BusinessDay

Microsoft taps digital transformation to aid food security in Nigeria, others

Microsoft has disclosed plans to aid food security in Nigeria and other African countries by enabling digital transformation in Agriculture.

This was disclosed in a virtual roundtable discussion about digital transformation in agriculture for food security in Africa led by Ola Williams, country manager at Microsoft, with partners from Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) and the Nigerian Incentive-based Risk sharing system for Africa (NIRSAL).

AGRA is a farmer-centered and partnership driven institution that is transforming Africa’s smallholder farming from a solitary struggle to survive to businesses that strive, while NIRSAL was incorporated by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2013 as an initiative to catalyse the flow of finance and investment into fixed agricultural value chains.

However, discussion explored how accelerating digital transformation in agriculture is leading to agritech developments that have a tangible positive impact on food security in Africa and how agritech is changing outcomes for farmers across the continent, unlocking their productivity and assisting them in accessing latest updates and farming advice.

Williams stated that “with agriculture sustaining up to 70 percent 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.”

According to the discussants, Africa’s agricultural sector is set for exponential growth in the coming decade, with a projected value of USD 1 trillion by 2030. He added that the continent has also seen rapid growth in e-agriculture solutions and is poised to become the global centre of agritech solutions.

The country manager reiterated that in 2021, agriculture contributed 22.35 percent of the total GDP of Nigeria, with over 70 percent of Nigerians engaging in agriculture, largely at a subsistence level.

However, the panel explored ways to make farming more profitable to encourage more entrepreneurs to consider it as a viable means of livelihood, as the Nigerian government seeks to diversify and move away from a dependence on oil as a source of revenue.

Innovative ideas are needed

According to the panel, democratising information is a way in which agritech changes the face of agriculture.

The discussants pointed that one of the challenges facing agriculture in Nigeria is the absence of value addition and supply chain linkages, stating that Innovations in these areas will empower farmers to gain faster access to the market and provide them with an opportunity to grow their businesses at scale.

Read also: Nigeria on global tourism, food map

Microsoft, disclosed that it hosted an Agro innovate hackation in partnership with the Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agriculture (NIRSAL) and multi-national companies operating in the country to meet these challenges.

The Hackathon, according to the company, 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.

Usman Gambo Abdullahi, director Information Technology Infrastructure Solutions at NITDA said, “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.”

Working in partnership

Williams stated that Microsoft is extending its partnership with AGRA to 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,” Williams said.

He explained that the partnership has explored the use of big data and artificial intelligence in enabling data-driven, precision farming to support and increase farm productivity and profitability.

John Macharia, lead program officer Agra Kenya said, “We realized early 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.”

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