How technology can help boost agricultural training in Africa
The agricultural sector plays a key role in the life of an economy and is considered to be the foundation of our economic system. Not only does the Agricultural sector provide necessary subsistence but also provides employment opportunities to a significant portion of the Africa’s population.
The development of agriculture also provides necessary capital for the development of other sectors like industry, transport and foreign trade. So the importance of good agricultural training from farm worker to senior management is critical to ensure sustainability, profitability and meeting food security goals. Enter technology.
In a report by McKinsey, analysts have revealed that by 2025 half of Africa’s population will have internet access with about 360 million smartphones on the continent. Based on their analysts’ estimation, internet technology could increase annual agricultural productivity in Africa by $3 billion per annum.
Although the majority of Agricultural training is practical, there are areas where digital learning can make a major impact and help create communities where people can share knowledge.
Digital Training solutions can also span across the entire agricultural cycle from “seed” to “market”, educating Area Managers, Sector Managers, Farming and Farm Labour levels on the comprehensive processes, for example: from soil nutrition to crop rotation, right up until to the final logistics phase.
Distance learning is an effective solution as travel for these learners to the nearest institution is costly and often not viable. An online portal containing all downloadable learning material is practical; the learners can access content in their own time if they are still working during the day, and are not reliant on the postal service.
In a 2014 report by the FOA, they state that in Africa, the average age of farmers is also about 60, despite the fact that 60% of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age. This is where technology plays a critical role in resurrecting the interest of agriculture in the youth.
Developing these fundamental skills in targeted youth programmes will also improve their chances for future employment, thus lowering the unemployment rate and ensuring future food security.
Through various digital elements that support both the theoretical and practical applications of the training helping to increase output and profitability, digital solutions delivered via an online portal can include:
Due to the cyclical nature of this industry, facilitators may not have specific examples to show the learners on hand. Through the use of video, specific examples from agricultural phases can be filmed and narrated (with added subtitles if necessary) – giving the learner an accurate example on the theory by a subject matter expert.
Animation is a great solution to show learners the cyclical nature of the processes in their specific animal or crop farming environment, without being text heavy circumventing low literacy levels.
This is an effective training method, for learners to understand any relevant systems that may be used on the farm, such as stock control and trading systems. Users can practice inputting data into a simulated system, and being assessed before migrating to the live system. This has proven to be far more effective than just using a user manual.
Having an assessment for the learning to complete online, is beneficial to the farm owner to prove the theoretical understanding of the content. These analytics can be saved electronically onto a database and used as evidence in the issuing of a “Certificate of Attendance”. They may also prove very useful in conducting a gap analysis as to where further training is needed.
With Africans gaining easier access to lower priced mobile devices, they are becoming more tech savvy. There has been a welcome increase in mobile solutions for the contemporary farmer providing services like veterinary diagnoses, crop planting guidance and virtual marketplaces.
For example, in Kenya, there is an agribusiness called M-Farm who has enabled farmers to create linkages with the market through technology. M-Farm, who has partnered with Samsung, is an agricultural social network that aims to disseminate information to farmers via SMS.
On the market side, the platform channels real time prices to smaller farmers, allowing them to negotiate from an informed – and far more powerful – position with potential buyers. The platform also serves as a virtual community that can be leveraged to share information or even lobby for policy change. All in all, it aims to improve farming practices and yields for the betterment of the population of Kenya.
The reality of digital training in developing countries is one of low bandwidth and basic IT infrastructure, however, this can be mitigated through various solutions. For minimal bandwidth areas, facilitator “tool-kits” can be formulated including digital elements, such as videos and animations to be used in training sessions.
Alternatively, training centres can utilize wireless content devices such as BRCK or Raspberry Pi and other micro-computers housing a learner portal. The learning content can be pre-loaded onto these devices, allowing the learners to log ono learning platforms and the facilitators to track the all the analytics.
In this report published by the FAO, human food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050 to meet rising demand and Africa is home to more than half of the world’s unused arable land. Through the use and implementation of technology and digital solutions, delivery of a well-needed boost for agriculture will make the business of farming less labour intensive, producing higher yields and in turn more profit.
Author: Kate Atkinson