The agricultural sector is not any different. On a daily basis, we learn of new technologies that support farming, storage, processing, logistics and sales. This is very exciting for the sector which, at least in Africa, has been very slow to modernise. The question however is how can we transition to ensure we fully harness the benefits of modern agricultural practices while managing its inherent risks?
The Technological Advancement in Farming
State of the art technology and science-based farming practices undoubtedly bring higher yields, more efficient production, better quality produce and enhanced profitability.
In developed and/or sparsely populated nations, farming machinery is preferred as they are more efficient and cheaper. The automation of planting, irrigation and harvesting has helped most developed nations sustain their agricultural sector. In some places, the technology is complemented with migrant farmers.
However, as developed and low population nations celebrate the positive contributions of technology in agriculture, many commentators overlook the 2 billion people, most of whom are in developing nations, who depend on the traditional farming practices for their livelihoods. This is 25% of the world population!
It is safe to say that today, the backbone of African farming remains the rural farmer ably assisted by his farm animal. Yes, it is backbreaking work, but in many instances, it is the only profession they know. This ecosystem will simply be crumpled with immediate and rapid automation. A single tractor, for example, is a direct competitor to maybe 7 rural african farmers when it comes to ploughing, planting and harvesting.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new sense of urgency for increased application of technology in our day to day activities. This push for a human-less AI-driven experience should be well thought through…especially as it relates to Africa.
To be clear, it is not a case of “Man Versus Metal” where the winner takes it all. Without technology, africa’s agricultural sector and its output will be inefficient, uncompetitive, expensive and inadequate to even meet the needs of its growing population. At the sametime, without the traditional farmer, Africa’s rural economy will collapse leading to higher unemployment and eventual insecurity.
What can be done?
There is a need for policy makers to formulate a plan that will integrate the traditional farmer into modern agriculture. The transition can be managed but the thinking needs so start now. This must be coupled with issues around climate change and desertification which is also adversely impacting Africa’s food security.
Farouk Gumel, Executive Director of the TGI Group, says his organisation has already implemented strategies to ensure there is a proper balance between man versus machines when it comes to Agriculture. Although TGI’s factories use the most modern and up to date technology, their supply chain remains in the rural economy working with outgrower farmers. But according to Farouk Gumel, TGI’s corporate sustainability strategy goes beyond TGI’s outgrower programs and includes programs such as “Farmer Business Schools” where they support farmers and their families to diversify their income sources. Furthermore, TGI has been recruiting and training some of these farmers into their factories. These types of programs, Gumel says, will hopefully safeguard livelihoods in Nigeria’s rural economy during the inevitable transition from traditional to modern agriculture.