By Sharon Atieno

Digital technologies and innovations have been identified as key solutions in improving the livelihoods of African smallholder farmers. These solutions would yield greatest potential if adopted in areas of market access and increasing agricultural productivity, experts say.

The experts, including key stakeholders from the public and private sectors, met during a 2-day workshop on Digital Agriculture convened by the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF) in Nairobi.

The participants suggested different digital solutions already in existence that could be scaled to link farmers to markets through aggregated distribution; cooperative or aggregated selling and mobile price information. The opportunities identified to enhance market access included certification and quality assurance, seed trade facilitation and quality management.

Further, the experts noted that for farmers to increase productivity value, they need to increase their yields or produce high quality produce. To this end, farmers must purchase and use certified seeds and fertilizers which are often expensive for individual smallholder farmers. Thus, aggregating demand and purchases might make critical inputs more accessible for farmers to increase their productivity.

“From the workshop deliberations, the above two opportunities were considered likely most impactful for value chain transformation with biggest benefits on small-holder farmers and stakeholders,” said Dr. Emmanuel Okogbenin, the Director of Technical Operations at AATF.

He added that AATF, in alignment with its new strategy (2018 – 2022), will seek to promote digitization of the value chains to rapidly reach and deliver production technologies to small-holder farmers with the required information needed to adequately guide their application for better productivity and improved access to markets.
“Digital technologies for precision agriculture will be used to strengthen productive systems to optimize resource use management, explore economies of scale to advantage and stimulate low costs. AATF will need to ensure the right digital technologies are targeted and facilitated to reach farmers to ensure strong impact including creating a functional environment with necessary regulatory frameworks and policies to support deployment, capacity building (e-literacy, and digital skills) for small holder farmers and youths in the rural areas,” said Dr. Okogbenin.

Digital technologies and innovations have been identified as key solutions to revolutionizing processes crucial for improving farmer productivity power at low cost, support data-enabled farming, increase access to information, knowledge, input and markets to generate more social, economic and environmental benefits for farmers.

The aim of the workshop was to identify key opportunities, blockages and challenges along the agriculture value chain and to evaluate which existing digital solutions are most scalable in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and if adopted by smallholder farmers would cause the greatest impact on their livelihoods.