Africa’s Biggest ‘Digital dividend’ Lies in its Rural Areas, Argues Report

ADDIS ABABA – Digital innovations could transform African rural areas and agriculture while tackling many of the continent’s other emerging challenges, from youth unemployment, food insecurity and the need for further economic growth, a new report explains.

Around 60 percent of the African population is under the age of 24. At the same time, one in four Africans remains food insecure, the highest rate in the world.

“These conditions present a perfect opportunity for digital agriculture to scale up across rural Africa,” says Prof. Joachim von Braun, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel.

“It is the many emerging digital tools targeting agriculture and services that will generate attractive jobs on the continent in coming decades.”

The report, Byte by Byte: Policy Innovation for Transforming Africa’s Food System with Digital Technologies, will be launched on June 25 during the Malabo Montpellier Forum in Kigali, Rwanda.

And it calls for investments targeting so-called “last-mile” infrastructure to bridge the urban-rural digital divide, including connections to the electrical grid, reliable telecommunications and internet connection.

It also recommends the establishment of digital innovation hubs as well as fiscal incentives, including lower import duties initially, to facilitate market entry and the import of technologies until local markets are developed.

These include long-term finance, affordable (mobile) internet, fair competition standards, and lower overall prices for consumers.

At the same time, digitization needs to be placed at the core of national agricultural development policies and public investment plans, the report suggests.

It also says a transparent regulatory environment is required that promotes further adoption of digital technologies and services while balancing the free-flow of data and information with privacy policies.

“Digitalization done smartly and at scale offers the opportunity for African countries to overcome the many infrastructural, institutional and technological obstacles that have hampered growth and transformation of the agricultural and rural economy,” said Ousmane Badiane, co-chair of the Malabo Montpellier Panel. “It would otherwise take generations and substantial investments to overcome the above obstacles – time and money that countries do not have.”

“Digital technologies can be deployed to upgrade skills, deliver services, connect business to reach a critical mass of operators across widely dispersed geographic areas in much shorter time and at lower cost,” Badiane added.