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How this digital innovations practitioner wants to on-board more youth into agriculture and rural economies

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Though Agriculture is the biggest sector in Africa, findings by the European Union show the sector remains unattractive to the youth who prefer to move to urban areas and cities instead of taking up agriculture leaving mostly smallholder farmers practicing subsistence farming.

Mercy Corps AgriFin, led by digital innovations practitioner Sieka Gatabaki is working towards on-boarding more youth into agriculture and rural economies using digital systems attract the youth, in addition to building transparency, to enable access to needed information and financial services.

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Agriculture is the biggest sector in Africa

“Digital services can capitalize on the growing market of youth in agriculture, AgriFin outlined various segments of youth, that considers their varying needs, priorities, and potentials,” said Mercy Corps AgriFin Program Director Sieka Gatabaki. “Through the segments, stakeholders can deliver persona-based Pathways for Driving Growth and Success for Youth in Agriculture. AgriFin developed a case, Rural Jobs Landscape Study – Exploring Rural Job Opportunities for Youth  in Agriculture as a result. In addition, AgiFin was a partner of the Don’t Lose the Plot program, that sought engage Youth through Edutainment.”

However, these might change with new technologies used by farmers across the world and Africa such as IoT, artificial intelligence, remote sensing, geographic information softwares, virtual reality, drones, application programming interface technology and precision technology for remote sensing, pest and disease control, soil and rainfall information, seed development among others.

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Efficiency in the food systems and encourage the youth

To create inclusive and efficiency in the food systems and encourage the youth, the digital innovations practitioner focuses on digital financial services, digital information, advisory services, market access, logistics, climate smart activities, gender and inclusivity.

Present in East Africa, West Africa and Horn of Africa, there is no one region exclusively suitable for the AgriFin model as each region poses a challenge in introducing digital solutions. Kenya, digital ecosystem is more mature, is a more       digitally savvy market, mainly because of MPESA. In Nigeria, the ecosystem is driven by banks, necessitating a modified approach than that used in Kenya. In Ethiopia, which also shares the federal system like  that of Nigeria, the level of digital literacy being low and need to involve the public sector leads to a different approach all together. AgriFin, implements projects in these countries, develops learnings that can be used in  other regions that face similar circumstances.

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On sustainability, Mercy Corps AgriFin is determined to scale its impact – deeper in the countries where it works, and wider to new countries where digital ecosystems could readily benefit from its market and partner facilitation model. AgriFin was essential in brokering critical business partnerships, generating actionable knowledge, and ultimately laying the foundation for a series of commercial DFS (Digital Financial Services) and DIS (Digital information services) that are being increasingly adopted by SSPs.

Critical business partnerships

“Fundamental to this success was AgriFins active, ground-level engagement with partners that resulted in new  and emerging business relationships, and effective bundled services, very much as the project intended,” said Gatabaki. “AgriFIn, does not engage with policy. However, the program deliberately works with organizations, provides needed information, to enable them to develop the policy briefs needed to enable the digital ecosystem.”

Previously, Sieka served as the Group Digital Alliances Manager at Airtel Africa, Airtel Money Director at Airtel Kenya and Technical Advisor with IFC, supporting digital financial inclusion across Africa and consulted for various organizations, including Vital Wave, Ernest & Young, and Grameen Foundation, Sieka sees AgriFin’s model as the best to encourage the youth into farming.

AgriFin’s model to encourage the youth into farming

With over 16 years as a digital innovations practitioner and a business strategy leader with a passion for helping institutions and individuals benefit from new technologies for deepening access to financial and information services, Sieka currently leads work in strategy, product usage and development, channel development and go-to-market execution, providing digital financial and information services to small holder farmers in the Global South.

He also serves on the board of a number of organizations in various sectors giving him first-hand insights on the future of the AgriFin model in its markets.

“To determine our pathway to greater scale, we undertook extensive analysis to identify geographies where the model would thrive,” the digital innovations practitioner said, adding that Mercy Corps AgriFin assessed 48 low-middle income countries to see their customer readiness, demand, supply, provider readiness, and an enabling environment.

Radical realignment of food systems

According to the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) 2030 Research and Innovation Strategy, food unites the world, and powers us forward and therefore a powerful and unified global effort is needed to equip food systems to advance human and planetary health to their full potential. A radical realignment of food systems could not only end hunger and malnutrition in all its forms, but also gender equality, job creation, prosperous livelihoods, opportunities for youth, climate solutions, and environmental health.

Science and innovation are a critical part of the mix, providing new evidence, insights, and solutions that feed into strategic alliances for change. Science and innovation are a critical part of the mix, providing new evidence, insights, and solutions that feed into strategic alliances for change, therefore agricultural, science, innovation and development agencies must now step up their roles in global food systems transformation the continent’s food systems and encourage value chain influencers such as students, researchers, policy-makers, and climate activists into the sector.

Science and innovation are a critical part of the mix

The need for knowledge-driven production will lead to an influx young researchers and innovators to solve the various challenges faced by African agri-food systems. There are proposals to inspire more young people, especially in the rural sector, to engage in agriculture and the agricultural value chains by infrastructural investments in rural areas, grants and investments into youth agribusiness projects, youth-run agribusiness and enhancing skills development through learning and information sharing.

Working with various partners, AgriFin has has reached over 16 million SSPs with critical digital services and plans to reach 5 million small scale producers by 2025 to design and deliver quality products and services to increase their productivity, incomes and resilience by 50% while reaching at least 40% women.

“There is an ample opportunity to engage and strengthen digital ecosystems across the globe. We do not seek to journey alone. We seek innovation and funding partners who share our bold vision of farmers prospering in an interconnected digital world, empowered by digital solutions and inclusive ecosystems. Together, we will take millions more farmers from subsistence to sustainable,” Sieka concluded.

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Sam Wakoba
Sam Wakoba
Taking you on tour through Africa's tech and business ecosystem, one story at a time since 2010! Based out of Nairobi, Kenya, Sam is the founder and managing director of Moran Media, which runs, various other digital platforms and a startup incubation hub for Kenya's youthful entrepreneurs. Drop me a mail at [email protected]

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