African youth take technology to agriculture

Saturday April 29 2017

Chicken at a Kampala poultry farm. Young people often lack the capital for innovations. PHOTO | MORGAN MBABAZI

Africa’s youth are turning to technology for new and smart agricultural practices.

This was revealed at the Young Africa Works Summit held in Kigali, where the youth’s innovations were on show.

At the summit, speaker after speaker said the youth are still struggling with access to capital for these new ventures.

According to Rita Kimani, the co-founder and chief executive of FarmDrive, youth-led innovations in agriculture could help the continent move towards a productive, sustainable agriculture system.

“The young people are quick in adapting to technology, bringing value addition to the current tertiary mode of farming,” Ms Kimani said.

FarmDrive aims at using data analytics and mobile phone technology to connect smallholder farmers in rural Kenya with financial institutions.
In February, FarmDrive was chosen as part of telecommunications firm Safaricom’s $1 million Spark venture fund. This will allow FarmDrive access to $250,000 in investments.


“We collect the farmer’s data, and track their farming activities using a mobile phone. We then combine this with existing agricultural data, which we then develop into a credit profile and share with the banks for credit assessment and funding. So far we have more than 300 farmers on our platform and have helped them get more than $150,000 in loans,” Ms Kimani said.

According to Brian Bosire, who runs UjuziKilimo, an agricultural technology company that brings affordable precision farming to smallholder farmers in Kenya, there are a lot of value chain opportunities in agriculture on the continent that young people can explore to improve their livelihoods.

UjuziKilimo uses sensors to analyse soil and farm conditions to provide real-time, precise, actionable recommendations over mobile phones to rural farmers who lack access to extension services and information on weather and markets. The firm in 2015 won an award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, for its developing technology that seeks to improve small-scale farmer’s productivity.

“When you look at agriculture, there is still room for a lot of innovations along the production chain,” Mr Bosire said.
Lindsay Wallace, director of learning and strategy at MasterCard Foundation, said initiatives by young people should be encouraged to attract them to agriculture.
“In order to reach a critical mass of young people, we need to shift our approach to skills-building, access to finance and entrepreneurship support. We must then promote inclusive growth that will provide the most vulnerable and marginalised young people with opportunities to improve their lives,” Ms Wallace said.
Young people in the region have diversified their livelihoods, undertaking a mix of informal sector employment, self-employment, and agriculture-related activities.
Jean Bosco Nzeyimana, the founder and chief executive of Habona, a Rwandan company that produces affordable and environmentally friendly biofuels from waste, said that most young people run small enterprises that can be easily started and managed but only need strong financial support to see them through to success.

“For us, the support networks are critical as they play an extensive role in providing advice, skills development, and business guidance,” Mr Nzeyimana said.

MasterCard Foundation’s director for financial inclusion and youth livelihoods, Ann Miles, urged regional governments to push for training and access to financial services for young people so that they can nurture their ventures into sustainable businesses.

“We can see a lot of innovations and transformations. What we now need to see is an increase in their access to finance. We can train and empower them with skills but without the actual access to capital, we will be letting these groups down,” Ms Miles said.