‘Technology’s Role in Feeding the Commonwealth Symposium,’ graced by Her Royal Highness – the Princess Royal, Anne Elizabeth convened representatives from Harper Adam’s University, Royal Agricultural Society of the Commonwealth (RASC), Agricultural Machinery Manufacturer, AGCO and Strathmore Business School, in a bid to discuss the various facets of attaining a sustainable agricultural model which will respond to starvation and nutrition challenges.
Notably, the accuracy and control of production without environmental degradation was highly emphasised during the keynote address, ‘Economic benefits of using precision agriculture and technology to build sustainable food production systems in African countries,’ which was delivered by Dr. George Njenga, Dean – Strathmore Business School.
Africa accounts for 18 sovereign states out of the 53-member states within Commonwealth. This implies that at a time when global economic growth is mostly stagnating, many of the Commonwealth member states, largely African nations, will be growing rapidly. This does not only shift the focus into the growth of Africa’s ‘emerging markets’; Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, and Kenya, but also elevates the role of Africa in shaping the World’s economy.
Home to world’s largest tracks of Arable land, Africa is expected to sufficiently feed itself and the world, unfortunately, this is not the case. At the advent of unpredictable weather patterns, prolonged periods of dry spell and low water storage facilities among small-scale farmers; climate change is oddly becoming Africa’s greatest threat in optimal food production. Consequentially, there has been dilapidated soils because of long-term ploughing, decreasing farmland which requires effective production mechanisms, and deteriorating farmer yields over time.
Agriculture across Commonwealth countries is largely by family small holdings (2 ha.). Ghana, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Nigeria and Sierra Leone have the greatest dependence on agriculture, all above 35% of the GDP. Trinidad and Tobago, Brunei, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada rely the least on agriculture, with GDP contributions below 3%.
Although agriculture is the major contributor of the Kenyan economy, (accounting 27% of the country’s GDP), Kenya has a total land of 5.4m ha, with only 17% of the land receiving adequate rain suitable for farming. As for the remaining land, only 4% is irrigated. Nonetheless, only 5% of Africa’s land area is irrigated.
Precision Agriculture (PA) is about managing variations in the field accurately to grow more food using fewer resources and reducing production costs. Interventions such as; GPS guidance, control systems, sensors, Robotics -drones, GPS – based soil sampling have the benefits of increasing yield and trade, traceability of food produced, production of healthy and safe foods, managing the farming environment for optimal conditions and obtaining real-time data, just to mention.
Although precision agriculture has numerous benefits; Africa has not been able to embrace it due to lack of knowledge, low PA research levels, lack of PA policies that promote PA among farmers and that it is expensive for smallholder farmers.
How can the gap be bridged? Partnerships between the private sector and universities to undertake research in PA technologies is very critical, said Dr. Njenga. Africa could also benefit greatly from developing demo farms which utilise PA technologies, designing policies that incentivize farmers to take up PA, as well as sensitising farmers to form cooperatives that can purchase the technologies.
In recognition that Sustainable Development Goals can only be realised with a strong commitment to global partnerships, (SDG 17), Strathmore Business School in partnership with AGCO and Harper Adams University are currently training 20 of Kenya and Nigeria’s budding Agri-Entrepreneurs under the Junior Management Programme for Agricultural Value Chains in Africa. Click here to read about the Programme.