The future farmer: Disrupting Agriculture

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By Ishmael Sunga, SACAU CEO

Right now, in southern Africa, there are numerous young farmers doing extraordinary things. They are ambitious with a healthy appetite for growth, and they want to achieve this growth through the creation of profitable agribusinesses that will deliver a quality of life comparable with other professions. They are just not visible. What we see at events like the recent African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), which took place in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, during 4-8 September 2017, is merely a microcosm of a larger pool of agripreneurs.

The next generation of farmers So there are already a significant number of young agribusiness leaders who are driving change. However, their success stories do not often serve as examples of motivation and leadership so that they can provide strong role models for ambitious young agripreneurs in the early stages of their careers. Their stories really need to be disseminated on a larger scale so that we can catalyse more mentorship schemes and drive the agenda towards transformation in African agriculture more vigorously.

Agriculture is becoming more complex and dynamic. It is now information and knowledge intensive; it is now science and data-driven; and it is now ICT-enabled. New technology allows farmers to do much more with much less as the environment now demands. Knowledge is no longer predominantly about how to grow a crop – it is less practical and handson and occurs more on the mental plane, focused on strategic thinking and planning. Farming has become increasingly abstract and data-driven.

increasingly abstract and data-driven. This requires a different type of farmer with different aptitudes. Farmers need the right level of education that will enable them to comprehend this level of complexity. More opportunities now exist, but we really need to improve farmers’ skills and aptitudes with targeted education and training. This requires the modernisation and professionalisation of farming, as well as the opportunity for farmers to gain competitive rewards for their hard work so that ambitious and capable young entrepreneurs are attracted to working in the sector.

Innovative policy This new generation of businessminded farmers promise excellent prospects for the future of African agriculture.

However, the policy environment needs to be improved as it has the greatest and most far-reaching potential for impactful change. Policymakers need to be more innovative in their approach to agricultural policy so that it really helps young farmers and facilitates all stakeholders in the sector to unleash their economic potential. Let’s take an example: just playing around with the fiscal and monetary policies and instruments can have a fundamental impact.

For instance, cutting out import duties and VAT on key agricultural equipment/ technologies will benefit stakeholders across the agricultural value chain; tax rebates on agricultural enterprises and start-ups can also make a big difference; even subsidising data that allows farmers to access more climate information will significantly improve the sector’s resilience.

A particularly important role for policymakers is to subsidise investments in the expansion of mobile network infrastructure so that farmers in all corners of the continent have access to mobile phone coverage. Technology allows farmers to cross over areas where there are no roads, where there are no bridges. It is having a massive disruptive impact, and positive disruption for that matter. It is critical in creating an agricultural sector that is more business driven.

But more importantly, technology allows for the democratisation of the sector because it removes information asymmetry to some extent. It connects everyone to markets and allows them to access knowledge and learning. However, without the infrastructure to connect with this technology farmers cannot exploit it. They are socially and geographically, as well as economically isolated, which limits the modernisation of the sector as well as their ability to improve their own livelihoods.

The combination of intelligent policy, an expansion of ICT infrastructure and an entrepreneurial approach to agriculture will cause a massive explosion. It will trigger the revolutionary change we have all been waiting for.

First published in Spore magazine: http://spore.cta.int/en/debates/ opinion/the-future-farmer-disruptingagriculture.html.