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Event blog: Is agri-tech truly leading the way to food systems transformation in Africa?

Mechanization/Photo Africa

This blog is based on the discussions of a Malabo Montpellier (MaMo) Panel webinar held in November 2020 around the Panel’s  report on agricultural Mechanization. The presenter, Panel member Noble Banadda, is Professor and Chair of the Department of Agricultural and BioSystems Engineering at Makerere University in Uganda.

Six years after the Malabo Declaration on “Transforming Africa’s Agriculture for shared prosperity and improved livelihoods” was signed, The African Union has hosted the 16th Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) Partnership Platform meetings on November 24 and 25, 2020. In the opening session Ambassador Josefa Sacko, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture raised alarm, saying that "the number of chronically under-nourished people continues to rise in Africa reaching 250.3 million and an additional 426 million suffering from moderate food insecurity in 2019; the COVID-19 pandemic may push another 30-50 million more to under-nourishment."

Although these figures are concerning, key takeaways and evidence from the most recent Malabo Montpellier Panel webinar on “Innovative Agri-tech and Mechanization Policies for Food System Transformation: lessons from African countries” show that new innovative technologies and a more mechanized food value chain approach will allow African countries to harness crucial opportunities for inclusive economic growth and sustainable development, and crucially, to be linked into global value chains through increased trade opportunities.

Setting the scene of the webinar, MaMo Panel member Noble Banadda hinted at the need to shift from the practice of agriculture as a cultural phenomenon to a business activity.

Referring to the case studies in the MaMoPanel’s report on Mechanization, he acknowledged that several countries across Africa have made remarkable progress in improving the level of agricultural mechanization since the 2000s. Drawing on the experiences of Ethiopia, Mali, Morocco, Mali and Rwanda, he emphasized successful actions including innovation around hiring services (the so-called “Uberization” of agricultural mechanization and agri-tech), parts and maintenance, training and skill development, local manufacturing, incubation centers targeting youth, subsidies and partnerships with banks, partnership with equipment importers, village-level mechanization services, and research and development.

Agriculture goes hand in hand with professional and vocational training

During the Q&A session, the moderator Dr Ousmane Badiane, Malabo Montpellier Panel Co-Chair and AKADEMIYA2063 Executive Chairperson, shared insights on the issues of professional and vocational training, pointing out the scarcity of institutions providing skill development in agriculture. In this respect, he affirmed that the provision of professional and vocational training is a prerequisite for the modernization of Africa’s agriculture and food sector. He commented that this would provide African youth the opportunity to become maintenance service providers, tractor operators, agri-tech entrepreneurs or specialists in processing equipment as well as new technologies.

For Africa to feed itself, we need a local manufacturing sector that adapts technology to our farming realities

Panel member Banadda followed up on this, stating that Africa will be unable to resolve issues of scale around mechanization unless there is a competitive manufacturing sector in place that targets the complexity and level of difficulty of the farming sector.

Though the Malabo Montpellier Panel’s report on Mechanization identifies promising locally manufactured equipment, such as Nigeria’s solar cold station/dryer, Ghana’s motorized tricycle from, and Senegal’s tricycle milk collection, Prof Banadda argued that African governments need to invest in modern foundries that will have the capacity to ensure the maintenance of exported equipment.

For Africa to feed itself, we need a local manufacturing sector that adapts technology to our farming realities. “We build a house not from the top but from the foundation, modern foundry is the foundation of a competitive manufacturing sector,” he said.

He concluded with an example from pre-colonial Africa where blacksmiths were specialized in equipment for hunting. To Prof Banadda, this means that they were specialized in a technology needed and in demand at that time – and that it is this type of rapidly adaptive mechanization that is required to meet the ever so rapidly changing needs and challenges of our time. 

 

The Malabo Montpellier Panel webinar series are an open discussion platform on thematic areas covered under the Panel’s reports that gives the floor to country experts and high-level practitioners. The Malabo Montpellier webinar series’ objective is to extend the reach of the MaMo network to a much wider audience than the Forum and the Panel events.