How leveraging technology can help African farmers cope with climate change
Case studies across Africa demonstrate the positive impact that access to even the most basic mobile technology can offer smallholder farmers. This highlights the importance of fostering inclusive access to digital technology, especially mobile, to help farmers across the continent mitigate the impact of climate change.
This claim is defended by Vodacom, Vodafone, Safaricom and the United Nations Capital Development Fund in their co-authored report, Towards a Connected Climate. The paper is the third in a six-part series, published as part of Africa, established to help bridge the digital divides that impede sustainable progress in Africa’s key economic sectors, such as agriculture. There is an urgent need to use technology to enable smallholder farmers to become more resilient, as they represent such a large part of the agricultural sector. The continent is estimated to be home to 250 million smallholder farmers. However, as McKinsey notes, although sub-Saharan Africa is home to a quarter of the world’s arable land, it produces only 10% of global agricultural output.
“Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity is imperative, and technology has a big role to play as a tool for development. There is anecdotal evidence of this development in the markets in which Vodacom operates on the continent where smartphone penetration is still low but smallholder farmers are not overwhelmed,” says Takalani Netshitenzhe, Director of External Affairs for Vodacom South Africa.
The impact of climate change
Across Africa, climate change presents a major threat to agricultural development in the form of extreme weather conditions such as increased intensity and frequency of droughts, extreme heat, erratic rainfall, more severe storms and floods. Farmers in developing markets are generally more vulnerable to these changing weather conditions than farmers in developed countries. Extreme and unpredictable weather conditions lead to greater crop volatility, hamper livestock yields and increase the likelihood of pest and disease outbreaks, which, in turn, has a massive impact on the economy. To this end, Vodacom remains committed to reducing its carbon emissions by 50% by 2025 to contribute to the climate change targets that governments in the markets in which we operate have set under the Paris Agreement. on climate change.
“It is undeniable that the introduction of mobile technology must be complemented by access to low-cost devices, affordable network coverage and data, especially for people living in underserved and underdeveloped areas. . To this end, the government, private sector and civil society must continue to collaborate to connect underserved rural areas ensuring that no one is left behind,” adds Netshitenzhe.
The scene of success takes shape
Vodacom has made great strides in responding to this call to action, increasing network coverage in rural areas of its markets and making affordable handsets available to millions of Africans today. “Across the continent, where Vodacom operates, examples show how simple mobile technology can unlock opportunities, even for farmers using entry-level feature phones, no matter where they are based,” says Netshitenzhe.
Inclusion for all also requires tailor-made products and services for each market segment and, where smartphone penetration is still low, the creation and delivery of innovative solutions that are not data-driven to make pivot the development program. For example, URL and USSD-based platforms that provide access to financial services and agricultural opportunities can easily connect small scalers to the agricultural value chain.
In Tanzania, the M-Kulima mobile platform connects smallholder farmers to a wealth of information and resources through short message service (SMS), unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) and interactive voice response (IVR). M-Kulima provides timely weather forecasts that help farmers plan for climate change and offers important market information to help farmers get the best price for their produce. It is also integrated with the financial services platform M-Pesa, to promote financial inclusion by providing a mobile phone money transfer service and enabling payments and micro-finance. Meanwhile, in Kenya, the end-to-end DigiFarm platform – available via USSD or via an app – provides everything from basic farming advice to more advanced, mechanized support, similar to M-Kulima.
In South Africa, Vodacom has partnered with UN Women and South African Women in Farming (SAWIF) to establish and run a women farmers program aimed at making farming more accessible and profitable for women by teaching them how to use apps to connect with potential customers and unlock huge economic growth. The project has so far trained more than 2000 women and the SAWIF database of farmers is now digitized and easily accessible by all women who have received computer literacy and basic business management training. This program resulted in testimonials from beneficiaries on how technology adoption has changed their approach to both technology adoption and farming. Examples like these show how mobile technology opens up economic opportunities for farmers, but also gives them the confidence to use technology and help their child-learners with their homework using technology.
The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that digital transformation is key to the development agenda and therefore information and communications technology companies need to pick up the pace to remove barriers to accessing communication focusing on the deployment of mobile and fixed broadband, affordable devices, digital literacy and affordable data.
Towards a connected climate opens a much-needed conversation on the challenges of the sector. “By identifying where farmers are struggling and proposing the way forward through technology, we can make lasting and impactful changes that will promote climate-smart agriculture on the continent,” concludes Netshitenzhe.
Learn more about the Africa.Connected initiative here.