By Vanessa Akoth

Despite the existence of a wide range of agritech innovations that could propel farmers profitability in Africa only 23% of youth engaged in agriculture are using these forms of agricultural technology—noting a lack of financing and training, according to a new 11-country survey by Heifer International.

The report, The Future of Africa’s Agriculture: An Assessment of the Role of Youth and Technology points that new investments to stimulate access to innovations could encourage African youth now turning away from agriculture to reconsider opportunities in the sector—especially given the need to generate jobs and repair food systems jeopardized by the pandemic.

“As a continent with a thriving young population, Africa’s agricultural sector must provide the investments in agritech innovations that will encourage youth to embrace agriculture-related endeavors, because they are the key to revitalizing Africa’s food system,” said Adesuwa Ifedi, Senior Vice president for Africa Programs at Heifer International.

The report surveyed 29,900 youths, 299 smallholder farmers and 110 agriculture technology startups, innovation hubs and technology organizations in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It identifies challenges faced by smallholder farming communities and potential areas for innovation and growth.

Findings from the survey reveals that Africa is not providing the financing or training to ensure its young people have easy access to agritech tools—like drone technologies, precision soil sensors and digital farmer services—to transform food production globally.

The COVID-19 pandemic alongside the access of technological innovations in agriculture were noted to be the factors affecting African farmers. Approximately 40% of agricultural organizations were forced to close temporarily due to the pandemic according to the survey, 38% experienced a reduction in average purchase amount per customer and 36% still do not have the financial capital to grow back their businesses.

“Youth engagement in agriculture will be essential to recovering from the economic impacts of the pandemic, both to rejuvenate the continent’s agri-food system and develop economic opportunities for young Africans,” Ifedi said.

Aside from these challenges, the report also provides a window into the many ways young African entrepreneurs across the continent are developing creative, useful agritech tools and services for smallholder farmers.

It highlights many young innovators who are boosting farm productivity and profits in Africa via artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information software (GIS), virtual reality, drone technology, application programming interface (API) technology and a variety of precision tools for measuring rainfall, controlling pests and analyzing soil nutrients.

For example, a company in Ghana is providing drones that offer precision applications of pesticides and fertilizers—they can even serve as “scare crow drones”—and a company in Kenya is making obtaining a tractor as easy as booking an Uber. Ifedi noted that these and other endeavors explored in the report show the potential to harness home-grown innovation to accelerate a strategic transition to sustainable, profitable farming across Africa.

More than half of Africa’s rural population is employed in the agriculture sector. Young people under the age of 25 account for approximately 60% of Africa’s population and a large share of the 1.8 billion people around the world who are between the ages of 10 to 24 years old, according to the United Nations.

Despite current youth migration to urban areas, the report found that young people are still interested in entering the agriculture sector. But they lack access to finance or training to build businesses that can provide sustainable incomes and rewarding careers.

The report identifies pain-points and critical needs for supporting youth to adopt advanced technologies and build businesses that advance Africa’s food security and agri-food systems agenda. It reveals that access to financial capital, capacity building and land will spur youth interest in agriculture.

The respondents also affirmed the damaging effect of climate shocks (30%); insects, pests and disease (17%); and technology barriers (14%) on farmer productivity.

The report will inform investments in advanced technologies by Heifer Africa, accelerating on-farm adoption and business growth. It also will help guide Heifer International’s programs in Africa, including the AYuTe Africa Challenge that will invest up to $1.5 million in agritech businesses run by young Africans in 2021.