By 2050, the current global population of approximately 7.3 million people is set to soar to around nine billion. The world’s biggest dilemma? How to feed this escalating populace. According to Citibank’s 2018 report titled “Feeding the Future: How Innovation and Shifting Consumer Preferences Can Help Feed a Growing Planet”, traditional agriculture currently uses 70 percent of surface and groundwater, and 50 percent of habitable land, while the food industry is responsible for a third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Globally, 1.3 billion tons of food—almost a third of food produced—is lost or wasted every year while malnutrition in the form of hunger, malnourishment, obesity, or micronutrient deficiencies affect almost 40 percent of the global population and costs the economy a staggering R183 trillion annually.
If the food industry keeps working at its current standards to meet the projected 2050 demand, there will be an alarming increase of 65 percent in water usage, 67 percent in land usage, and an 87 percent increase in GHGs. Clearly, this cannot be the solution.
This is why countries across the world have turned their focus to agricultural technology (AgTech) solutions. In South Africa, in particular—where the right to food is enshrined in our Constitution, we face our own challenges such as poverty, lack of access to suitable land, a declining farming population, and a lack of access to finance—AgTech is starting to bring change to the food-production value chain.
For this reason, AFGRI Agri Services has set up its strategic growth and innovation division, AFGRI Technology Services (ATS). Led by Niki Neumann, AFGRI Agri Services’ general manager for innovation and strategy, the purpose of ATS is to build the “business of tomorrow” for the nearly 100-year-old agricultural company and, ultimately, enable solutions that ensure the sector continues to thrive.
“We are a business with purpose,” says Neumann. “Our purpose is to drive food security on the continent. To do this, we need to focus on supporting farmers to increase their productivity while introducing sustainable practices to the value chain. However, for AgTech to truly make a difference, it must reach beyond precision farming, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and drones; it must address the challenges of financial inclusion, water scarcity, connectivity, food security, and the increasing demand for farmers to improve productivity and outputs to meet ever-growing consumption patterns, climate change, and access to markets.”
Given the complexity of the issues at hand, ATS realises that partnerships are critical and has embarked on a unique collaboration model, a recent example being its partnership with Refinitiv on the Bankable Farmer Research Initiative (BFRI).
“One of the greatest challenges for financial inclusion is the lack of credit history and profile. BFRI is dedicated to the use of data science, alternative data sets, and novel approaches to risk modelling to increase access to financial services for small commercial farmers across sub-Saharan Africa,” says Neumann. “We are very excited about what we can achieve with this partnership. Not only are we striving to solve a core business challenge faced by financial institutions, we’re striving to solve a critical development need on the continent.”
This article was originally published in Fast Company SA‘s December/January 2020 issue.