The future farmer: Where are they headed?

Francis Obirikorang

The digital revolution: cultivating Africa’s future farms

The past & present: ancient techniques

The average smallholder farmer in Africa currently relies on age-old farming techniques year in year out. Many smallholder farmers, who produce the food that feeds the continent, rely on their ancient knowledge and skillsets to predict and adapt to changes in the weather and climate. While indigenous knowledge can be useful for anticipating and adapting to climate change, farmers’ resilience can be improved with the additional use of accurate technological weather forecasting provided by companies such as ignitia, who have developed a tropical weather forecasting model with 84% accuracy. However, it’s still commonplace in Ghana to hear smallholder farmers in rural areas say, “We pray for good rains this season,” whereby they rely on belief systems to produce good yields.

Many smallholders also remain subsistence farmers, where an acre of farm production is all they manage due to lack of capital, training, resources and technical knowhow. From subsistence comes poverty because farmers cannot produce enough to feed their families or have a surplus to sell for profit that they can re-invest back into the farm. Ultimately, subsistence farming prevents smallholders from breaking out of the ‘hand-to-mouth’ cycle and modernising their farms to increase household income.

The future: connectivity

In the digital age, the rapid advancement of technology will play an integral role in the growth of agriculture in Africa. Smallholder farmers will be in a pivotal position to benefit from the technical advisory services, training and education provided by new technology, which has the potential to move them from subsistence farmers to successful agribusiness owners. Critical to ensuring this shift occurs, will be the mindset of the farmer and their willingness to unlearn the old ways of doing things and re-learn new and improved agricultural practices.

This technology-driven agricultural transformation will see smallholder farmers become what I call the ‘connected farmer’. The connected farmer will use technology to turn their farm into an efficient and profitable business, right from improving land preparation to increasing market access to goods and services. Mobile solutions will enable the connected farmer to receive timely information such as market and weather data and extension advisory services to their mobile phones. The connected farmer will also benefit from precision agriculture devices that can accurately measure soil nutrients, soil moisture and provide or respond to other key agricultural information, for instance, automated irrigation systems to help ensure that crops are kept sufficiently watered at all times.  

The future of agriculture for the African smallholder farmer looks very promising and transformational change is already being achieved through the use of ICTs that allow farmers to access the information they need, when they need it, via their mobile phones. A three-pronged approach, involving a change in mindset, better training and education, and finally, the effective use of disruptive technologies, will turn Africa into a global agricultural hub, creating jobs for millions and transforming smallholders into commercial farmers. At this point we will finally be able to feed the world.

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.