The Hard Truths About Digital Tools and Farming in Africa: Are We Doing It Right? 

May 27, 2024 | All

“So, there I was, gazing intently at what might be the most riveting wall in the history of home décor. It’s a funny thing how a plain wall, devoid of the usual inspirational quotes or scenic landscapes, can suddenly seem so fascinating. Perhaps it was the lack of distractions, or maybe it was the hypnotic power of the off-white paint, but in that moment of absolute nothingness, my mind wandered …. And boy, did it wander far! It was in one such moment of reflection that I realized the necessity of this piece.

Despite the brilliance that lights up the Digital Ag sector, with innovators sprouting up faster than maize in the rainy season, we find ourselves facing an unsettling question: “Why isn’t the digital harvest as bountiful as predicted?”. Amid all this digital disruption, why aren’t the necessary, albeit difficult, conversations taking place? Could this be why our expected strategic breakthroughs are more mirage than miracle?

Let’s ponder on this: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”�� This gem from Warren Buffett might as well be about our current digital agriculture predicament. We’ve rushed into the high tide of technology, but now, as the initial excitement recedes, we find ourselves exposed, scrambling for results that should have followed naturally.

First up, is inclusion, picture this: We have a spectrum of users from tech-savvy youths who eat algorithms for breakfast, to grandmas who think ‘Twitter’ is the sound a bird makes. We’ve got cutting-edge apps and gadgets that promise the moon, yet for many farmers, these remain as distant as the moon itself. The conversation about accessibility and suitability of these digital tools isn’t just necessary; it’s critical. As James Baldwin eloquently put it, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Inclusion isn’t just about throwing technology over a fence and hoping it catches; it’s about making sure everyone has a ladder to climb over and see what’s on the other side.

Then there’s the issue of collaboration or the lack thereof. Why aren’t market players, from tech developers to policymakers to the farmers themselves, sitting together more often? Why aren’t we hashing out the nitty-gritty over a cup of locally brewed coffee or under the shade of an acacia tree? We need more of those long table communal discussions, where farmers, tech developers, and policymakers pass around ideas like dishes at a family barbecue.

And of course, scalability – the big dream that often feels like trying to climb a greased pole. Let’s face it, scaling in digital agriculture isn’t just about spreading solutions far and wide. It’s about ensuring these solutions deeply root and grow, transforming the ecosystem in meaningful ways. The real pickle, however, comes when we consider the dilemma between simply expanding reach and deepening impact. Do we want a wide garden of shallow roots or fewer, deeper ones that can weather any storm?

When it comes to addressing scalability, we need frameworks that not only support expansion but also ensure integration into the daily rhythm of rural life. These frameworks must be about real, tangible changes in the lives of farmers therefore as we continue to scale, let’s make sure our approach is as grounded as the fields we aim to transform because at the end of the day, if the impact isn’t felt on the ground, are we making an impact at all?

As my wall-staring session concluded, I realized that these unasked questions might just be the stumbling blocks we need to address in sessions such as the upcoming Programs Annual Learning Event in October. For digital agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa to truly flourish, we must embrace these difficult conversations. It’s not just about troubleshooting; it’s about trailblazing a path that leads to sustainable success. As we peel back the layers of complexity, perhaps we’ll find the breakthroughs we’ve been longing for, nestled among the roots of open dialogue and hard truths. After all, isn’t the future of farming worth a good, hard wall stare now and then?

Now, with these reflections shared, you can return to the rest of your day—perhaps with a new perspective or a renewed sense of curiosity about how we can better navigate these challenges together .”

Musing by; Kassim Zani-Gender Transformative Programming Manager