Smallholder farming, which is the backbone of many African economies, is set to be transformed by a combination of investment and greater access to information and communication technology, particularly mobile phones.
The claim was made today by Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) at ICT4Ag, a major conference on ICTs in agriculture.
“On this continent, 65 per cent of the workforce is employed in agriculture and the sector generates 32 percent of GDP. Smallholder farmers, mostly women, produce 80 per cent of Africa’s food. African countries spend up to US$ 50 billion a year on food imports. With abundant land, water and cheap labour, there is no good reason why Africa should import so much food.
“Yet there’s good reason to be optimistic. After years of neglect, governments and the private sector are increasing investments in agriculture. Nevertheless, to achieve its full potential, smallholder agriculture must be transformed from a subsistence activity to a profitable, sustainable business. ICTs play a vital role in this transformation. They provide timely advice and information. They help farmers increase productivity. They make markets more efficient. And they increase incomes along the value chain”.
The CTA Director said, “the phenomenal growth in the number of mobile phone subscribers in Africa in recent years shows that change was on the way. In 2000, there were just 16.5 million mobile subscriptions in Africa. Now, there are over 650 million. Indeed, the number of people on the continent with access to mobile phones exceeds the number with access to clean water, electricity or a bank account”.
Mr Hailu was speaking at ICT4Ag: The Digital Springboard for Inclusive Agriculture´ Conference, which is being organised by CTA, the Rwandan Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources (MINAGRI) and the Ministry of Youth and ICTs (MYICT).
The Conference is taking place in Rwanda, a country where 80 per cent of the working population are employed in agriculture but where the government of President Paul Kagame has also invested heavily in agriculture and ICTs as part of its ‘Vision 2020’ agenda to turn Rwanda into a middle-income country.
More than 500 participants from 63 countries, including from Caribbean and Pacific islands, are attending the conference.