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African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

Africa

Wagner: Putin’s secret weapon on the way to Mali?

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Soldiers from the Wagner Group (source: middleeastmonitor.com)

France is outraged at the prospect of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group arriving in Mali. However, Paris is seeking a way out of an unwinnable conflict.

On September 13, a Reuters news agency article citing unnamed sources and reporting advanced negotiations between Mali and the Russian mercenary company Wagner sparked a firestorm of reactions. The United States, Germany, and the United Nations have all warned Bamako’s military against such collaboration. According to them, the arrival of Russian mercenaries – a thousand have been estimated – would jeopardize the West’s commitment to fighting the jihadists who control a large portion of Malian territory.

But France, understandably, is the most vocal against such a move. The former colonial power has maintained a military presence in the country since 2013, when it halted the jihadists’ advance on the capital. Florence Parly, the French Minister of the Armed Forces, visited Bamako on September 20th to warn Malian colonels in power following two coups in August 2020 and May 2021. Wagner’s choice, she said, would be that of “isolation” at a time when “the international community has never been so numerous in fighting jihadists in the Sahel”.

What the minister does not mention is that France’s commitment to Mali is waning. Emmanuel Macron used the second Malian coup d’état last June, less than a year before the French presidential election, to announce a “redeployment” of French forces in Mali. Although Paris refuses to discuss a de facto withdrawal, even if it is partial, the truth is that the tricolored soldiers will abandon the isolated bases of Kidal, Timbuktu, and Tessalit in the country’s north by next year, concentrating on the area further south of the three borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.

Europeans, who are expected to be more supportive of France, are also perplexed. The humiliation of the Western withdrawal from Afghanistan has served as a wake-up call. The Afghan government’s sudden collapse in the face of the Taliban has demonstrated how difficult it is to build a strong army and institutions. This scenario appears to be repeating itself in Mali.

The possibility of a rapprochement between Bamako and Moscow is taken seriously because Putschists in Mali have always been sensitive to Russian offerings. Colonel Sadio Camara, Mali’s Defense Minister, visited Russia on September 4. Disagreements over a reversal of Mali’s alliances are said to have been one of the causes of the Malian colonels’ second coup, which ousted the civilian transitional government last May.

Russia also acts as a boogeyman for the Malian military. According to a Daily Beast investigation, the Malian army organized a supposedly spontaneous demonstration last May demanding Russian intervention. This was also a warning to the international community, which is growing weary of the country’s poor governance and repeated coups.

Is Mali transitioning from the French to the Russian spheres of influence? Since Moscow gained a foothold in the Central African Republic, the scenario is not a figment of the imagination. Russian instructors and Wagner’s mercenaries have proven their worth in this former French backyard. Even though the UN condemns Russia’s atrocities in this conflict, the Russians were able to push back the rebels who were threatening the capital Bangui last December with the help of UN peacekeepers and Rwandan reinforcements.

The Kremlin denies any involvement with the Wagner group. However, the company is actually run by a close associate of Vladimir Putin. The use of private mercenaries allows Moscow to avoid military commitments abroad, as it did previously in Ukraine and Libya. “Russia is not negotiating a military presence in Mali,” said a Kremlin spokesman in mid-September. When questioned by the magazine Jeune Afrique on September 20th, Central African President Faustin-Archange Touadéra swore that he had “not signed anything with Wagner.” “In the Central African Republic, we have companies that were established in accordance with the law and operate on liberalized markets,” he explained.

Nothing has been decided on Wagner, it is repeated in Bamako. According to the military, the selection of foreign “partners” is a matter of Mali’s “sovereignty.” They regard these “rumors” as an attempt to “discredit the country.” The Malian junta is under siege, not only from jihadists but also from the international community. The latter is calling for elections to be held in February to return power to civilians, as stipulated in the military-agreed transition charter. Electoral reform must come before the election. However, Colonel Assimi Gota, the transitional president, has shown little interest in preparing for these elections. The Malian junta may also be hoping that Russia’s partners will be less stringent on democratic requirements.

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Africa

Google Drives Deeper into Africa

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As the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), the new initiative that places emphasis on intra-African trade – including free movement of goods, capital  and people – foreign players have accordingly raising eyes on using the new opportunity to expand their operations in Africa.

