Innovation could contribute to poverty reduction

Keletso Thobega
Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Innovation could contribute to poverty reduction

There is high opportunity for innovators in the agriculture sector, says the Africa Innovation report 2017 released last week. This is good news for Botswana, which is trying to improve its agriculture sector.

The only notable innovation related to the agriculture sector from Botswana has been m-Agri by Branstorne Group, a software app developed with the assistance of Orange Botswana, to help farmers share news, events, weather forecasts and tips. The app, launched in 2015, currently has over 10, 000 users.

The report, compiled by Liquid Telecom, outlines the challenges, opportunities and potential for innovations in Africa.  It notes that while a lot of start-ups focus on urban solutions, there is more potential and higher return on investment for rural areas. The report notes that while the challenges are steeper for innovations in rural areas, the rewards are higher for the communities, nation and continent at large.

The World Bank estimates that 65 percent of sub Saharan Africa’s labour force works in the agriculture sector, which accounts for one third of the country’s GDP. Furthermore, rural areas are home to some of the continent’s poorest communities. The Africa Innovation report states that increasing agricultural productivity is critical to lifting large numbers of rural households out of poverty.

Further, that technology and innovation can play an important role in supporting Africa’s agriculture sector, empowering farming communities with information that can drive efficiencies and ultimately increase yield and profit. “Unlocking the potential is one of the largest challenges facing the region’s start ups, as here levels of mobile and internet penetration are at their lowest and the target customer has little disposable income. With the support of governments, academia and NGOs, a growing number of start-ups are developing innovative solutions that navigate these obstacles in order to help support rural communities living close or beneath the poverty line.”

The report profiled interesting innovations like drones to be used in farming by Droneclouds (a partnership between IntegriSense and Afrolabs), which will give farmers the benefits of modern remote sensing through affordable and on-demand crop insights via a cloud platform that uses aerial imagery generated through its social global network of drone operators and satellites.

DroneClouds has already started scaling its operations and finding new ways to use earth observation data to support farming operations. Co-founder at DroneClouds David Campey was quoted as saying that, “We are able to look at a region of small subsistence farmers and identify gaps in their education based on their farming activities. We are generating lots of data, which will create further insights for the academic world and provide further learning for farmers,” he said.

Campey acknowledged that current production offering is often a bit too high tech for African farmers and that’s why it is essential for them to create innovations that are clever but simple to use, and are affordable. Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Ivory Coast surged ahead in Innovation and are leaders in technology innovations particularly.

In a recent interview, Botswana Innovation Hub (BIH) CEO Allan Boshwaen noted that interest in innovation was still low but expressed hope that the situation would improve. “The level of interest in innovation in Botswana is relatively low compared to countries like Kenya where we already see practical examples of individuals making a living out of innovation based entrepreneurship.

“However, BIH and its partners continue to conduct road shows and sensitising activities have proved to be relevant in raising awareness and interest. Most notably, the hosting of the Innovation Prize for Africa was one of the key initiatives that stimulated interest from the public,” he said.
Boshwaen also noted that BIH’s role is to create a conducive environment, which nurtures innovations by offering a wide range of quality services and incentives relevant to accelerating the level of creativity and innovation through robust criteria to reach commercial level.

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