looking to solve problems like this one. The group included Tanzanian business school student Yesse Joshua Olijange, whose parents are farmers originally from Leguruki and Bernard Kiwia, a Tanzanian bicycle mechanic turned inventor.

Kiwia supervised the summit team Olijange was a part of. The team also included self-taught Tanzanian inventor Mwanaharusi Goha,  Brazilian engineering student Eduard Eric Schardijin Ghanaian, engineering student Helen Amorin, German industrial designer Mona Mijthab and El Salvadorian nonprofit worker Geovany Moreno. Together, they designed a simple improvement to the hand-powered pulper.

According to designer Mona Mijthab, “Most people [in Leguruki] have bikes,” she said, “We thought, we can use parts of the metal pieces instead of the real bike. Things like the frame—these materials are available.”

The team attached the pedals of a bike onto a sturdy metal frame and hooked it up to the hand-cranked pulping machine. Now, instead of requiring immense upper-body strength, a person can operate the machine as they would ride a bike. The machine, which is around three feet tall, takes raw cherries in through a funnel on its top and runs them through a rotating drum with spikes on its interior. The spikes take the outer shell off of the coffee and spits them out separately from the beans. Using a hand crank, farmers can pulp about 33 pounds of cherries every 10 minutes. With the new prototype, the time is reduced to two minutes.

This is only one of many exciting prototypes to come out of the IDIN Summits. Since 2012, IDIN has been connecting innovators from different countries and industries around the world to challenge them to develop not only designs, but prototypes that can improve the lives of those living in poverty. Interest in IDIN’s methods and solutions is growing, and this year three summits will be taking place in Colombia, India and Botswana.

These summits are part of a bigger trend in innovation as the world’s most creative minds apply themselves to solving the problems facing the world’s poorest populations.

– Marina Middleton

Sources: Smithsonian, International Development Design Summit, International Development Innovation Network, D-Lab
Photo: Enlightened Consciousness

As we near the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals, there needs to be something done to increase our progress towards ending poverty. Last month, the Frontiers in Development Forum had many visitors who had bright ideas about what would be best to try to achieve our main goal. Leaders like the Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and Secretary of State John Kerry attended the forum, along with many different innovators, who have been creating mobile apps to combat human trafficking.

What was decided at the forum was that bringing new technologies into play and creating new partnerships is essential in the plan to end extreme poverty. In the U.S., many new technologies have changed the way Americans communicate, work and earn with one another. But there was something launched about two decades ago called the Leland Initiative, which was an effort to help increase access to information for 20 African countries.

To build more onto this idea, USAID has partnered with the U.K., and the Omidyar Network to create something new called the Alliance for Affordable Internet. This was created in an effort to reduce the cost of internet access and to bring to the table new opportunities for doctors, entrepreneurs and local leaders across the developing world.

Another way that USAID is trying to speed up the process of ending poverty is by using mTrac in Uganda. mTrac is a tool that helps local health workers send the government reports via text message. For example, the Ministry of Health used mTrac to survey 10,000 health workers on whether their health unit had a fridge that was used to keep perishable drugs and vaccines cold. The survey ended up costing only $150 and was done in just less than three days.

New technology is something that many in the Western World are used to and often take for granted, but in Senegal, rice millers are learning about how important technology can be for their community. For example, the rice millers buy expensive Asian imports, while local rice farmers are having a hard time selling their crops. USAID is helping to build the supply chains and improve the quality of the harvests by teaching the farmers to share their information through Excel and Dropbox. This allows the millers to track the local crops, schedule shipments and collect payments online.

This is just the start of what technology can do for the world in helping end poverty, and there is still a long way to go. USAID iterates that creating apps just for the sack of having them is not what will help the world achieve the overall objective of ending poverty. But by looking at the need in countries where technology is not overflowing and creating a solution for that will be the key component in ending extreme poverty.

Brooke Smith

Sources: USAID Blog, USAID
Photo: Flickr