Foreign enterprises are gearing up to localize production in industrial hubs and distribute their products across the borderless territory considered as a single market in Africa. Thus, by its description, Africa’s estimated population of 1.3 billion presents itself a huge market – from baby products through automobiles and to anything consumable.

Google LLC, the U.S. Global Technology Gaint, has primarily set its eyes on business, with a comprehensive plan to expand its operations into Africa. Google made known its plans to commit US$1 billion over the next five years in tech-led initiatives in Africa. It is investing this US$ 1 billion in Nigeria and African countries to support and transform the digital market over the next five years.

In its media release, it said the investment would include landing a subsea cable into the continent to enable faster internet speeds, low-interest loans for small businesses, equity investments into African startups, skills training and many more directions determined in future.

This is in a bid to enable fast, affordable internet access for more Africans, building helpful products, supporting entrepreneurship and small business, and helping nonprofits to improve lives across Africa.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Google and Alphabet, Sundar Pichai, noted that the company was building global infrastructure to help bring faster internet to more people and lower connectivity costs. Through the Black Founders Fund, Google will invest in Black-led startups in Africa by providing cash awards and hands-on support.

The developing world represents the best chance of growth for large internet companies, and today, one of the very biggest set out its strategy for how it plans to tackle that.

“We’ve made huge strides together over the past decade – but there’s more work to do to make the internet accessible, affordable and useful for every African. Today, I’m excited to reaffirm our commitment to the continent through an investment of US$1 billion over five years to support Africa’s digital transformation, to cover a range of initiatives from improved connectivity to investment in startups,” said Pichai.

According to him, this is in addition to Google’s existing support through the Google for Startups Accelerator Africa, which has helped more than 80 African startups with equity-free finance, working space and access to expert advisors over the last three years. The subsea cable is set to cut across South Africa, Namibia, Nigeria and St Helena, connecting Africa and Europe.

According to Managing Director for Google in Africa, Nitin Gajria, it will provide approximately 20 times more network capacity than the last cable built to serve Africa. It is projected to create about 1.7 million jobs in Nigeria and South Africa by 2025 as the digital economy grows.

Google further announced the launch of the Africa Investment Fund, where it will invest US$50 million in start-ups across the continent providing them with access to Google’s employees, network, and technologies to help them build meaningful products for their communities.

It will additionally disburse US$10 million in low-interest loans to small businesses in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa in order to alleviate hardships brought about by the Covid pandemic.

Google is bringing venture capital into the continent. The fund might work in a similar fashion as the Google for Startups Accelerator programme.

Although Africa has a Big Four (Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa and Egypt) in terms of startup and venture capital activity on the continent, the accelerator has made sure to accept applications from startups in less-funded and overlooked regions. These countries include Algeria, Botswana, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Ghana, Morocco, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Founded in September 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is considered as one of the Big Five information technology companies alongside Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft. Google specializes in internet cloud services, software and hardware as well as online advertising technologies.

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Africa

Because Now We Can

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ASARPI, registered in  South Africa as The Institute for Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas and in Mauritius as Advanced Study of African Renaissance Policies Ideas, is not only a primarily virtual  Pan African bridging Asia think tank but  is also a  global multicultural restorative justice and peacemaking making movement.We of ASARPI believe and strive daily to  live lives embracing ,living , and advocating restorative justice embedded policy ideas and practices which eradicate serious quality of life problems such as colonialism, racism sexism, ageism,poverty, environmental injustices,  anti-religious bigotry,poor government and civil society leadership; and  lack of access to decent  water,healthcare, law, and education.Core in this ASARPI mission is our rock solid belief that we are all made in the image of God and thus are all brothers and sisters in need of recovering our humanity in the authentic embracing of others especially those we have been  wrongly taught we are inferior or superior to  since as human beings we are all endowed with gifts and talents deserving to be recognized, cultivated, mentored, and used positively for our self  benefit and that of our loved but  most importantly ,for the  benefit of the rest of humanity.

