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Media summary: Byte by Byte: Policy Innovation for Transforming Africa’s Food System with Digital Technologies


This new report by the Malabo Montpellier Panel, launched at the Malabo Montpellier Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, highlights many promising digital tools and technologies emerging across Africa along the agricultural value chain, and analyses the experiences of seven African countries at the forefront of the application of digital technologies through policy and institutional innovation. The countries analyzed are Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, and Nigeria, while Rwanda and Senegal were identified as emerging innovation leaders. The Panel provides nine recommendations for African governments and the private sector to take action for successes in policy and institutional innovation to be replicated across the continent, ultimately leading to an increase of digitalization in the agriculture sector.

Country analyses

The report provides in-depth analyses of seven African countries, chosen based on their performances in the EBA ICT Index and the GSMA Mobile Connectivity Index, measuring how well-performing their regulatory frameworks are as well as their individual level of usage of mobile technologies. This reflects governments’ efforts at accelerating progress towards digitalizing their economies, through both pragmatic policies and institutional innovation:

• Côte d’Ivoire – Showing commitment to public-private partnerships, for example, working with the country’s mobile operators to improve ICT access through the program ‘One Citizen, One Computer, One Internet Connection’.
• Ghana – In 2018, the government opened the Accra Digital Centre. The centre aims to attract and retain ICT companies, promoting a culture of entrepreneurship and fostering digital innovation.
• Kenya – Developing relevant strategic plans, including the Kenyan Youth Agribusiness Strategy, a nearly $20 million investment to build the capacity of youth by creating information hubs across the country.
• Morocco – Providing support to private sector players, for example the Moroccan platform which connects farmers and sellers of equipment together, making it easier to buy and trade goods.
• Nigeria – Engaging with private sector actors, for example AgTech’s hyperspectral imaging cameras, which allow the government, farmers and other value chain actors to monitor crop nutrition, droughts and outbreak of pests or disease.
• Rwanda – Developing the Kigali Innovation City, a $2 billion digital transformation hub, which will unite universities, tech companies, biotech firms and young digital entrepreneurs from across Africa.
• Senegal – Facilitating the entry of new mobile network operators, with mobile connections developing rapidly as both 3G and 4G coverage are growing at almost 63 percent a year.

Key facts and case studies

• Between 2010 and 2030 the value of urban food markets in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is projected to more than triple to US$500 billion.
• The price for mobile internet in Africa has dropped by 30 percent since 2015.
• In 2017, the number of SIM connections in SSA was about 747 million, representing a 75 percent penetration rate. In comparison, Asia Pacific and Latin America had penetration rates of 102 percent and 104 percent, respectively.
• In developing countries, a 10 percent rise in internet penetration can lead to a 1.35 percent rise in GDP growth.
• In 2017, Africans spent almost 9 percent of their per capita incomes on 1 GB of internet, compared to 1.5 percent and 3.6 percent in Asia Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean, respectively.
• Equal access [in terms of gender] can increase agricultural production in low- and middle-income countries by 2.5 – 4 percent thereby decreasing the number of hungry people by 12 – 17 percent.
• In 2017, women in sub-Saharan Africa were on average 14 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than men, and 25 percent less likely to have internet access.
• A study on developing countries found that greater availability of electricity in a country increases internet use substantially. In 2016 however, only half of Africa’s population had access to electricity.
• In 2017, only one-third of adults in rural sub-Saharan Africa owned a bank account, and only 5 percent held a loan from a formal financial institution.

