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Youth – the springboard for digital agribusiness in ACP countries

Monday, 3 December 2018

by Rose Funja - Managing Director, Agrinfo Company Limited and Mamy Ingabire - Managing Director, CHARIS UAS

With youth accounting for an ever increasing share of Africa’s population, unmanned aerial system (UAS) technology offers scope for developing precision agriculture, while engaging young people in the critical challenge of producing more food. Rose Funja and Ingabire Muziga Mamy – who each run a drone company in East Africa – explain the potential of this technology for agriculture, and the support needed if youth are to become involved.

While in African agriculture the average farmer age is 60, young people are seeing an opportunity as digital farmers. Youth are using digital technologies to drive precision agriculture. This marks a shift away from the old methods, which involved substantial amounts of guess work to determine what and when to grow, and how to fertilise crops. For example, unmanned aerial system-based companies are using drones and sensors to collect and analyse data, which agronomists then use to advise farmers on crop health and fertiliser options for higher yields and better quality produce. Growing numbers of youth working in this sector are helping to raise incomes and create jobs for other young people.

More investment in digital technologies, improved policies on UAS, and awareness-raising among farmer organisations will help to ensure that more youths adopt digital technologies and champion precision agriculture.

The advent of climate change is affecting the value of decisions made using traditional knowledge, and the authority of elders in making recommendations for when and what to plant. That is because regular weather patterns do not apply anymore. ICTs and real-time information can help to fill this gap, and young people are better suited to accessing and making use of such knowledge. This is where youth can have a comparative advantage in engaging in or supporting agricultural activities.

UAS services are provided by entrepreneurs who invest in equipment, learn the operating skills, collect data, analyse and interpret findings, and advise farmers. These kinds of endeavours are particularly attractive to educated young people. The benefits include accelerated data capture, better and higher quality produce, and lower cost of inputs, by using advanced analytics to advise on targeted crop fertilisation.

Our combined experience in working in the emerging UAS sector in the context of African agriculture has convinced us of the importance of the following key factors:

  • Expose students in their teenage years. For youth to be engaged in digital agriculture, it is imperative that are exposed to these technologies at an early age, and understand the ways that these can be used to solve various challenges in agriculture.
  • Canvas support and approval from official channels. UAS operations touch multiple sectors in an African setting – the aviation authority, the Ministry of Defence and local authorities. All these should be consulted during the set-up stages, to provide input and support for the project’s success.
  • Source initial funding. Contact development partners who are willing to test new theories, and are passionate about youth and development.
  • Identify potential trainees. Select trainees through a competitive process, while letting them take a stake in the experience by contributing to the learning costs. For example, CTA asked start-up owners attending drone training activities to contribute to the cost of drone equipment that they took home at the end of the training. Young people were also asked to commit to one year of sharing their endeavours after the training had finished.
  • Build capacity. Training should be conducted at both theoretical and technical levels, to ensure that trainees can perform the tasks independently.
  • Monitor and evaluate the pilot scheme. Continuous monitoring, evaluation and support should be provided to graduate trainees. In Africa, the agricultural space is dominated by smallholders, who may not be able to pay for services immediately. An innovative business model must be set in place in order for youth to realise profits. During the trial period, it is important for young people to receive support to assist them in finding some stability.
  • Learn, then replicate the model. In the process, it is imperative that lessons are shared, and accordingly revisions are made to the curriculum and the capacity-building model.
  • If Africa is to feed its growing population, it is only fair to get youth involved in agriculture, and in contributing to the economic development of the continent. Agricultural digitalisation presents a valuable opportunity to attract youth to the sector. For example, drone technology promises increased food production and the creation of new knowledge intensive employment opportunities in rural areas, offering educated rural youth an alternative to migration. The next critical step is to set in place capacity-building programmes for youth, to enable them to make use of the opportunity to provide UAV services to farmers.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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