Giving honor to The Right Honorable Lady Sarojini Jugnauth , welcome  Giving honor to  my great friend and more than that great brother Mr.Maxime N.C  King , to my present and absent brothers and sisters of the  Diplomatic Corps  lead by my gracious sister Her Excellency Rezina Ahmed,   High Commissioner for Bangladesh as well as  my brothers and sisters of The Chinese Chamber Silk Route Business community, including FALCON ; educational political,  religious , and other civil society leaders  and  my other brothers and sisters here today including the  marvelous leadership of  Jienfie Smart City on this  October 1 National Day of the People’s Republic of China, and UN International  Day Greetings and Welcome. Thanks for coming. All other protocols are respected  , appreciated,and observed.

I wish to thank my brother Maxime King for inviting me as Director of ASARPI, to be the Honorary Chair of this historical The SILK ROAD FOUNDATION & The CHINESE BUSINESS CHAMBER__Africa event in germinating right here in Jinfei Smart City the seeds of something well bigger than life in a new needed perspective in linking the economic and business relations among Chinese and other Asians with their continental African brothers and sisters with full effort as well in involving Africans and Asians not only on the two massive continents of the world but also Africans and Asians in their global Diasporas with points of conversions and synergies. As we move forward we need to be forward thinking about mutual respect and collaboration rather than imitating our western brothers and sisters who for centuries indulged in creating and sustaining  oppressive and exploitative  hierarchies of colonialism, slavery, racism, seismic,ageism,indentured labor, genocide, massive poverty , and the devastation of environments including the disability of biodiversity creating such horrible ecological imbalances generating the terrible pandemics which are characterizing our lives in this 21st century world in which we are trying to survive let alone prosper.

 We can do much better than this since  as human beings we all are made in the image of God in need of embracing each other and thus finding our own sustaining humanity. We must do better than this what the West has done to us and what we have and do to each other in grotesquely bigoted  attitudes and ill exploitative treatments as Africans and Asians take the center field of global affairs with a West not declining but in serious need of reorientation in understanding that White Supremacy and its demands for hegemony and imperialism does not work any more.

 We need new ways of coming to justice and peace tables in how we do economics and business together in a world with declining resources  though  with incredible digital age technologies thus in need to learn how to collaborate rather than taking and keeping rather than going to war to take the oil, the other precious minerals and to take the land of the helpless and hopeless if not by war through deceptive humanitarian overtures with evil undercurrent agendas. We need to do much better. We must and can in bold design and implementation with effective monitoring and evaluation authentic,  build a   sustainable new world glowing from an African and Asian center which produces quality technologies and commodities from fashions to food to automobiles made to last rather than made cheaply to roll over profits.   Where human  responsibilities and rights  are lived each day not merely talked about. We need to use surplus capital from means of digital  knowledge and traditional industrial production to be philanthropically socially responsible and responsive rather than copying the Western way of being greedy and stingy or promoting philanthropic initiatives which are superficial and short term rather than sustainable, Liberating, and empowering. We can do all of this because now we can . 

We Africans and Asians wherever we are , no longer have to stoop to those in the North and in the West or in other ways ask for permission and have our sovereignty and other human rights imposed on. Not with nearly half of the global economy being anchored in China and in other Asian countries and with African national leaders increasingly understanding that they too hold extraordinary promise in being serious economic players especially when in coalition with China and other nations as genuine partners in global economic and business futures. 

We have a long way to go. What matters is what we are going to do  in the described partnership we mark and celebrate today. We are going here in Mauritius on this train of a new era of African and Chinese and otherwise Asian economic and business collaborative partnerships not only for the betterment of our national and continental selves but for the entire world in desperate need to make new mojitos in new glass mugs to bring together all of us be it with chopsticks, utensils, or eating with our hands. So it is the reason why ASARPI as a virtual and face to face think tank  is joining brotherly and sisterly arms with the SILK_ROAD Foundation, the African_ China Business Forum, the Chinese Business Chamber , and other Asian business  partners in locked brotherly and sisterly arms with African partners   to be THE venue for freedom of exchange of ideas and strategies to do the necessary to bring what we dream as being a more equitable world driven by justice and peace and human responsibilities and human rights into a stunning reality for the entire world to see but more importantly benefit from in the liberation and empowerment of all humanity no matter who we are demographically, nationalities,our systems of governance, and our religious beliefs .Let’s go.Let’s get going Now Now.

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