A selection of the digital tools, applications, and services highlighted in the report include:

• E-Soko is a Ghanaian start-up that provides overall farm management support, helping farmers monitor and analyze their farming records via its data collection tool. Accessed via a smartphone app or e-Soko’s website, the tool links farmers to advisory services, markets, market prices, and secure payments.
• Farmcrowdy is an online platform enabling farmers to access credit directly from an investor, who in return earns a share of the post-harvest profit. Based in Nigeria, Farmcrowdy also provides them with the added bonus of extension services.
• FarmDrive uses mobile phones, alternative data and machine learning to close the data gap that prevents financial institutions from lending to smallholder farmers. Launched in Kenya, FarmDrive builds credit scores allowing financiers to benefit from the accuracy of the data collection reducing the risk of investment.
• Hello Tractor connects tractor owners to farmers through an IoT digital solution. The equipment allows owners to better manage their machines on the farm using an app making hiring services more accessible and affordable for farmers.
• Twiga uses a mobile-based cashless platform to connect small fruit and vegetable farmers in rural Kenya to small and medium-sized vendors in urban cities, offering higher prices and a guaranteed market for farmers.
• Zenvus was formed to sell digital solutions to Nigerian farmers, including SmartFarm, a solar-powered sensor which collects and analyses critical information on soil conditions.


The Malabo Montpellier Panel makes nine recommendations:

Government actions
1. Place digitalization at the core of national agricultural growth and transformation strategies and policies.
2. Create a transparent and smart regulatory environment that promotes the development and confident use of digital technologies and services whilst reducing the risk.
3. Expand university curricula to spur digital innovation and the development of an African agtech sector.
4. Strengthen skill development and digital literacy training for farmers and other actors in the food system as technologically more advanced innovations are being developed.
Private Sector actions
5. Increase investment in Research & Development (R&D) to develop both frugal and cutting-edge digital solutions that meet the demands of all actors and at each segment of the food value chain.

Joint actions
6. Introduce fiscal incentives to spur digital innovation and to facilitate market entry and the import of technologies until local markets are developed.
7. Invest in supportive and last-mile infrastructure to bridge the digital divide.
8. Develop digital innovation hubs to provide the innovation ecosystem for young people to develop locally suitable technologies and digital solutions.
9. Carry out evaluation and impact assessments of specific technologies and e-services in rural areas to highlight gaps and opportunities for further skill development and capacity strengthening.


Notes to editor

About the Malabo Montpellier Panel
The Malabo Montpellier Panel convenes 17 leading experts in agriculture, ecology, nutrition and food security to guide policy choices by African governments to accelerate progress towards food security and improved nutrition in Africa. The Panel identifies areas of progress and positive change across the continent and assesses what successful countries have done differently. It then identifies the most important institutional innovations and policy and program interventions that can be replicated and scaled up by other countries.
The Malabo Montpellier Panel is the successor to the Montpellier Panel, created in 2010, it puts greater emphasis on African initiatives, such as the Malabo Declaration's expanded Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). It is hosted by the West and Central African Office of the International Food Policy Research Institute, the University of Bonn and Imperial College London and is headquartered in Dakar Senegal. It is co-chaired by Dr. Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director at IFPRI and Professor Joachim von Braun, Director, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn.

Panel members

Debisi Araba, Regional Director for Africa at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)
Tom Arnold, Former Director General for the Institute for International and European Affairs in Dublin and Chairman, European Commission Task Force on Rural Africa
Ousmane Badiane, Africa Director for the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)
Noble Banadda, Professor and Chair of the Department of Agricultural and BioSystems Engineering at Makerere University in Uganda
Patrick Caron, Director of Research and Strategy at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development and Chair of the United Nations High-level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition (HLPE)
Sir Gordon Conway, Professor of International Development at Imperial College London
Gebisa Ejeta, Distinguished Professor of Plant Breeding & Genetics and International Agriculture at Purdue University
Karim El Aynaoui, Managing Director of Policy Center for the New South
Sheryl Hendriks, Department Head, and Director of the Institute for Food Nutrition and Well-being at the University of Pretoria, South Africa
Muhammadou M.O. Kah, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Provost and Professor of Information Technology and Computing at The American University of Nigeria
Agnes Kalibata, President of The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
Nachilala Nkombo, Country Director for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Zambia
Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)
Ishmael Sunga, Chief Executive Officer of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU)
H.E. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Former Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission (AUC)
Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair, Professor for Agriculture at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations