Involving more than 60% of the active population on the continent and constituting nearly 32% of GDP, the agri-food sector represents a major challenge for the development of Africa in general and for Senegal and its northern region.
There are many obstacles to its development: access to inputs and financing, the modernisation of agriculture, climate change and the rise in raw materials... With the need to transform the sector using technology, innovative initiatives are emerging.
What are the challenges and issues of this digitalisation? What are the practical cases that exist today? What is the potential of agrotech for job creation?
To answer these questions, we organised the Agrotech Day on Wednesday 30 November 2022 in collaboration with the incubator of the Gaston de Saint-Louis University.
Why an agrotech event organised by kaikai?
Despite some previous experience in digital agriculture in Benin and Senegal, and an ongoing project for the digital transformation of CGER (see article) - we are not specialists in agriculture. However, we bring our expertise in the application of digital technology in economic and social development contexts, in particular in the following areas:
Bringing together diverse stakeholders
Producers, MSEs, researchers, start-ups, donors and NGOs active in the agricultural sector were invited to these discussions with a view to finding the best solutions by involving the various stakeholders in the sector.
People-centred digital - giving users a voice
The very organisation of the event in Saint Louis gave the floor to the targets and end-users - farmers and cooperatives - who were able to share their challenges, to bring the realistic perspective of farmers' daily life and to get their opinion on certain decisions or assumptions.
Creating links and partnerships
As a young organisation with a small team, the only way we can scale up our impact is to collaborate with other organisations and encourage new partnerships between different actors.
The challenges of the digital transformation of agriculture and the job opportunities
The two panels identified the following challenges and opportunities:
Loss of income due to lack of processing capacity
Several participants referred to the significant crop losses due to the lack of processing capacity, for example the colossal losses in onion production which leads us to import more than 35 billion CFA francs per year.
Companies such as BaySeddo and ProXalys are using digital technology to bring producers and consumers together. Digital technology is used to support value chains and also to increase the availability of market information.
In some areas, farmers have difficulty accessing land and face many disputes; hence the need to map these arable lands, a task undertaken by the Senegalese government in collaboration with startups specialising in the field. As Assane Kane, Director of CGER Vallée, pointed out, rural communities have a lot of information on these maps, which can even go as far as defining the types of crops that can be grown in each area.
As families grow, the size of the fields remains the same, leading to a discouragement of young people in agriculture.
The lack of connection between the world of research and the world of business
Prof. Faroukh Niass recalled the need to test solutions in local conditions, and the role that universities and researchers can play in this context. However, there is a lack of collaboration between the latter and the business world, which does not always have the capacity to do basic research.
Researchers do not have significant resources to carry out advanced research on issues related to agriculture. Dr Meïssa Mbaye (Coordinator of the African Centre of Excellence in Mathematics, Computer Science and ICT - CEA-MITIC) recalled that MIT has a research budget of more than 1.9 billion dollars, 80% of which is financed by the American government. The idea of an exchange platform to bring researchers and companies together was mentioned.
Poor management of resources (water, fertiliser, etc.)
Today, Senegalese agriculture consumes large quantities of water and fertiliser. As Professor Faroukh Niass (Director of the UGB's UFR of Agronomic Sciences, Aquaculture and Technologies) reminded us, connected objects - such as humidity sensors - make it possible to use only the quantities necessary to have good harvests; to know when to irrigate and apply fertilisers. This also helps to take into account ecological issues. However, these solutions need to be tested and adapted to the local context.
Producer financing and lack of reliable information
Mamadou Sall, CEO of BaySeddo, spoke about the problem of the lack of traceability of producers in order to benefit from financing from banks and the contribution of digital solutions to remedy this.
Malick Ndiaye, Director of the CGER WALO in Richard-Toll, insisted on the fact that in the whole Senegal River Valley, no more than 10% of the arable land has been used for farming due to lack of funding, and this does not allow the full potential to be exploited in terms of employment.
