New technologies at the service of Africa’s agricultural transformation

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Farmers are effectively using mobile telephone technologies to eliminate middlemen distorting the market prices of farm produce and access better seeds, President of the African Development Bank (AfDB) Akinwumi Adesina told delegates at the African agricultural transformation conference, which entered its second day on Thursday in Senegal.

The results of several years of research, new seed varieties and improved crop science can also be scaled up to other areas of Africa with the help of mobile technologies.

“We must work out a way for marketing of our food crops and figure out the agricultural value chains after using the new research technologies to improve agricultural production,” Adesina emphasized.

In a renewed effort to match the agro-technologies with the marketing chains, the AfDB announced it would provide US $300 million financing facility to assist women in agriculture to expand their use of technologies to make their crop production much more efficient in order to encourage rapid growth in agriculture.

“We must ensure that our bank loans have a developmental impact on agriculture,” Adesina said during a break-out session of the “Feeding Africa Conference” held at the Abdou Diouf International Conference Centre at Diamniadio on the outskirts of Dakar.

As Nigeria’s Agriculture Minister, Adesina launched a Growth Enhancement Support Scheme (GES), which eliminated profiteering middlemen and scaled up food production by nine million metric tons in one year. He also introduced an Electronic Wallet System which allows smallholder farmers to receive electronic vouchers for subsidized seeds and fertilizers directly on their mobile phones, to enable them to pay for farm inputs from private sector agricultural input dealers.

This mechanism reached over 6 million farmers and enhanced food security for 30 million persons in rural farm households. It also enabled women farmers, who were previously marginalized under the old fertilizer distribution system, to obtain better yields through the use of subsidized farm inputs which they receive on their mobile phones.

To illustrate the difficulties facing the agro-business startups in Africa, Temi Aroge, a Nigerian medical doctor turned agro-entrepreneur, said challenges of accessing proper land documentation and loan guarantees from commercial banks was a major drawback to the commercialization of agriculture.

“The financial capital moves to the oil sector, and the development banks, which require commercial bank guarantees to provide agri-based business loans, are not willing to provide financing without the requisite guarantees,” said Aroge, who runs a large cassava-processing business.

The conference is focusing on the development of new policies to transform Africa’s agriculture into a lucrative business venture for massive food production for local consumption and for export.

Over 400 delegates and specialists in from around the world are discussing how to add value to the continent’s raw materials, especially the so-called cash crops such as tea, coffee, cocoa and cotton, among others, by transforming them into finished products for local and export markets.

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