ICTs for Africa’s food security: Can Silicon Valley work with ‘Silicon Savannah’?

Food insecurity – being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food – remains a feature of the 21st century.

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Can Africa’s tech entrepreneurs work with Silicon Valley to improve Africa’s food security?       Image: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Today, one in four people in Sub-Saharan Africa are undernourished. Yet, the region holds about half of the world’s unused fertile land and the World Bank projects that by 2030, Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness markets could top USD 1 trillion.

Access to better information and communication technologies (ICTs) is essential for unlocking this potential.

Though more than 67% of the population in Africa have a mobile phone, nearly 75% of the continent is offline. But that has not stopped global tech companies expanding operations in Africa: Facebook recently opened an office in Sub-Saharan Africa; SAP will invest USD500 million by 2020 to introduce new technologies in Africa; and IBM’s Project Lucy is based in a new research centre in Kenya.

Silicon Valley: there’s an app for that

Aiming to harness this enthusiasm, the United States Agency for International Development’s global food security initiative, Feed the Future, is working to promote Silicon Valley ‘agtech’ investment in emerging markets.

Speaking to Devex, Beth Dunford, deputy coordinator of Feed the Future, said, “there is so much innovation [in Silicon Valley], but it requires some creative thinking, or even a little incentivizing, to get the private sector to go to the farmers we care about.”

These strategies include one-on-one meetings, forums and trips to developing markets to introduce Silicon Valley investors, who “tend to focus on rapidly scalable technology solutions,” according to Devex, to the range of challenges that these markets face, from regulation to infrastructure.

But, with so many great examples of innovation in the region – including M-Pesa and Ushahidi – are local entrepreneurs better placed to tackle local needs?

‘Silicon Savannah’: home-grown solutions?

Speaking to ITU News, CEO of Digital Green, Rikin Gandhi, says technology can make agriculture more efficient, but throwing technology into a random village wouldn’t work. “Usually, the role that technology plays is one of an enabler or an amplifier of an existing system, it generally doesn’t work in terms of solving the problem in and of itself,” he says.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a growing number of entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovation centres which have an intrinsic knowledge of the marketplace and innovate with tools available locally.

“Silicon Valley can lead the way by committing resources to invest alongside local investors as a vote of confidence and a tool to build knowledge for the African investment community,” said Lexi Novitske, Principal Investment Officer at Singularity Investments.

Consequently, Gandhi suggests that a closer collaboration between Silicon Valley and Africa’s up-and-coming tech hubs, such as Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah,’ could better support agricultural rural communities.

“Silicon Valley has a wide reach. ‘Silicon Savannah’ has its local presence in Africa, but so does Microsoft and Google; these are multinational companies with people all over the world,” Gandhi tells ITU News. “A combination of both local entrepreneurs and multi-national corporation groups, digging in to some of the local issues and development processes that exist and seeing how they might be able to boost its efficiency with a local, more contextual sense of applications and use-cases, would be the most useful.”

NOTE FROM ITU NEWS: ICTs are crucial for accelerating progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The above article describes how ICTs can address SDG #2: ‘Zero Hunger.’ Do you have examples of ICTs accelerating the SDGs? Share them on our #ICT4SDG platform.

ITU News/ Lucy Spencer (@L_M_Spencer)

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