According to him, digital must support the entire value chain by providing information so that each actor can do what he or she has to do, with guidance from the state. At Manobi, for example, performance information is collected by young agents trained in digital solutions.
Lack of interest of young people in agriculture and low number of students trained in agricultural fields
Today Senegal has courses in universities and colleges to train students in the agricultural sector, but according to Ms. Fatou Kamara Sangaré, a researcher at the Gaston Berger University in Saint-Louis, the number of students is low enough to meet the need for experts with a competitive professional level and a high technical capacity to develop, implement and analyse aquaculture activities, production and processing of agricultural products within this sector.
Young people see their parents cultivating fields for years without making ends meet and this leads them to lose interest in the agricultural sector.
However, we are seeing more and more young urban dwellers wanting to return to their homelands and it is important to seize this opportunity to interest them in agricultural issues.
The struggle of startups in the field of agriculture
No unicorns in agriculture in Senegal
Difficulty in obtaining investment
Need to pivot and adapt (Manobi and Proxalys experiences)
The CGER case study
The CGER, through its Information Systems Manager, Abdou Khadre Ndiaye, presented the practical case of their digital transformation process, in fact, the latter insisted on the fact that it was imperative to involve the concerned actors during the whole process. They also relied on the experience of the CGER staff to propose the most appropriate solution at this stage of their digital transformation and to solve the three main problems they face:
Lack of collaboration and internal communication tools
No file backup system with occasional data loss
Lack of security in file sharing
With their advanced skills in Microsoft tools such as EXCEL (which is the tool they use the most), it was proposed to them to build on these skills to start their digital transformation process by implementing Microsoft 365 (Teams, Outlook, OneDrive, Todo...). This allowed them to use professional emails, chat on Teams and videoconference meetings, which has the advantage of reducing travel and therefore all the financial costs associated with it.
The next step is the implementation of a business tool to digitise the internal business processes (which are currently managed with EXCEL) and allow the CGER to strengthen their advisory service by having qualitative and quantitative information to better guide their members.
For more details on this process, see this article.
The solutions fair
This day was an opportunity for startups evolving in this sector to expose their products and solutions to the different actors but also to the general public. The following startups were able to participate:
Aywadieune - Distribution platform for fishery products
Sama Toll - Startup to connect producers and consumers
Africa Smart Citizens - Solutions against livestock theft
Jokkalanté: Digital solutions to interact with rural populations.
MSA - Multiservices Agricoles: Production and marketing of quality white and parboiled rice
Couve-Tech - Design and marketing of electric and hybrid solar incubators for family and semi-modern poultry farming.
SOTILMA - Intelligent agricultural water meter that allows to manage and optimize water consumption for farmers and industrialists.
As Maïmouna Bathily, from the startup JOKKALANTE, pointed out, this AGROTECH day, and more particularly the solutions fair, also enabled them to identify the needs of all these players in order to propose a personalised and customisable offer that meets the sector's expectations.
The AGROTECH day provided a framework for discussion and identified several challenges and solutions. According to Daniel Annerose, CEO of Manobi, we must learn to work together. According to him, AGROTECH is a sector that can contribute to the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, provided that all the actors collaborate effectively.
Finally, the participants invited the initiators of this day to perpetuate it in order to get the maximum benefit from it. We are currently considering a possible format and theme for the next edition, and are open to any suggestion or opportunity for collaboration!
An incentive for young people
The young students were encouraged to deepen their knowledge of agriculture, but also to take an interest in business management. Ms Fatou Kamara Sangaré advised the students to focus on gaining experience in their early years and not on money at the beginning.
This day would not have been possible without the support of the UGB incubator and its team. We would also like to thank our sponsors ITC through the PACAO Senegal project and CER FRANCE who helped us make this event a success. Our thanks also go to our partners such as CGER, GIZ Invest for JOBS, Proxalys, CEA-MITIC, CER France, UGB, Manobi and BaySeddo for their relevant interventions during the panels, as well as all the participants.
What were the highlights or areas for improvement of the day? Please feel free to share your comments!