Nairobi, Kenya – Against the backdrop of the bustling Africa-Korea Agtech Innovation Summit in Nairobi, Uganda’s Minister of Agriculture, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, delivered a thought-provoking discourse that resonated with the summit’s overarching theme of leveraging Disruptive Agricultural Technologies (DATs) to propel Africa’s agricultural sector into a new era.
The two-day summit, a culmination of the World Bank-backed Innovation Challenge, unfolded as a nexus of ideas, collaboration, and innovation, bringing together finalists from Uganda, Kenya, and South Korea. The event aimed to explore cutting-edge solutions to the challenges plaguing African agriculture and to harness the potential of disruptive technologies in transforming the continent’s farming landscape.
In his keynote address, Minister Tumwebaze delved into the crux of the matter – the indispensable role of increased internet access in catalyzing the much-needed transformation in Africa’s agriculture. “Without achieving Universal Connectivity, I don’t think you’ll be able to connect the farmers. I don’t think you’ll be able to enroll them in their platform. I don’t think you’ll be able to collect the right data in real-time you need,” he emphasized.
The minister’s impassioned plea for robust broadband policies echoed the sentiment of many in the room, resonating with the challenges faced by farmers in remote areas with limited access to technology. The summit became a crucible for ideas on how to bridge the digital divide and ensure that even the smallest farmers could benefit from the digital revolution.
The Innovation Challenge, spearheaded by the World Bank, was a beacon of hope for startups and tech farms seeking to address the intricacies of agriculture using DATs. Minister Tumwebaze applauded the World Bank’s commitment to the cause, acknowledging the financial support through affordable loans and grants that have injected vitality into various agricultural projects.
He lauded the World Bank’s efforts in dispelling common misconceptions about the institution, stating, “When people hear the bank, they don’t think you do grants. They think it’s a long process, but there are actually many grants, and those grants are normally intended to support people at the last stage of the pyramid – the farmers. So, we thank you for that.”
The minister pivoted his focus towards advocating for collaborative efforts between Ministries of Agriculture and Ministries of Telecommunications and Information Technology. “Ministries of Agriculture of our countries must have a constant discussion with the ministries of their telecommunications and I.T.,” he stressed. This plea underscored the need for seamless collaboration between sectors to lay down the groundwork for effective and widespread adoption of digital technologies in agriculture.
Drawing attention to the often-overlooked necessity of treating broadband as a public good, Minister Tumwebaze questioned, “Is it treated as a public good? Is it prioritized the way electricity is? Is it prioritized the way water is?” The rhetorical questions forced the audience to ponder the critical role of internet connectivity in the digital age and its impact on agriculture.
The summit also witnessed Minister Tumwebaze addressing the imperative of simplicity and effectiveness in technological solutions. He highlighted the challenges faced by farmers who may not be formally educated but are integral to the agricultural landscape. “We must have solutions that are easy to be used by the illiterate and the unskilled,” he urged, emphasizing the need for inclusivity in technological solutions.
Minister Tumwebaze drew from his rich experience, stressing the significance of creating linkages between agriculture startups and farmers. He proposed leveraging existing cooperative structures, commodity associations, and farmer groups to facilitate these crucial connections. “You have different solutions for different people. Let’s create the linkages,” he urged, emphasizing the need for targeted solutions based on the diverse needs of farmers.
Furthermore, the minister underscored the need for collaboration between agricultural research institutions and startups, highlighting the chasm between scientific advancements and practical applications in agriculture. His call for synchronized efforts to bridge this gap echoed throughout the summit, emphasizing the importance of a unified approach to innovation.
Minister Tumwebaze expressed gratitude for the World Bank’s support and called for positive technological disruption. He urged tech innovators to focus on solutions that bring about positive change, challenging the perception of disruption as a negative force. “Technologies should disrupt you from continuing to be stuck with the old methods of working to the better,” he asserted.
The Africa-Korea Agtech Innovation Summit, with its focus on DATs and collaborative endeavors, stands as a milestone in the journey to transform agriculture in the continent. Minister Tumwebaze’s impassioned advocacy for increased internet access and digital solutions serves as a rallying call for governments, institutions, and startups to work hand in hand for a technologically advanced and sustainable agricultural future in Africa. As the summit adjourns, the echoes of Minister Tumwebaze’s words linger, heralding a new dawn for African agriculture—one driven by innovation, collaboration, and digital resilience.