In the countryside some 50 km outside Abidjan, a coffee-roasting plant is using the latest digital technology to produce subtle variations on a new theme: Arabusta coffee beans from the Man region.
Adjusting the roast scientifically while introducing other flavours and aromas, the coffee produced by Augur Industries is a combination of high-tech industry and traditional agriculture, and represents a level of digital mechanisation that is far from the norm.
“When it comes to digitalisation, the level in agriculture is still under development,” Roger Kouassi, head of planning, monitoring, evaluation and statistics at the Fund for Agricultural Research and Advice, told OBG.
Recent years have seen a range of new programmes and initiatives from the government, sector players and the ICT industry, aimed at supporting wider uptake of digital solutions in agriculture. These campaigns aim to leverage growing electrification and smart phone connectivity to boost farmers’ incomes.
According to the government’s National Development Plan (Plan National de Développement, PND) 2021-25, roughly 98% of the population had access to electricity in 2019, while in 2020 some 94.6% of the country had 3G coverage and 60% had 4G. Mobile phone penetration, meanwhile, reached 140% by end-2020. Using digital resources to help agriculture by sharing information on optimal farming methods, crop yields, weather conditions and market prices is increasingly practical and cost-efficient.
The PND 2021-25 also establishes wide-ranging goals for digitalisation – from its use for payments in the agriculture sector, to broader plans to boost mobile phone penetration to 190% by 2025, and internet usage from 36.5% of the population in 2019 to approximately 50% by the end of the plan period.
Agricultural digitalisation has already attracted a number of global institutions and companies. In 2018 the World Bank took up the challenge of digitalising sector practices by funding a five-year, $70m e-agriculture project in the country, set to run to 2023. Working with low-yield farms, the project targets the upgrade of local ICT infrastructure and digital equipment, along with the modernisation of agricultural information systems. In particular, it aims to strengthen the role of women in agriculture by increasing their access to ICT, and legal and institutional frameworks in rural areas.
In January 2021 telecoms firm MTN Côte d’Ivoire reached an agreement with the Federation of Food Cooperative Societies of Côte d’Ivoire to help digitalise the agriculture sector. Under this initiative, MTN will work on digitising payment systems within the sector, making them faster and more secure.
Elsewhere, researchers at the Ecole Supérieure d’Agronomie, an agricultural school in Yamoussoukro, have developed an app to inform farmers of the best time to carry out agricultural activities such as watering or harvesting, based on real-time meteorological information from weather satellites operated by the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Other apps are being developed to establish a virtual marketplace, bringing agricultural produce suppliers and buyers together online.
At the same time, a string of innovative local disruptors – known as agripreneurs – have emerged within the e-agriculture movement, developing precision agriculture methods and disseminating information about optimal farming practices via smartphone.
Connectivity to both power and internet may be growing nationally, but in many rural areas gaps remain. While prices for data have fallen, they can still be high for artisanal and small-scale agricultural producers. Training and capacity-building for farmers unaccustomed to digital methods is therefore a key priority moving forwards. However, with the government, ICT companies, research institutions, global organisations and agripreneurs all working to advance digitisation, the future for many farms may lie online.