The Innovative Side of Agriculture: How young African Entrepreneurs are Reinventing Farming

By: Dolapo Adeyanju

Africa is currently experiencing a surge in digital technologies and services across many sectors. As this digital revolution forges ahead, with radical changes observed in production, processing, and distribution channels, the agricultural sector has refused to take the back seat, integrating digital technology into all its operations and ensuring value chain actors experience the new digital life.

Consequently, a new outlook has been created for the “traditionally-perceived” sector, making agriculture the new national cake, and attracting many young people into the space.

From big data and analytics to web platforms and mobile apps, young African farmers are using digital tools to grow healthy food, boost agricultural production, and help smallholders to increase their productivity.

Embracing Soilless Farming

Kenyan-based farmer, Willard Charawe Maina, 20, uses an unconventional method of farming that involves growing crops using mineral nutrient solutions in a water solvent. This system, known as hydroponics, does not involve the use of soil or an aggregate medium for crop production.

Similarly, Mosesi Mosesi, 28, runs a fully functional hydroponic and aquaponic farm in the heart of Tembisa –  a township on the East Rand of Gauteng, South Africa.

Like hydroponic, aquaponic combines conventional aquaculture with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a symbiotic environment.

These young farmers have brought about a progressive change into the agricultural space, making on/offseason production possible, eliminating the problem of seasonality, and making land inaccessibility less of a challenge to youths willing to invest in agriculture.

“In South Africa, the land has always been an issue, but with soilless farming, all you need is space”

Precision Agriculture

Ivory Coast startup founder, Aboubacar Karim, 24, specializes in precision agriculture to help the country’s agricultural sector become more productive and sustainable.

As documented in the African Business Magazine, his startup, INVESTIV, uses drones to provide information on soil quality, plant health conditions, spraying crops with pesticides and fertilizer, and measurement and monitoring of crop development through an online platform. As of 2019, the startup has mapped and monitored over 13,000 hectares of land.

Similarly, Nigerian-based agribusiness development expert, Adeyeni Adeniran, uses drones to; map the accurate size and shape of farmlands,  predict flood, and identify the features present on the farm such as water bodies and dense vegetation.

He said: “All these helps in optimal resource allocation and subsequently, increases production.”

Digital Financial Services

Led by Michael Ogundare, 20, Nigerian-based start-up, Crop2Cash operates a mobile-based channel that enables payments both to farmers and by farmers. Banks and other formal lenders can sign in to the platform, find groups of vetted farmers that are ready to receive credit for a season and fund them directly.

“Through our banking partners, we have turned the agricultural lending process that takes weeks and cost banks a lot of money into a 24-hour decision,” Ogundare said.

Ogundare explained that the platform allows farmers to access both finance and other crucial agricultural inputs/resources and have outstandingly made the exchange function of marketing easier for both the farmers and consumers.

“Aside from credit, our services include helping farmers to access insurance, mechanization, seeds, and chemicals,” he said.

Big Data Analytics

Recent evidence has shown that big data provides useful information to farmers on rainfall patterns, fertilizer and input requirements, pest management, water cycles,  among others, thereby enabling them to make smart production and marketing decisions. Given this, young African agripreneurs are taking the lead to provide timely and useful information to boost agricultural productivity.

Among these exceptional youths is Emeka Nwachinemere, the founder of Kitovu Technology Company – a Nigerian agritech start-up – which collects, analyses, and aggregates soil and geolocation data to reduce the natural and technical forms of post-harvest losses and boost farmers’ yield by up to 300%. In addition to this, the company matches soil types with appropriate seed qualities, fertilizer, and other input quantities to improve farm production.