Afritech startups from Senegal and Benin sit on panel at conference

West African agritech players met at Digital & Agriculture conference

8 April 2024
ITC News

The event took place in Dakar on 17 and 18 January 2024, and focused on the theme: ‘From product to market: lessons learnt in the lifecycle of digitally transforming agriculture’. Players in French-speaking Africa discussed the challenges of digital agricultural transformation.

A meeting to inspire a new model of agriculture

Digital agriculture often means technology like sensors that assess the state of crops, preserve water resources or predict production volumes. But increasingly digital solutions provide effective ways to improve working conditions, manage farms, market products and share knowledge.

These tools are profoundly changing lives in Senegal, and elsewhere in West Africa.

‘At a time when monoculture has demonstrated its limitations, a new generation of start-ups is innovating to encourage a lively and diversified form of agriculture that is on a human scale, more sustainable, better managed and better integrated into its environment,’ said Toffen Kama, an investor with Mercy Corps Venture.

‘Our investment fund, which is very active in agriculture, is on the lookout for African talent capable of providing concrete solutions based on a viable economic model. We were very enthusiastic to take part in the Digital & Agriculture conference in Dakar, an industry event that creates a buzz.’

Refocusing the debate on technologies that have proved their worth

The eagerly awaited conference set out to identify the challenges and opportunities of digital agricultural transformation in French-speaking Africa. For two days, entrepreneurs, support programmes, donors and members of government discussed how to accelerate the agricultural digital revolution.

Beverley Hatcher-Mbu, Deputy Director of the NGO Development Gateway, said the event’s value lies in those conversations.

‘There is a huge range of technology on offer. But digitizing agriculture is not just about developing yet another new app for farmers. So it's vital to share experiences and needs, to avoid duplication and to give priority to developing existing technologies,’ she said. ‘That's why we focused the conference on three fundamental pillars: identifying the problems, targeting the technologies capable of solving them, and helping start-ups that have already proved their worth to go to scale.’

The conference also highlighted the growing importance of agricultural data.

‘The use of satellite images, drones and sensors is contributing to the emergence of precision agriculture. But the ownership, access and sharing of this data require a clear legal framework. We need to draw the attention of public authorities to this point,’ she added.

Promoting the most advanced solutions

Finally, start-ups such as Sooretul and AgroSfer showcased their game-changing solutions, as well as the best practices used in their roll out. Benefiting from the NTF V Senegal Tech project and supported by the Mercy Corps Venture fund, the Senegalese start-up Tolbi demonstrated its app that uses artificial intelligence and geospatial analysis to analyse the water requirements of agricultural plots in real time, warn of any climatic or health risks, calculate input requirements and estimate future yields.

Investors found the remarkable tool inspiring.

‘A new, more intelligent and virtuous form of agriculture is emerging. And events such as the Digital & Agriculture conference are vital for showcasing exemplary initiatives that can make a real difference to farming practices in Africa,’ said Toffen Kama.

About the programme

The Netherlands Trust Fund V (NTF) programme (July 2021 – June 2025) is based on a partnership between the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the International Trade Centre. NTF V supports SMEs in the digital technology and agribusiness sectors in Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Senegal and Uganda. Its ambition is to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable transformation of agri-food systems partly through digital solutions, to improve the international competitiveness of local tech start-ups and to support the implementation of the export strategy of IT&BPO companies