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IS THE AGRICULTURAL SECTOR READY FOR ADVANCED AUTOMATION IN AFRICA?

POSTED 06/10/2024

Agriculture is the backbone of Africa's economy, employing over 60% of the continent's workforce and contributing significantly to its GDP.

The cultivation of various raw food items such as rice, tomato, yam, cassava, etc has increased the economic growth of Africa as a continent.

According to the African Development Bank the Africa's agribusiness sector is estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2030.

The African development bank vice president for agriculture, human and social development Jennifer Banke labeled agriculture as a key priority for the African development bank through the “Feed Africa Strategy”.

No doubt the agricultural sector has been vital to the development of Africa’s economy.

However, African agriculture faces numerous challenges, including low productivity, limited mechanization and labor shortages.

Advanced automation technology offers a promising solution to these challenges, but the real question is this: Is the agricultural sector in Africa ready to embrace these innovations?

In this article this question will be answered in detail, but before we go into that, let's take some time to look at the current state of African agriculture.

CURRENT STATE OF AFRICAN AGRICULTURE

Africa is a major food importer, spending over $47billion in 2018 to buy food on the world market.

As important as the agricultural sector in Africa is, it contributed 25% of Kenya's GDP and 65% of its exports and employed approximately 60% of its labor force in 2019.

However, the expensive cost of nutritious food imposes a heavier burden on the vulnerable families across the world, with African nations, especially the 33 least developed countries on the continent hit hard. ( Source: www.unctad.org)

Across Africa, the number of people experiencing food insecurity at a moderate or severe level increased from 512 million in 2014 to 794.7 million people in 2021, nearly 60% of the continent's population.

Troublingly, at this pace, Africa is not on track to meet the food security and nutrition target of sustainable development goal 2. (Source: www.unctad.org)

CHALLENGES FACED BY AFRICAN AGRICULTURAL SECTOR

Africa faces a lot of challenges which hinders the progress of its agricultural sector, they include:

 

  1. Limited Mechanization: As said earlier many farms still rely on manual labor and basic tools, compared to its counterparts making use of advanced and modern agricultural technologies which speeds up the process of harvesting and cultivation etc. Africa is heavily dependent on human efficiency for its agricultural processes.
  2. Low Productivity: African farms produce significantly less than their global counterparts, and this can be blamed on the inability to implement the process of automation into the agricultural sector, as Africa still relies on the efforts of human labor for its agricultural processes.
  3. Labor Shortages: Rural- urban migration and aging population have led to a shortage of skilled labor. The populace of Africa continues to migrate to urban or developed countries in search for green pastures, and to implement their specialized knowledge. Also, the aging effect plays a huge role as aged individuals become too weak and tired to carry out manual agricultural labor.

These challenges hinder Africa's ability to meet its food security needs and compete globally.

ADVANTAGES OF AUTOMATION IN AGRICULTURE

 

 

  1. Increased efficiency: Automation helps in speeding up Agricultural processes , reduce the need for human effort or manual labor, and also reduce the risk for human error. This helps increase the efficiency and productivity of farming schedules or operations simultaneously leading to higher profits.
  2. Cost Savings: Automation aids in minimizing the cost of labor, including the cost of input such as fertilizers and seeds. The implementation of advanced technologies to maximize efficiency in these areas saves more money and the bottom line in general is increased.
  3. Improvement Of Quality: Automation technologies help in improving the quality of crops or livestock. For example, the usage of robotic milkers can ensure cows are milked frequently and help improve milk production.
  4. Ensuring Safety: Automation helps in improving the safety of farms by minimizing the incidents of accidents and injuries. For example, the replacement of manual tools with automated machines for harvesting purposes can help reduce the risk of manual tools injury.

Many regions have successfully implemented the usage of automation in their agricultural sector, some of these regions include:

1. Israel: Israel is a global leader in agricultural automation, with advanced irrigation systems, precision farming, and automated greenhouses. As a result, Israel has increased its agricultural productivity and reduced water consumption.

2. California, USA: California's Central Valley is home to some of the most advanced automated farms in the world. Automated irrigation systems, precision farming, and machine learning algorithms have improved crop yields and reduced water consumption.

3. Netherlands: The Netherlands is a pioneer in automated agriculture, with advanced greenhouses and precision farming techniques. Automated systems control temperature, humidity, and light, resulting in high yields and reduced energy consumption.

4. Singapore: Singapore's urban farms are leveraging automation to increase productivity and reduce labor costs. Automated systems control temperature, humidity, and light, and machine learning algorithms optimize crop growth.

5. Brazil: Brazil's agricultural sector has embraced automation, with precision farming and automated irrigation systems increasing crop yields and reducing water consumption.

6. South Africa: South Africa's Western Cape province has implemented automation in its wine industry, with precision farming and automated irrigation systems improving grape yields and quality.

7. India: India's state of Maharashtra has implemented automation in its sugarcane industry, with precision farming and automated irrigation systems increasing yields and reducing water consumption.

8. China: China's agricultural sector has embraced automation, with precision farming, automated irrigation systems, and machine learning algorithms improving crop yields and reducing labor costs.

These regions have demonstrated that automation can improve agricultural productivity, reduce water consumption, and increase efficiency, making them global leaders in agricultural innovation.

READINESS OF AFRICAN AGRICULTURE FOR AUTOMATION

Africa has made significant progress in conforming with digital technologies, its agricultural sector still lags behind in automation.

Here are few key challenges Africa faces in implementing automation to its agricultural sector.

 

  1. Limited Technical Expertise: Due to the limitation of education and advanced skill empowerment in Africa, farmers and agricultural workers may lack the necessary skills to operate and sustain automation technologies.
  2. Inadequate Infrastructure: Lack of proper Internet connectivity, supply of energy, and sustainability services hinders automation adoption.
  3. High Initial Costs: Automation technologies require a very high significant upfront investment. According to sdcautomation.com, it costs about $28,000 for a standalone robotic arm to hundreds of thousands of dollars and upward for a half complete industrial automation system.

SUCCESS STORIES AND CASE STUDIES

Regardless of these challenges, several African nations have accurately implemented automation technologies into their agricultural system. Examples of these nations include:

1. Ghana: Hire-a-tractor services have been implemented to improve access to farm machinery.

2. South Africa: Agriculture 4.0 technologies are being used for digital soil mapping and livestock monitoring.

3. Kenya: Mobile payment systems have been implemented to improve access to financial services for farmers.

4.Nigeria: Integrated crop-livestock systems are being used to improve water retention and reduce soil erosion.

5. Tanzania: Mobile payment systems have been implemented to improve access to financial services for farmers.

To be ready for the implementation of automation in the agricultural sector, Africa needs support from government and private sectors.

Government policies and initiatives, such as the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the African Development Bank's “Feed Africa” strategy, aim to promote automation in agriculture.

Private sector investments and partnerships, such as the Africa Agriculture Fund, are also driving automation options.

CONCLUSION

Advanced automation technologies offer a transformative solution for African agriculture, but the sector's readiness for adoption is mixed.

While challenges persist, success stories and government and private sector support demonstrate the potential for automation to improve productivity, efficiency, and food security.

Stakeholders must work together to support the adoption of automation technologies and unlock the full potential of African agriculture.

Will you join the journey to transform African agriculture?