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Using digital technologies to work to end hunger

How digital technology is used to expand infrastructure and upgrade technology to provide clean and more efficient energy in all countries.
line of people waiting for food
© RMIT 2023

The number of people suffering from hunger has been increasing since 2015 after many years of decline. Estimates put the number of hungry at 690 million (8.9% of the world’s population).

It seems the world is unlikely to achieve SDG 2 by 2030. One area that shows a lot of potential is the adoption of digital technologies and the hope it will bring about a productivity transformation across the agricultural sector.

Agriculture in Africa

Throughout Africa, the agricultural sector is critically important for the food it produces and the employment it provides. It is estimated to generate 20% of Africa’s GDP and account for 60% of employment. There are 250 million smallholder and subsistence farmers across Africa, many are inefficient with low crop yields. Few have access (<15%) to information, markets and input credit, which are needed to increase productivity, yields and income. They also face a range of other challenges including climate change, lack of water and crop and livestock disease.

A major barrier in the adoption of and use digital technologies in many African countries is a lack of basic ICT skills, and this impacts on access to information and knowledge about demand for produce and accessing markets.

What is Connected Farmer?

The Women Farmers Programme available in Kenya, South Africa, Zambia and Tanzania, starts by providing training which helps women farmers learn basic digital skills such as word processing, creating financial spreadsheets, using search engines and social media (Women Farmers, 2021). The second stage of the programme connects women farmers on the programme with larger enterprises and suppliers through a digital app called Connected Farmer.

Connected Farmer offers real-time information on what other farmers are producing across regions in Africa, as well as providing access to new markets and digital financial services. With new digital skills, women farmers have the potential to transform their businesses through technology and make a vital contribution to increasing productivity and tackling hunger in Africa.

The app developer, Mezzanine, a subsidiary of Vodaphone, has the aim for Connected Farmer for it to be an agricultural ecosystem of organisations that connects tens of millions of farmers to global, regional, national and local stakeholders (Mezzanine, 2022).

Benefits of Connected Farmer

Adopting Connected Farmer (CR, 2021) has a transformational impact on small farms. It improves productivity, revenue, and resilience for small scale farmers by connecting them to information, inputs, credit, and buyers. The Connected Farmer digital platform has the capacity to overcome the tyranny of distance to connect farmers in the most remote parts of Africa with suppliers, buyers, finance firms, and insurers.

Basic changes from paper systems to digital systems can provide a big efficiency improvement. Dairy farmers in Kenya for example, had the litres of milk they delivered to the dairy cooperative recorded on a milking card, and at the end of the month payments were made in cash or SACCO account. Mistakes were common and difficult to rectify. Connected Farmer created an SMS-based system that digitised all daily deliveries with the farmer receiving a daily SMS. This resulted in errors being virtually eliminated.

Digital innovations like Connected Farmer have pushed smallholder yields up by 70% and supported a 40% average increase in farmer’s incomes. With the adoption of digital solutions, the future of agriculture in Africa looks more encouraging. As farmers develop their ICT skills, they should feel comfortable with adopting more digital solutions and this will transform not only their own situations but the agricultural sector across Africa.

Lessons learned for other organisations

Many small farms in Africa lack access to basic services and require information on suppliers, buyers, crop information, finance and insurance. In any region, there are a percentage of organisations that require access to basic information and services. A digital marketplace such as Connected Farmer (one-stop-shop) can provide most of what a farm requires in terms of services and information. Including small and medium size organisations in the digital marketplace provided many opportunities for them. Basic ICT skills training is still needed by some farmers in Africa. Many small businesses lack the information and skills to thrive.

Digital transformation can happen very quickly when a digital platform is developed and basic ICT skills are acquired.

© RMIT 2023
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Advancing Social Impact with Digital Technologies

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