Stakeholders at a plenary session during the 7th Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) has agreed that prioritizing the digital space will help shift the development focus for Africa’s agribusiness sector and overcome its many hurdles.
The seminar tagged,“The Digital Africa 2020 and Japanese investment Panel: Creating markets to digitize Africa”, was jointly organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the African Development Bank.
In his opening remarks, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Akinwumi Adesina highlighted on how digital technology has changed the face of agriculture in Africa, while adding that it has had a massive influence on smallholder farmers.
He shared an anecdote on how he was accosted by an enthusiastic group of women on arrival at a northern Nigeria airport during his tenure as agriculture minister of the country. According to him, the women pulled out mobile phones from their pockets and thanked him profusely for the“gift,” which enabled them to access data on their phones.
He said these women were referring to free phones distributed to farmers and an electronic wallet system for the delivery of subsidised inputs to farmers, instituted during his tenure. “I love what technology did for those women,” Adesina said.
Sharing his thought, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Michael Hailu added that digital technology is a prerequisite to advancing agriculture on the continent. According to him, “Without transforming agriculture you cannot envisage development.”
Rechoing Hailu’s comment, Regional Vice President for Middle East Africa for IFC, Sergio Pimenta, said the digital revolution would help unlock the vast potential of agriculture value chains. “Many people cannot access technology…it is still difficult to move people from A to B,” Pimenta said.
On her part, Rwandan Minister of Information and communications technology and Innovation, Paula Ingabire, who stated that a fast-changing industry requires regulations that respond to the changing environment, also buttressed that farmers must be seen as valid stakeholders and not beneficiaries. Rwanda is touted as a proof of concept for reforms in the agriculture sector and is seen as one of Africa’s success stories.
In a segment on Japanese investors’ interest in Africa, Atsuko Toda, AfDB’s Director for Agricultural Finance, invited investors to begin with African countries which already offer promising investment opportunities.
Keying to this, investors, agriculturists and government representatives at the event covered a wide range of subjects pertinent to Africa’s digital economy such as finance for farmers, bottlenecks, digital literacy, and payment systems and investment opportunities.
Notable examples of digital technology delivering results for Africa’s agriculture were also showcased, including Nigerian venture Kobo360 founded by Obi Ozor, which offers an app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services.
Ozor who noted that the inspiration for his venture stemmed from the lack of data on delivery services, said “We found that banks are not lending digitally or with data,”
Delivering the closing remarks, Vice President of the AfDB on Agriculture, Human, and Social Development, Jennifer Blanke, described the task of harnessing digital technologies for agriculture as exciting and urged participants to see agriculture is a business not “just a way of life.”
“There’s a risk, yes, but there are juicy returns, now is the time for all of us to run in that direction…don’t wait too long…we all have our running shoes on,” she said.
“Africa is digitizing and offers great opportunities and potential. What an exciting place to be having this conversation in Japan,” Blanke concluded.