Microsoft is enabling digital transformation in agriculture to address food security issues in Africa.

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On Wednesday, Microsoft hosted a virtual roundtable panel discussion about digital transformation in agriculture for food security in Africa.

The roundtable explored how accelerating digital transformation in agriculture is leading to agritech developments that have a tangible positive impact on food security in Africa.

With agriculture sustaining up to 70% of Africa’s livelihoods, Microsoft is working with government and private sector partners to enable data-driven, precision and connected farming that optimizes yields and boosts farm productivity and profitability.

Ola Williams, Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager

The conversation was led by Ola Williams, Microsoft Nigeria Country Manager, in discussion with partners from the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) and the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture (NIRSAL).

The discussion explored the ways in which agritech is changing outcomes for farmers across the continent, unlocking productivity and helping farmers access the latest information and farming advice.

Africa’s agriculture sector is set for exponential growth in the coming decade, with a projected value of USD 1 trillion by 2030.

The continent has also seen rapid growth in e-agriculture solutions and is poised to become the global center of agritech solutions.

In 2021, agriculture contributed 22.35% of the total GDP of Nigeria, with over 70% of Nigerians engaging in agriculture, largely at a subsistence level.

As the Nigerian government seeks to diversify and move away from a dependence on oil as a source of revenue, it has become important to explore ways to make farming in Nigeria more profitable to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider farming as a viable means of livelihood.

Innovative ideas are needed

One way in which agritech changes the face of agriculture is through democratising information.

Agriculture is the main driver of employment in Nigeria; however the sector has seen reduced focus post oil era until recently.

Agriculture is coming to the front burner as the Nigeria government is actively seeking to diversify and drive towards moving away from solely depending on oil as source of revenue. Some of the challenges agriculture faces in Nigeria is the absence of value addition and supply chain linkages.

Innovating in these areas of challenges will empower farmers to gain faster access to the market and provide them with an opportunity to grow their businesses at scale.

To help farmers adopt technology, partnerships are needed to simplify platforms and provide access to technology, particularly for rural farmers.

To meet these challenges, Microsoft, in partnership with the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture (NIRSAL) and multi-national companies operating in the country, hosted an Agro Innovate Hackathon.

Microsoft and NIRSAL believe that within the Nigeria tech eco system lies the solution to solve most of these challenges.

The goal is to create a portal solution where farmers and customers can connect to conduct business, access the internet, and where farmers can gain economic power and improve their profitability.

The Hackathon will produce three winning local agritech startups who will be nurtured through Microsoft’s Africa Transformation Office and NIRSAL, and the intention is to train 30,000 farmers on the use of the platform, enrolling 10,000 farmers on the platform in the first year.

“The Agro Innovate Hackathon will provide livelihood opportunities in the agriculture sector and contribute to the government’s economic diversification agenda while simultaneously offering our brightest young Nigerian minds the chance to launch start-up ventures that will be nurtured by Microsoft. This is an opportunity to make a platform widely accessible to farmers and bridge the gap between farmers and consumers,” says, Dr Usman Gambo Abdullahi, Director, Information Technology Infrastructure Solutions, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).

Working in partnership with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)

Microsoft also recently announced that it is extending its partnership with AGRA. The new phase of the relationship will promote digital innovation and technology as an enabler to connect the agriculture ecosystems, sustainably integrating stakeholders in the service of strategic value chains.

“Our partnership with AGRA forms part of Microsoft’s ongoing investment in agritech across the continent as we support digital transformation in the sector. We’re excited to continue building locally relevant technology solutions that address the local farmers’ needs and deliver meaningful impact,” says Ola Williams, Country Manager, Microsoft Nigeria.

Through the partnership, Microsoft and AGRA have explored the use of big data and artificial intelligence in enabling data-driven, precision farming to support and increase farm productivity and profitability.

“At AGRA, we realized early on that digital innovation is critical in advancing food security and poverty eradication in Africa. Our partnership with Microsoft will directly support governments, SMEs and farmers, by bringing the digital tools needed to build resilient food systems,” says John Macharia, Lead Program Officer, AGRA Kenya.

“Microsoft is committed to an ongoing investment in agritech on the continent, with the goal of developing agritech that enables data-driven, precise and connected farming that optimises yields, boosts farm productivity and increases profitability. We understand that these important issues will not be solved by one company, but through partnerships with the private sector and our partners in government for maximum impact and benefit to the farmers of Africa,” concludes Williams.