IFC, Microsoft partner to promote food security, agriculture

The International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Microsoft, through its Africa Transformation Office (ATO), have partnered to promote food security and agriculture, leveraging digital transformation platforms.

The partnership, which was showcased in a session during Adaptation and Agriculture Day at COP27 in Egypt, follows from the United Nations identification of Zero Hunger as one of its Sustainable Development Goals.

This goal, according to a statement by Microsoft in Lagos, seeks to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture.

The IFC –Microsoft partnership, the statement reveals, makes digital tools and training resources more accessible to small-scale farmers and agriculture-linked small businesses, adding that a suite of digital agriculture solutions has been put in place to address capacity constraints and inefficiencies in the supply chain of African agribusinesses.

“The partnership is delivering digital agriculture products that support African agribusinesses to strengthen food security and develop greater resilience against climate change,” says Kunle Awosika, Managing Director for Microsoft ATO.

Awosika noted that agriculture contributed about 25 percent of Africa’s GDP and 70 percent of its employment, pointing out however, that the supply chains of many agribusinesses in Africa were fragmented and suffered from poor information flows.

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He added that many farmers relied on traditional agronomic practices and technologies that were under increasing pressure from climate-related shocks. “Digital technology can improve the operation of key supply chains in the food system through greater agricultural efficiencies, improved business practices, traceability, food safety and, access to finance,” he said.

“Through the partnership, digital tools such as Microsoft’s AgBot and community training applications are integrated with IFC’s Agribusiness Leadership Program to provide better information, newer technologies, and management capacity training to agribusinesses, farmers and cooperatives.

Henrik Elschner Pedersen, IFC’s Director for Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services in Africa, pointed out that “digital technology can improve the operation of key supply chains in the food system by boosting production and improving business practices, promoting traceability and increasing access to finance.”

Pedersen noted, however, that the use of digital tools in Africa’s agriculture sector remains limited, often because of infrastructure, affordability, awareness, and regulatory issues, adding, “IFC and Microsoft are working together to change this so that more agricultural players in Africa can leverage the power of the digital economy.”

Current research estimates that smallholder farmers account for 80 percent of the farming community, with an estimated 33 million smallholder farmers, but they are often hard to reach, residing in remote areas, and lack access to skills, knowledge and agricultural support services.

Awosika believed that the changing climate presents new future opportunities for farmers in relation to emerging markets for carbon credits, regenerative agriculture, and the application of nature-based services.

He noted, however, that these new opportunities need to be underpinned by robust management and reporting systems. These are precisely the systems that are supported by the new suite of digital tools.