By AGRA Content Hub

In an Interview with Susanna Cartmell-Thorp for the Spore Magazine, Dr Agnes Kalibata, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), highlights the importance of knowledge sharing and partnership building by CTA and the need for a stakeholder alliance for achieving greater impact in digitalisation for agriculture.

AGRA has been a close partner of CTA for many years which, as a relatively small organisation, has used its partnerships to achieve greater reach and impact than if it had worked alone. How do you see CTA’s achievements?

I got to know CTA a long time ago; it was probably one of the few institutions documenting its work in agriculture and the lessons learned, and making these available to smallholders. In 2013, during my term as Rwanda’s Minister of Agriculture, I also worked with CTA on its ICT4Ag conference in the country, which was extremely well received and helped to raise the consciousness of governments and other players around the role of ICTs for agricultural development. CTA has encouraged countries to think about digitalisation, its role in the agriculture sector, and how to use and capitalise on the opportunities. The organisation has also combined digitalisation with a focus on entrepreneurship, helping digital initiatives to really gain momentum.

CTA also introduced Pitch AgriHack, which has ensured that young people are being educated and supported to engage in ICT4Ag. There wouldn’t be the type of entrepreneurship we are seeing around ICTs in agriculture if it had not been for CTA’s efforts in mobilising the ICT4Ag landscape, and leading by example to showcase real examples of entrepreneurial opportunity. And of course, at this year’s African Green Revolution Forum (AGRF), CTA launched its joint report with Dalberg Advisors, which not only reveals what is happening on the ground in digitalisation for Africa, but provides huge advocacy for the use of digital technologies in the sector.

A key recommendation of the digitalisation report is the creation of an alliance to promote partnerships and to scale up solutions. How do you see that happening?

One of the ways in which AGRA fast tracks the transformation of agriculture is by bringing together groups of people or institutions who care about the same things through our continental convening, the AGRF, and looking to see how these groups can work together on certain themes between each annual event. There are currently around 10 thematic working groups, including on digitalisation and gender. My hope is that the digitalisation group becomes an alliance for digitalisation through which we are able to form partnerships that are needed for progress, and to discuss available opportunities in this sector. For example, is it resourced enough? What type of investment does it need? Is it a public or private sector thrust? From a public sector perspective, what does it need – is it policies, new ways of looking at how the private sector engages, etc?

So, an alliance for digitalisation is critical, it’s something that needs to happen because the industry is growing and players need to come together on a regular basis to know who is working in what space. The AGRF provides the opportunity for all of us to get together and talk about the progress we are seeing, and in between each event, it’s really important that all partners track progress and hold each other accountable.

What more would you like to see African governments and decision-makers doing with regards to transforming agriculture and capitalising on the potential of digitalisation and entrepreneurs?

Governments are looking for new ways of delivering services to farmers and there are a number of digital tools that can be utilised, whether it is e-vouchers for delivering inputs like seeds and fertilisers, ICT-enabled weather information services, or apps for insurance and crop protection management techniques. So, there is great potential for services and entrepreneurial activities that can be generated around the digitisation of agriculture. CTA has been a great advocate of digitalisation by galvanising interest in the sector and demonstrating what is already there. However, we really need to think about the kind of policy environment that needs to be in place from an ICT entrepreneurial or digitisation perspective. So many businesses are quickly being created in this environment and we need to ensure that these start-ups are grounded in policies and a regulatory environment that gives them rights but also responsibilities. In short, we need to think about what type of environment supports businesses in this landscape, and this needs to happen pretty fast.

In 2020, the AGRF will be returning to Kigali in Rwanda. How did that come about?

It was becoming extremely difficult for AGRF partners to cover the cost of hosting AGRF in a different country every year. To take this conference to another level in terms of the quality of what it can offer, we decided to run it in a similar style to the World Economic Forum on Africa, where the ‘home’ is Cape Town, South Africa, and an alternative country hosts it every other year. Using this model, we asked countries to bid and Rwanda, which has great facilities and government support, was selected as AGRF’s ‘home’. The Government of Rwanda has also shown tremendous commitment to agriculture from a public sector perspective, which is critical as we want to draw in the public sector, AGRF initially started out as a private sector led engagement forum.

In addition, we want the AGRF to be bigger, we want to bring in more private sector, more youth, more women and more thematic engagement. We also want to make sure that between the AGRF summits there is better engagement around development and focus on what we are going to deliver for the people that come to the events.

At the AGRF, you have highlighted that it’s important to bring different actors together. CTA has worked both at the field level with famers and agribusinesses but has also been key in advocating at policy level and for driving the agenda in key areas. What do you feel is CTA’s particular strength?

One of the things we don’t do well, especially in this continent, is to document and share knowledge. So being able to have a partner that has the ability to pull out knowledge from all sorts of institutions, document it and make it publicly available is huge; that is number one. Number two is advocacy around what is important; once CTA picks up on a critical topic, it really puts its weight behind it, in terms of advocating for what needs to be done. In addition, CTA has done so much for young people. As we struggle to help find jobs for young people, Pitch Agrihack ensures that they have some form of skills and can be given an opportunity to use their minds and imagination to develop businesses. CTA has built the capacity of youths and given them the confidence to step forward and think of themselves as entrepreneurs. The organisation has done a great job as a knowledge builder, of sharing that knowledge and of advocating what needs to be done and what needs to change.

Is there anything else you want to add?

It is appropriate to thank the leadership and team of CTA for the amazing work they have done in the last few years. I have had the privilege of working with them both in Rwanda and at AGRA and I have to say they actually deliver, and deliver good work.