An initiative that will avail digital tools and training resources to small-scale farmers and agriculture-linked small businesses in Africa has been launched. The programme is a partnership between Microsoft’s 4Afrika initiative and the IFC, and aims to support digital transformation in Africa’s agribusiness sector, modernise supply chains and boost farmers’ productivity and incomes.
To start with, a mobile platform will be piloted among farmers in Kenya, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, and Uganda. This targets reaching and supporting 50,000 farmers and at least 50 cooperatives. The initiative is informed by the fact that digital technology can improve the operation of key supply chains in the food system through greater agricultural efficiencies, improved business practices, traceability, food safety and access to finance.
However, the use of digital tools in Africa’s agriculture sector remains limited; often because of infrastructure, affordability, awareness and regulatory issues. Agribusiness contributes about 25 percent of Africa’s GDP and 70 percent of its employment.
“Now more than ever, we need to pay close attention to how agri-tech organisations transform digitally, what challenges they face acquiring new technologies, and the daily challenges they may be facing in the area of digital skills development. Microsoft 4Afrika’s strategy is to invest in agri-tech to unlock Africa’s vibrant potential, accelerating innovation in agri-tech to enable data-driven farming that can optimise yields, boost farm productivity and increase profitability – all while feeding a nation,” said Kendi Nderitu, Country Manager for Microsoft Kenya.
The partnership will leverage Microsoft 4Afrika’s unique digital platforms and IFC’s Agribusiness Leadership Programme to help small-scale farmers, their cooperatives and ‘last mile retailers’ access information and digital tools to strengthen farming practices, build business professionalism and improve food security and traceability throughout the supply chain.
On his part, Samuel Dzotefe, the acting Regional Industry Director, Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services-Middle East & Africa said: “Digital technologies have the power to transform small-scale farming in Africa. By making digital tools more accessible to farmers, cooperatives and last-mile retailers, Microsoft and IFC can together help the agribusiness sector to capitalise on the opportunities afforded by the digital economy”.
Around 155 million people were facing acute food insecurity in 2020 across 55 countries or territories – an increase of around 20 million people from 2019, according to the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises. Of the 10 countries with the highest number of people facing food insecurity, six were in Africa.
Digital technology is one way to boost agricultural production and efficiencies. The partnership will include Microsoft’s KuzaBot mobile chat platform, which will speed and ease the dissemination of vital information to farmers on good agricultural and business practices.
IFC’s Agribusiness Leadership Programme, which will be available on the Microsoft Community Training platform, will help small businesses, aggregators and farmer cooperatives improve their professionalism, productivity and creditworthiness. Over the long-term, the partnership aims to deepen the understanding of factors which drive the adoption and use of digital solutions among smallholder farmers, farmer cooperatives and other actors in the agriculture supply chain.