ICT4ag13: ICT can help youth return to farms, solve Africa's agricultural challenges

The Opening Panel at the 2013 ICT for Agriculture Conference.

Agriculture is being seen as key to solving  issues plaguing Agriculture such as youth deserting the sector and low output
The ICT for Agriculture 2013(ICT4ag13) conference officially opened on Tuesday in Kigali, Rwanda. The conference looks at ways in which technology can provide solutions to problems plaguing the agriculture sector in addition to making farming more efficient. Organised by Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), ICT4ag13 focuses on Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Speaking at the opening, CTA Executive Director, Michael Hailu, says that agriculture in Africa employs 65 percent of the labour force and contributes to 62 percent of the gross domestic product. The sector has however faced issues including low productivity, high energy needed in production, poor or hardly available extension services and high input prices.

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The Opening Panel at the 2013 ICT for Agriculture Conference. Agriculture is being seen as key to solving & issues plaguing Agriculture such as youth deserting the sector and low output

Hailu says that Africa spends $50 billion a year in food imports. “With abundant water and land, there is no reason for Africa to import so much food,” he says, adding that bridging this shortfall would provide lots of opportunity not only in foreign exchange savings but in increasing employment.He further adds that IT can play a key role in solving the food import issue in addition to stemming the migration of people from rural areas into cities.

The director also said  that there was need to focus on making small solutions(start ups) become sustainable, moving beyond such solutions being heavily reliant on donor funding.

Michael Ryan, European Union Ambassador to Rwanda, said that farmers had had to rely on middlemen for access to commodity prices, service providers and buyers. IT provides the opportunity to eliminate the middle man and provide access directly to the farmer. IT would also make agriculture more cost effective and efficient, and provide a huge comparative advantage, especially for young farmers.

Rwanda is counting on ICT to improve growth of the agriculture sector from 5.5 percent growth currently to 8.5 percent growth in five years. The country is looking at having agriculture's contribution to the gross domestic product up from 25 percent to 35 percent, creating an additional 200,000 jobs. Ambassador Valentine Rugwabiza, CEO, Rwanda Development Board, says growth in agriculture won’t happen without ICT,  adding that the country has a focus on moving from primary agriculture to value added agriculture.

The country’s Ministry of ICT has developed a number of agriculture focused applications, but is also looking at developers to create more of such applications. eSoko, a government app provides information such as price, weather information and quality of soil to farmers.

Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture, Agnes Kalibata described both agriculture and ICT as low hanging fruits for poverty reduction. ICT could solve key challenges in agriculture such as development strategies, better engagement of women and creation of youth employment in the agriculture sector.

Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Nsengimana, also commented on the benefit of ICT at attracting young people to a sector that needs their innovation. “The youth are an incredible asset that needs to be harnessed, rather than a problem. They need not to be seen as a cost centre, but a profit centre," he said. Nsengimana said that investment in the youth should be geared towards profit production rather than be treated as social ventures.

Also taking place in the conference is a hackathon, focusing on building applications geared at solving agricultural problems. Led by Tanzania's Kinu hub co-founder, Catherinerose Baretto, some of the solutions include a bookkeeping app and a location based information app, both,  from Kenya, an SMS and web based market price sharing app from Tanzania, among others.

Published on November 05, 2013 by Dennis Mbuvi