Information and communication technology as a pathway to enhancing the involvement of youth and women in agriculture

By John Karuitha and Bob Wekesa

In the previous article, we discussed value chains and policies as factors in the role of women and youth in African agriculture and food security. In this article, we discuss some technological pathways for redressing the challenges.
Technology can be useful in curing market failures, particularly because the youth are especially more receptive of information technology (IT) that they could harness in this respect. The youth are more receptive of information technology than their seniors and this can help address issues of youth and women apathy towards agriculture. The youth’s capacity to develop and exploit technology gives them a twin advantage; they can either develop agricultural technology to sell or can innovate technology for use in their agricultural ventures. Indeed, it is worth noting that the strongest motivator for women and youth to engage in agriculture is to make the sector more lucrative.
Information technology can help improve farm productivity by improving decision-making and farm management. For instance, ICT-enabled record keeping would be instrumental in tracking farm data such as tracking the cost of inputs and the profits or losses from yields. Likewise, technology could allow farmers to access up-to-date weather information.

Regarding land tenure as a limitation, an important aspect is the digitization of land ownership and land transfer systems leading to benefits such as access to capital. As a case in point, a low-cost approach to land registration and certification of restricted property rights that was implemented in Ethiopia from the late 1990s led to enhanced land rental market participation of (potential) tenant and landlord households, and especially participation of female-headed landlord households. The youth would also benefit from such an approach.
Access to capital presents a challenge that countries have tackled using the concept of microfinance and digital lending to supplement youth and women focused state funds. The main challenge in Africa is that many people neither access nor use financial services leave alone apply for a loan facility as they do not have bank accounts in the first place. The advent of mobile money allows more people, especially in rural areas to save and borrow. However, the size and duration of loans may not be adequate to finance farming.

Information technology systems that link farmers and customers, financial technology applications that allow farmers to access credit, savings and insurance products are especially promising. These technologies could also aid in improving farm productivity by allowing farmers to access information regarding latest farming techniques and access to weather information.
While market failure is a major challenge in smallholder agriculture, it presents huge potential for youth and women. Already, as the table below shows, there are a substantial number of information technology start-ups that are addressing the challenge. It is worthwhile to examine some promising ventures. One of the challenges facing agriculture in Africa is market fragmentation where farmers cannot link up with consumers of their products unless through exploitative middlemen. Online platforms such as Esoko, Farmerline, and Trotro Tractor operating in Ghana provide farmers with accessible services. The services include voice messages and SMS extension advice which help farmers obtain information about how to access markets and extension services.

Table 1: Sample tech farms in Africa.

Fintech CompanyCountryService Offered
OlamGhanaOne of the world’s biggest cocoa buyers are using mobile phones and text message to connect with farmers. Using smart phones, Olam has mapped farmers and geo-located them to connect them to the markets.
WefarmKenyaHas established a social network for farmers and allows them to exchange information by text message’(economist)
PowerStove EnergyNigeriaDelivers smokeless, IoT enabled cookstove that generates electricity
Acre AfricaKenyaOffers insurance to farmers for their crops and animals. The interesting aspects about Acre Africa is that, if its automatic weather monitors in the field detect a drought, farmers receive a pay-out through their phones without submitting a claim.
Whispa HealthNigeriaA mobile App that provides young people with non-judgemental access to sexual and reproductive health information
GrowAgricKenyaA crowd funding platform that connects farmers to much needed working capital
Bryt-KnowledgeZimbabweA multifaceted online educational platform that connects students with subject matter experts using technology
SlideKenyaAn e-commerce distribution channel that leverages the power of the community or group buying to provide goods to end customers more cheaply
XetovaKenyaA Technology solutions provider for the procurement ecosystem
JirogasyMadagascarWhich manufactures, assenbles and designs solar home systems and communication systems for solar
2KUZEKenyaLinks up thousands of farmers and traders in a virtual marketplace, using text messages on basic mobile phones


Elsewhere on the continent, CTA’s “Transforming Africa’s agriculture: Eyes in the sky, smart techs on the ground” uses unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver services to farmers. The drones enable real time data gathering, processing and dissemination to enhance decision-making and so improve productivity and yields. Another notable venture is Ethiopia’s “80-28” hotline. The hotline offers advice to farmers advisory and currently has about 4 million users, the highest on the continent. It is a free service, whose success stems partly from the delivery of services in local languages. “80-28” model of aligning services to local circumstances encourages farmers to subscribe willingly. Mobile applications like RiceAdvice allow farmers to receive advice on modern farming technologies in Mali and Senegal. In Burkina Faso, digital entrepreneurs offer information services to farmers through iDEAL BURKINA project. These examples illustrate the ample opportunities that exist in the use of digital technology in availing services to farmers.

Beyond just creating opportunities for the tech-prenuers, the adoption of these technologies has improved the on-farm productivity. A program in Ghana dubbed “Feed the Future Ghana Agriculture Technology Transfer Project”. The project involved the private sector, government, and research institutes to enhance the productivity of smallholder farmers through dissemination and encouraging the adoption of modern farming technologies. The results have been impressive. The agricultural output went up by over 250% for maize, soya beans, and rice between 2013 and 2018. In addition, the increased use of inputs led to a US$ 7.8 million increase in sales of fertilizer, seeds, and chemicals. The spillovers included 124 new public-private partnerships formed, $5.9 million in grants to beneficiaries, stimulating additional private sector investments, and over $2.77 million leveraged in new private sector investment in agriculture.

The examples discussed above show the potential that exists in the development and adoption of technologies for farming. While we mentioned quite a few, there are numerous other opportunities like low-cost techniques for harvesting and storing rainwater for irrigation. In addition, women and youth could harness indigenous knowledge systems to developing post-harvest conservation technologies and value addition techniques. Capacity building on technology adoption also offers ample working opportunities for women and the youth.
In a nutshell, while the challenges that hold back agricultural production and therefore food production in Africa are numerous, there is a glimmer of hope that the adoption and domestication of extant technologies and innovation of homegrown solutions could rise to the challenges. These technologies are already sprouting throughout the continent. What stakeholders need to do is step up learning from each and scale up their application.