Prioritizing the digital space will help shift the development focus for Africa’s agribusiness sector and overcome its many hurdles, participants at an official side event, organized Wednesday during the 7th Tokyo International Conference, heard.
The seminar headlined “The Digital Africa 2020 and Japanese investment Panel: Creating markets to digitize Africa, was jointly organized by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the African Development Bank.
In his opening remarks, African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina shared an anecdote on how he was accosted by an enthusiastic group of women on arrival at a northern Nigeria airport during his tenure as agriculture minister of the country.
To his surprise, they pulled out mobile phones from their pockets and thanked him profusely for the “gift,” which enabled them to access data on their phones. They were referring to free phones distributed to farmers and an electronic wallet system for the delivery of subsidised inputs to farmers, instituted by Adesina.
“I love what technology did for those women,” Adesina told the filled auditorium.
Digital technology is a prerequisite to advancing agriculture on the continent, Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) said. “Without transforming agriculture you cannot envisage development.”
His comments were echoed by Sergio Pimenta, Regional Vice President for Middle East Africa for IFC, who said the digital revolution would help unlock the vast potential of agriculture value chains.
“Many people cannot access technology…it is still difficult to move people from A to B,” Pimenta said.
During the three- hour event, investors, agriculturists and government representatives covered a wide range of subjects pertinent to Africa’s digital economy such as finance for farmers, bottlenecks, digital literacy, and payment systems and investment opportunities. They also heard several examples of digital technology delivering results such as a Nigerian venture Kobo360 founded by Obi Ozor, which offers an app that connects truckers and companies to delivery services.
Ozor said inspiration for his venture stemmed from the lack of data on delivery services.
“We found that banks are not lending digitally or with data,” he said.
Participants also heard from Rwandan Minister Ingabire who said farmers must be seen as valid stakeholders and not beneficiaries. Rwanda is touted as a proof of concept for reforms in the agriculture sector and is seen as one of Africa’s success stories. But a fast-changing industry requires regulations that respond to the changing environment, she said.
In a segment on Japanese investor interest in Africa, Atsuko Toda, Bank Director invited investors to begin with African countries which already offer promising investment opportunities.
In closing remarks, Bank VP Jennifer Blanke, Vice-President, Agriculture, Human, and Social Development, described the task of harnessing digital technologies for agriculture as exciting and urged participants to see agriculture is a business not “just a way of life.”
“There’s a risk, yes, but there are juicy returns, now is the time for all of us to run in that direction…don’t wait too long…we all have our running shoes on,” she said.
“Africa is digitizing and offers great opportunities and potential. What an exciting place to be having this conversation in Japan,” Blanke concluded. •