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UN report pinpoints obstacles and opportunities in African agriculture’s digital revolution

A new report co-published by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) highlights the benefits from the use of digital technologies in sub-Saharan Africa

The digital revolution currently underway in sub-Saharan Africa offers lots of potential for economic growth and agricultural productivity. Coastal countries benefit from fast internet and 4G mobile networks are expanding rapidly across the continent. Kenya's Nairobi is referred to as the 'Silicon Savannah' of Africa because of its buzzing digital economy.

In spite of this, much of Sub-Saharan Africa remains unconnected: about one-third of the population is still out of reach of mobile broadband signals, only 28% has any access to the internet. This has implications for the local agricultural sector, where productivity could be easily boosted by new digital technologies such as e-commerce, sensors, drones and better weather forecasts.

The report – Status of Digital Agriculture in 47 Sub-Saharan African Countries – shows the challenges that countries face along their digital transformation journeys. An overview is given for each of the 47 countries on a variety of key indicators, such as access to electricity, ownership of mobile devices, number of apps in the national language, the gender gap in social media use, and regulatory frameworks.

"Agriculture modernisation and rural transformation provide real opportunities for maximum impact on growth and shared prosperity for countries in the Africa region. Digitalisation helps maximise the benefits digital technologies can bring in transforming societies, improving livelihoods through better production, better nutrition, a better environment, and a better life, leaving no one behind," said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO's assistant director general and regional representative for Africa.

With the largest area of arable uncultivated land in the world, natural resources and 60% population below the age of 25, sub-Saharan Africa can have double or even triple its current agricultural productivity. A digital transformation of the food and agriculture sector is needed for the same that also requires tackling existing barriers such as limited infrastructure in rural areas, insufficient funding for agriculture, and inadequate investment in research and development.