In part one in a series of two, consisting of a briefing paper and linked fact sheet, we explore the current status of digital agriculture in Africa and the potential implications its deployment has for smallholder farmers on the continent.

We outline three primary areas of concern related to potential inequitable benefits and influence accrued from its deployment; ownership of data and how it is used; and the potential exclusion and further marginalisation of people-environment relationships and related knowledge systems.

Africa is characterised by a significant digital divide (particularly marked in rural areas and by gender, with women having less access to and knowledge of digital products and services). This divide is entrenched by disparate investment in digital infrastructure, unaffordable costs of internet-enabled devices and data, and limited education and training on information communication technology at school level. Only Benin, Rwanda and Nigeria have considered the digital transformation in their agricultural strategies.

Digital agriculture is big business. Investment into Africa’s ag-tech market was US$482.3 million in 2021, and it is growing. Digital services and products offered in the African agricultural sector range from advisory services to the use of drone technology to spray crops, collect data or deliver inputs.

The World Economic Forum notes that about 22 million small-scale farmers in Africa have registered for a digital service, but that less than a third of them are using them in a way that provides a benefit. It is not just services and products that are of value in the digital agriculture sector. 

The collection of farm-related data is very valuable, particularly when it is aggregated across a geographic location or a type of farmer. Ownership of this data enables corporates to predict farming-related trends and tailor their products to a particular market.

Aggregated data is also being used to inform policymaking. The Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples’ Mechanism raises concerns about how data is being used, noting that data is neither neutral nor objective. It is impacted by who collects it, how they do it, and what they choose to include or exclude in how it is presented. This is because “digital technologies and processes … reshape our very perception of the food systems through the inclusion or exclusion of ‘data that counts’ and therefore what food futures are imaginable” (CSIPM, 2023:1)1. The paper explores digital sovereignty, democratisation of data, and digital commons as a response to concerns about the digitalisation of agriculture in Africa.

There is a fact sheet linked to this briefing paper, which can viewed here and you can read or download the briefing here.

Look out for part two next week – Financialisation, dematerialisation, digitilisation & distancing of Africa’s agriculture: what future for small-scale farmers and their food and seed systems?
  1. CSIPM (Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism), 2023. Vision statement on data for food security and nutrition. ↩︎