Next Generation Agritech

The future of one of the continent’s most prolific sectors

The 2019 MEST Africa Summit will feature a panel discussion on next generation agritech, and what we can expect from the sector. Desmond Koney, Co-Founder & CEO of MEST portfolio company Complete Farmer, shares his thoughts on where the agriculture industry is heading and how tech platforms can help to automate processes across the value chain.

Agriculture is big business and even more so in Africa. Africa’s food system is valued at $313 billion USD and expected to increase to $1 trillion by 2030, according to the World Bank. With global populations on the rise, there is a need to double food production by 2030 to meet this demand.

As the CEO of Complete Farmer, and a trained mechanical engineer, I have developed a knack for designing efficient machines. My work at Complete Farmer is to build a farming value chain platform like a well-oiled machine. Complete Farmer is a digital agriculture platform that is working to make owning a farming venture frictionless, by democratizing farming to make it accessible for anyone to farm on Africa’s rich soils.

Africa is home to almost half of global arable lands, and with its growing youthful labor force, it is no surprise that the continent’s potential to become the center for global food production is more tangible than ever today. However, the agriculture sector in Africa has seen some hard challenges which have caused its contribution to global food production to dwindle from 56% to 46% since the 1980s, even though there have been advancements established which have changed the production systems significantly.

Examples includes the use of machine learning to create credit scores for smallholder farmers and make them investable like FarmDrive in Kenya; Apollo Agriculture who uses satellite imagery; TroTro Tractor’s adaption of mechanized farming equipment in a sharing economy and Agrocenta and JetStream Africa making high-value markets accessible to smallholder farmers. A vast amount of other innovative solutions being adapted now that have been witnessed on some parts of the continent but more needs to be done.

Hope is on the horizon with the advent and mass adoption of enabling technologies to help us meet changing consumer demands with innovative production and supply chain solutions. This has opened the entire value chain up for disruption, and there is a race for those on the continent to realize these opportunities.

These innovations must be developed for and targeted towards addressing sustainable means of shifting focus from smallholder farming to much-needed commercial precision agriculture. Many of these solutions are born from a blend of science, business, and engineering — a good mix for the next green revolution in Africa.

Trends in Agtech in Africa.

Solutions such as improved seed varieties, electricity, internet of things, data analytics techniques, climate resilient practices, irrigation, mechanization, biofortification, to list a few, have started paying off across Africa and will soon see a leapfrog effect. With the help of tech solutions that improve output, reduce waste and minimize costs, while contributing to employment, agriculture in Africa has the potential to become the biggest contributor to its gross domestic product.

Diversifying investments into agriculture to mitigate some of the current challenges and to provide supporting infrastructure for farmers is what’s left to ignite the transformation of this industry. And where governments have failed, agritech companies are thriving.

Next generation agritech will look to build platforms that can host these solutions in a coherent approach, improving every step in the value chain. Such platforms depend on the fine-tuning of stakeholder activities with a focus on the end product. Platforms that are very driven towards the demand side of the market to inform supply practices would be able to host a customized set of solutions to meet the market’s need.

The Complete Farmer Platform Dashboard

With this approach, a platform can be well suited for a particular value chain. For instance, the right stakeholders and solutions can be deliberately organized to be on such a platform whose major drive is to grow crops for specific industries. This will drive the “Green technological revolution”. To do this, there needs to be a solution that aggregates intelligence, not services, for a vertical integration model to provide an end to end solution. Complete Farmer does this with its platform dashboard built to deliver an end to end farming experience while growing precisely what industries requires

With recent availability and utility of data, a second shot can be taken at this based on learning from failed attempts. With groundbreaking business models, operational efficiencies and enabling technologies, agritech companies are set to significantly disrupt an ancient industry. The entire value chain can be automated and middlemen digitized to make the industry more transparent and efficient.

The endemic increase of middlemen in agriculture today has rendered many outputs from Africa uncompetitive in the global commodities market, as they retain much of the value within the system. But by eliminating the middlemen with digitalization, existing stakeholders can unlock more value from sales of agricultural goods.

The automation and digitization in the industry can also extend to customization of the end product. Consumers are very soon going to truly have control over what they eat, paving the way for this stagnating industry to experience a radical transformation. After digitization, one should expect democratization and collaboration within the industry. Industry stakeholders such as financial institutions, logistics services, and research institutions will be able to better collaborate through agritech platforms — this is the recipe needed to automate the entire value chain.

Agriculture is ripe for disruption. As the global population continues to rise, new solutions are critical. By aligning consumer preferences with sound agriculture practices, Africa can contribute its fair share to help feed the world. Complete Farmer is digitizing farming to feed tomorrow’s population, with a calculated approach to make farming a precise science that is standardized for high-value markets and it makes it possible for anyone in the world — from Tokyo to New York — to be part of this farming revolution.