Sun. Dec 3rd, 2023
Digital Tools Help Africa’s Smallholder Farmers Increase Productivity

Digital tools, such as satellite text alerts, are assisting smallholder farmers in Africa to enhance productivity even in the absence of on-the-ground farm advice. According to Daniel Elger, CEO of the Centre for Agricultural Biosciences International (CABI), digital decision support tools, communication campaigns, and learning platforms have proven beneficial in addressing the limited availability of agricultural advisory and extension services, ultimately boosting farmer productivity. CABI, an intergovernmental organization, has developed digital early warning systems that utilize satellite earth observation data, climate change data, and pest development models to notify farmers about potential pest attacks and offer advice on how to respond.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that up to 40 percent of global crop production is lost annually due to pests, exacerbated by the impact of climate change. Plant diseases cost the global economy over $220 billion each year, while invasive insects result in at least $70 billion in losses. CABI has also played a pioneering role in using drones for applying biopesticides during locust invasions in the Horn of Africa. These biopesticides are based on naturally occurring substances and have proved effective in combating locusts.

CABI has developed several digital tools under its global PlantwisePlus program to provide information on crop diseases to farmers. These tools include the Crop App Index, which helps farmers access valuable agricultural apps, and the BioProtection Portal, which offers information on nature-based crop protection products. However, there are barriers that hinder smallholders from accessing and effectively using emerging technologies to improve agricultural productivity and enhance climate resilience. These barriers include limited access to financial and human capital, resources, inputs, land tenure, structural inefficiencies, environmental limitations, logistical challenges, and market access.

Women, in particular, face additional challenges in accessing technology and innovation and are more vulnerable to climate shocks compared to men. They also have lower crop yields due to their limited access to resources. To bridge this gender gap, a targeted approach is needed to promote the adoption of productivity-enhancing innovations and technologies among women and youth farmers. However, it is important to note that technology is not always the solution, especially in rural areas with poor connectivity and high data and device costs. It is crucial to listen to farmers and find innovations that empower them to have control over climate-change induced changes, ensuring they are active participants in the adaptation process.