Microsoft has pledged support to the One Million Farmers Platform, a World Bank initiative aiming to improve the productivity, profitability and resilience of one million African farmers.
As part of through its 4Afrika Initiative, Microsoft will through disruptive agricultural technologies by providing technical and business support to the 14 Kenyan innovators selected to build technology solutions for the platform.
Microsoft mentors will work closely with each innovator to provide mentorship around business development, technology architecture and go-to-market strategies.
Data-driven agricultural sector
Additionally, innovators will have the opportunity to apply for Microsoft’s AI for Earth grant – a US$50 million programme that invests in solutions promoting sustainability around water, climate change, biodiversity and agriculture.
The pledge comes just three months after Microsoft 4Afrika partnered with the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA) in Africa, which similarly looks to promote data-driven agriculture to improve food security in 11 countries.
“Agriculture is a priority area of investment for us, not only because of the enormous number of livelihoods it supports and the economic growth it drives but also because it has a high potential to be a data-driven sector,” says Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika.
“With an expanding population, there’s an opportunity to use technology to improve farm productivity, optimise resource use and increase crop yields to combat rising food insecurity. We’re fully committed to supporting agricultural transformation starting in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – and more critically, the innovators who are key drivers of this digital transformation.”
According to AGRA, smallholder farmers currently make up 70 per cent of sub-Saharan Africa’s population, contributing some 90 per cent of food production. However, these farmers are not currently reaching their full potential, challenged by limited access to markets, high cost of finance, low-yielding seeds and farm inputs, which leads to lower levels of productivity.
For this reason, the One Million Farmers Platform is prioritising digital solutions in extension, financial services, markets and data-driven applications, helping Africa to capture the current US$300 billion food market, which is projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030.
The One Million Farmers Platform will be working with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, and 16 counties across Kenya, to ensure its success.
Sensors, drones and machine learning
Microsoft 4Afrika has committed to supporting these participating governments with technical skills development, both through workshops and by skilled resources through its programmes.
“We’re excited to have partners pledge their support to this initiative. Through combined networks, we hope to synergise investments at national and county level, accelerating the adoption of technology and driving agricultural transformation,” says Vinay Vutukuru, Senior Agriculture Specialist, World Bank.
“Meaningfully transforming agriculture requires a full ecosystem effort, and we look forward to developing this ecosystem with partners like Microsoft.”
In addition to its partnerships with AGRA and the World Bank, Microsoft’s investments in agriculture include its FarmBeats project, which is using is low-cost sensors, drones and machine learning algorithms to support data-driven, precision farming.
Previous winners of its AI for Earth grants in Africa include SunCulture, DHI Group and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, who are all using artificial intelligence to address food security and nutrition in Africa. Finally, through the 4Afrika Initiative, Microsoft has also provided technical support to agri-tech start-ups locally and across the continent.
IoT in Kenya’s fish production
Already, Liquid Telecom has connected ten pilot-phase sensors sending information and feeding instructions to farmers through an Android and iOS app.
In the project based in Kisumu, innovation technology hub LakeHub and Pinovate have created AquaRech and Liquid is using the Internet of things (IoT) to help monitor water temperature and pH values in ponds to increase fish production.
The AquaRech programme is among those by Liquid Telecom which are meant to improve food security in the country. Aquarech will eventually be rolled out to 30,000 fish pond farmers countrywide.
“This is one of a series of partnerships we are developing to increase the country’s food security as part of the government’s big four agenda,” said Sajid Ahmad Khan, Chief Operations Officer, Liquid Telecom East Africa.
Using IoT-connected sensors to calculate optimal feeding times was found to reduce fish deaths by 30-40 per cent in a one-year study in Iran by information technology company Afarinesh Samaneh Mehr Engineering Co. (ASM).