The UN report points to the main obstacles and opportunities for the use of digital technologies in sub-Saharan Africa

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ROM (AXADLE) The digital revolution currently under way in sub-Saharan Africa offers enormous potential for economic growth and agricultural productivity, according to a new report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which also identifies the main obstacles and opportunities.

Coastal countries benefit from fast internet thanks to submarine cables, and 4G mobile networks are expanding rapidly across the continent. Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, is referred to as Africa’s “Silicon Savannah” because of its buzzing digital economy.

Despite such success stories, large parts of sub-Saharan Africa remain unconnected: about a third of the population is still out of range of mobile broadband signals, and only 28 percent have 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.

A new report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) provides one of the most comprehensive overviews to date of the status of digitization in the region with a focus on digital agriculture transformation.

An overview is provided for each of the 47 countries on a range of key indicators, such as access to electricity, ownership of mobile devices, the number of apps in the national language, the gender gap in social media use and the regulatory framework.

But the study goes further than that, highlighting local examples and initiatives that should be promoted, replicated and scaled up to promote the region’s digital agricultural transformation.

“Agricultural modernization and rural transformation provide real opportunities for maximum impact on growth and shared prosperity for countries in the Africa region. Digitization helps maximize the benefits that digital technologies can bring to transforming societies, improving livelihoods through better production, better nutrition, a better environment , and a better life, without leaving anyone behind, “said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO’s Assistant Director – General and Regional Representative for Africa.

Untapped potential

With the largest area of ​​cultivated uncultivated land in the world, a youthful population – almost 60 percent of the population is under 25 – and vast natural resources, sub-Saharan Africa is uniquely positioned to double or even triple its current agricultural productivity.

For this to happen, a digital transformation of the food and agriculture sector is needed. This requires tackling existing barriers, such as limited rural infrastructure, insufficient funding for agriculture and insufficient investment in research and development, agro-innovation and agricultural entrepreneurship.

Making the status quo and identifying such obstacles can greatly help politicians realize this untapped potential.

“There is an urgent need to invest in the last mile connection to strengthen digital infrastructure in general and enable the development of inclusive digital agricultural strategies to promote agricultural transformation in Africa,” said Anne-Rachel Inné, ITU Regional Director for Africa.

Going forward, the study also provides suggestions on how to tackle these obstacles. They include encouraging governments to develop national digital agricultural strategies, create a more favorable business environment for investors and increase cooperation between countries, international organizations and the private sector to create an inclusive set of digital public goods in agriculture that are sustainable and scalable.

(Source: FAO)

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