Microsoft has signed a partnership with the International Finance Corporation; the largest global development institution, to support the use of technology in Africa’s agricultural sector.
Microsoft will deliver the project through its Africa Transformation Office (ATO) with an aim to to deliver digital products that support African agribusinesses to strengthen food security and develop greater resilience against climate change. The news was announced in a session during the sidelines of COP27 in Egypt.
Through the partnership, digital tools such as Microsoft’s AgBot and Community Training applications are integrated with IFC’s Agribusiness Leadership Program to provide better information, newer technologies, and management capacity training to agribusinesses, farmers and cooperatives.
Contribution of Agriculture
Despite agriculture contributing a significant majority of Africa’s employment, supply chains of many agribusinesses are fragmented and suffer from poor information flows.
Current research estimates that smallholder farmers account for 80 percent of the farming community, with an estimated 33 million smallholder farmers, but they are often hard to reach, residing in remote areas, and lack access to skills, knowledge and agricultural support services. Digital technology can improve the operation of key supply chains in the food system through greater agricultural efficiencies, improved business practices, traceability, food safety and, access to finance.
The package of digital tools provides users with the opportunity to upskill in areas such as more productive climate-smart farming practices and the application of ‘farming as a business’. The digital tools delivered through the partnership are leveraging Microsoft’s agritech chatbot known as the AgBot, which provides extension and advisory services to smallholder farmers using either feature phones or smartphones, via SMS, WhatsApp and Telegram.
The AgBot provides a key platform that farmers can use to access information such as weather alerts, crop advisories, pest diagnosis, and market prices. Stakeholders in the agriculture ecosystem including governments, IFC, the development partners, and private companies can also access the platform to deliver information to users. To date, over 500,000 farmers are actively using the AgBot to access information and to improve productivity.