How technology can enhance affordable, sustainable agriculture in Africa

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Dr. Max Wengawenga, assistant chief economic advisor to the president of Malawi, says that Africa needs more innovation in the agricultural sector that is both affordable and sustainable if it is to improve its levels of food security.

He says technology has the potential to make a meaningful impact on food security. It is not a new concept, he says, as innovation and technology have been used to improve agricultural productivity over the years.

Food security has been a topic of heated debate in South Africa recently with the proposed constitutional amendment to expedite land reform. Food security is intricately tied to a healthy and strong agriculture sector.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is acutely aware of this, saying at the time of announcing the African National Congress’s intention to amend Section 25 of the constitution.

The chairperson of the Presidential Expert Advisory Panel on Land Reform and Agriculture Dr Vuyo Mahlathi called on the president in July this year, when handing over the recommendations of the panel, to expedite land reform in a way that will not compromise the country’s food security.

What is food security?

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines food security as existing “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”.

Closer to home, South Africa is still largely recognised as a food-secure country. Nonetheless, there are still many people who do not have access to sufficient food. Most of these people lack the financial means to access food. This becomes clear that besides being able to physically produce food, a country needs sufficient economic opportunities to help reduce the number of food insecure people. Food is a fundamental human right. South Africa’s unique situation highlights that dealing with food security very often goes beyond the actual production of food.

Regionally and globally, the pursuit of food security may require agricultural productivity-enhancing technologies; it may require mechanisms aimed at raising income levels for people to have the financial means access enough, quality food; and it may involve improving marketing systems that would enable regions with a food surplus to trade with counterparts in food-deficit areas. You may well find it to be a combination of these strategies.

Support

In order to take advantage of the opportunities the fourth industrial revolution presents for agriculture, there needs to be widespread dissemination for farmers to utilise new technologies and increase their productivity. All stakeholders have to work together in a co-ordinated approach, says Dr Wengawenga.

Technology has already had a marked impact on agricultural productivity. Whether it is advances in the internet of things and artificial intelligence, or the use of smart machines or cutting-edge science.