Smart Farming in Sub-Saharan Africa

As technology advances more rapidly than many of us can keep up, we look to invent practices and use devices that can move agriculture forward too. The Climate Action Programme states that “the African agricultural industry is currently facing a number of problems with low productivity,” and the issue is “compounded by climate change, a lack of technical expertise and the migration of young people away from rural areas and into cities.”

Various groups are making efforts to take on a smart approach to resolve this issue as technology presents opportunities to integrate itself into the collective goals of sustainable agriculture. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) explain that climate-smart agriculture is the solution to ensure food security for all in need. CCAFS affirms that climate-smart agriculture “consists of co-achieving three objectives”:

  1. Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity to support equitable increases in incomes, food security and development;
  2. Adapting and building resilience to climate change from the farm to national levels; and
  3. Reducing or removing GHG emissions where possible.

According to CCAFS, these objectives can be accomplished through research that circulates around weather-smart activities, weather-smart practices, seed/breed smart solutions, carbon/nutrient-smart practices, and institutional/market-smart activities. These activities and practices include but are not limited to:

  • Weather forecasts
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Micro-irrigation
  • Seed banks
  • Agroforestry
  • Suitability maps
  • Farmer-to-farmer learning and capacity development
  • Satellites and drones
  • Soil sensors

Suitability Map

Source: International Institute of  Tropical Agriculture

Technology like the suitability map above allows farmers in East Africa to prepare for the effects of climate change. In the same vein, soil mapping technologies in Ethiopia have aided 60 percent of the districts across Ethiopia, aiding in analysis of soil deficiencies “in one or more essential nutrients—namely nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium, sulfur, boron, zinc, iron, and copper.” Now, because of these smart farming practices, Ethiopia is on track to become a green economy, as the majority of the country engages in applying the correct amount of fertilizers at the most opportune times, reducing overall expenses and increasing soil health.

Smallholder farmers rely on efficient and effective practices to supply their income, and the surrounding communities and beyond depend on that agriculture as a food source, so advances in technology pose promising outcomes for everyone. Harvard Business Review describes “the barriers of entry into farming technology” in Africa as nearly diminished because of “cloud computing, computing systems, connectivity, open-source software, and other digital tools” that have become more affordable and accessible to many, including farmers who were once at a disadvantage. To be sure, growth in technology requires the convergence of the traditional and modern farmer. Experienced farmers will continue to provide valuable knowledge that complements the use of technology, and young talent will add new perspectives to agricultural productivity through the use of drones or other hip and trendy devices, which will ultimately increase the opportunity for fruitful agribusiness.