Experts in climate adaptation techniques have proposed the deployment of digital climate-smart solutions, including communication and information systems, to boost agriculture production and marketing on the continent.
They say the continuous reliance on rain-fed agriculture in Africa was not sustainable, hence the need for governments to invest in digital infrastructure to support smallholder farmers to scale up their production amid pressing climate challenges.
They made the proposal in separate interviews at the opening of two-day training on Digital Climate Advisory Services in West Africa in Accra on Thursday, December 8, 2022.
The training was organised by the Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA), under the framework of the Forum for Agriculture Research Africa (FARA).
It is intended to build the capacities of stakeholders in the region to implement digital climate adaptation solutions for farmers.
Dr Oluyede Ajayi, Programme Lead, Food Security and Rural Wellbeing, Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA), said there were existing solutions to address climate change impacts on the activities of farmers but connecting those interventions to farmers had always been a challenge.
He said digital tools such as climate information and advisory services could provide early warning systems to farmers to enable to plan their activities.
Dr Ajayi said there were digital platforms that could also support farmers to get access to markets readily after harvesting to help reduce post-harvest losses.
“These are tools that can give farmers information in real time for them to be able to make informed decision in their farm operation. For example, the tools can inform farmers that in the next three days, it is going to be raining heavily and in that case, the famer would not need to apply so much fertiliser,” he said.
Professor Wole Fantunbi, Senior Technical Cluster Leader and Innovations Systems Specialist, FARA said until the continent embraced digital climate solutions, smallholder farmers in the region would continue to be at the mercy of the weather.
He said farmers in the region were not realising the impact of available digital tools due to the lack of “strong investments” in infrastructure that enhances access and use of digital devices in the agriculture sector.
“One area of agriculture that digitalisation is very useful is remote sensing that helps you to determine exactly what you need to do at the right time. Drones are becoming very useful.
“Efforts need to be geared into developing technologies and the infrastructure that make drones available…If we have a remote-powered small weeder that can work on a farmer’s field, the cost of labour and production would be reduced,” Prof. Fantunbi said.
Ms Eyerusalem Fasika, Country Manager, African Development Bank, said while existing technologies such as improved seeds would be critical to meeting Africa’s food demand, farmers would need additional new tools to improve yields and get their goods to the market.
She said digital climate-smart technologies provide efficiency and support scaling of interventions and could increase productivity by between 40 to 70 per cent.
“…it is important to design multi-stakeholder partnerships between government, academia, and the private sector to support smallholder farmers across entire agriculture value chains,” she said.
Mr John Osei Frimpong, Chairman of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Food, Agriculture, and Cocoa Affairs, said farmers were experiencing a gap in yields due to their inability to access advanced technologies.
“We must all put the right mechanisms in place to ensure that the investments (in technology) is quickly translated into measurable development outcomes even in their short run,” he said.
With weather patterns becoming less favourable, farmers in the region who largely depend on rain to cultivate their farms are battling with extreme weather conditions such as droughts, floods, and windstorms.
Somalia for instance is experiencing the worst drought in 40 years with 7.8 million people experiencing acute food insecurity. The United Nations has indicated that, between January and June 2022, at least 200 children have already died as a result of malnutrition.