How technology can transform agriculture sector
By Shadrack Agaki
Kenya is among early adopters of digital technologies in Africa. This has raised the country’s profile, especially in attracting foreign direct investment and as an innovation hub.
Unfortunately, this advantage has yet to be deployed in harnessing the rich repository of data to tap the potential in the agriculture sector, the backbone of the country’s economy, to not only ensure food security but also creation of jobs and wealth.
The failure to achieve this aspiration, could perhaps, be attributed to lack of physical and legal structure to harness and curate agricultural data, whose scattered nature renders it invaluable for decision making.
In the information age, data is the oil that lubricates the wheels of development. And Kenya needs organised data to inform creation of new agribusiness models, policy formulation and implementation.
This is why curating and harnessing data must be a top priority for any developing country, including Kenya, to harness its natural resource potential. However, given the limited budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector, it will be an uphill task to undertake the capital-intensive transformation of dark data into usable form. The solution could lie in collaboration, especially through the private, public partnership model.
It is, therefore, imperative for Kenya to partner with technology organisations with cutting edge innovations in harvesting data in critical sectors and putting it to use.
For instance, the Ajira programme, which is under the Information and Communication Technology ministry, should be devolved to the counties to expand the scope of opening up job opportunities for the youth. It will also be critical for the youth to develop digital skills to enable them mine the opportunities.
The devolved units have a key role to play in ensuring food security and job creation by harnessing the hitherto untapped potential and resources. For instance, the counties need to work with the national government in zoning to enable specialised agricultural production.
This is important because, different counties have different comparative advantages, hence the need for specialised agriculture, which is key to base for industrialisation and precision farming.
Countries such as the Netherlands have used precision farming, a method that uses modern technology to facilitate sustainable agriculture, to produce enough food for consumption and export. Kenya can draw from such experiences.
The new methods of agriculture have also brought about digital platforms economy which offers different forms of markets. These digital platforms have potential to expand employment opportunities. For instance, financial digital platforms such as KCB M-pesa, and M-Shwari have allowed financial inclusivity for previously non-banked people. Further, market linkage digital platforms will allow an easier access to market.
But for the platforms to take root, there is need to improve infrastructure such as rural roads and electricity connectivity. Further, technological centres of excellence must be established and fitted with rural internet broadband connectivity.
Good governance will be a key element if agricultural transformation has to be attained.
To tap the full potential of the digital opportunities, the country must address corruption, which has disrupted economic investments. The government should go a step further and ensure the proceeds of graft recovered by the Assets Recovery Authority is ploughed back into development of technological incubation hubs in the counties.
— The writer comments on development issues