African agriculture at the dawn of its digital revolution?

Published at the end of June, the first report of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) on the digitalization of African agriculture sends a clear message: digital solutions should stimulate sustainable productivity and employment in the agricultural sector as more and more people in rural areas use them.

Often neglected by the public authorities despite its significant economic weight – 50% of the active population and 20% of the continent’s GDP – African agriculture could succeed in its transition thanks to the « digital revolution » under way: this is the conclusion of CTA’s study, carried out jointly with the strategy consulting firm Dalberg Advisors. According to the data provided by the authors of the study, 33 million African farmers (13% of the total) had used nearly 400 different digital agricultural solutions by the end of 2018 (see graph below) to meet a specific need: weather information via SMS or applications, agricultural advisory services, financial services, supply chain management to ensure traceability, « last mile » logistics…

Evolution of the number of digital agricultural solutions identified in Africa.
Source: CTA

A profitable choice. According to the information in the above-mentioned report, those who have used these digital solutions have seen their yields increase from 23 to 73 %. As for revenues, they would have increased from 18% to 37%. « Even better, models that combine several solutions are associated with yield increases of up to 168%, » notes CTA. In total, the current market for the digitization of agricultural services in Africa is estimated to represent an annual turnover of $143 million. However, this is a drop in the bucket for CTA researchers, who estimate the « potential » market at $2.6 billion, or 18 times more.
However, while digital solutions bring real added value to African farmers, they remain unevenly distributed (and used) across regions, with more than half of these solutions in East Africa – English-speaking – particularly in Kenya, the African laboratory for this emerging revolution. Technologies most often supported by private actors (telecom companies, fintech…) operating in the « m-agri » – from English « mobile agriculture » – and which, obviously, are only accessible to farmers with a mobile phone or smartphone….