Agricultural Innovation in Focus: FSPN Africa Unveiling the Future of Agriculture at the 7th Mercy Corps Agrifin Learning Event.

The economic fallout greatly impacts people's lives, and shock waves are felt through countless industries. Agriculture is one key vast industry that is always at the frontline when it comes to these shocks attributed to environmental and economic fluctuations. To narrow the situation down, Smallholder farmers in Africa are affected by multiple stressors that negatively disrupt farming systems and consequently threaten farmers’ livelihoods. Economic shocks include those caused by conflicts that lead to failing agricultural market and slowdowns in technological renaissance despite shouldering efforts to scale the necessity of practices that minimize negative environmental impact and promote long-term viability.

With the theme 'Resilient, Inclusive and Sustainable Food Systems: Enhancing Collaboration to Scale Digital Solutions,' The 7th AgriFin Learning Event (ALE) held at Safari Park Hotel, Nairobi Kenya brought together stakeholders in the agricultural sector who are focused on leveraging digital technology, to drive the sector’s growth, and improve the lives of smallholder farmers. Mercy Corps, in partnership with esteemed organizations, CGAP, FinEquity, FSD Kenya, IDH, SPARC, SPROUT, and the World Bank.

Knowledge being a catalyst for transformation, the booming digital technology era provides a viable way to build farmers’ resilience to cope with the shocks. The two-day event increased networking, collaboration, and enriched learning where organizations, companies, financial institutions, developments partners and private sector convened to share their experiences, finding, and solutions embedded in promoting and scaling up digital innovations among farming communities. Here are some key highlights.

Agriculture Advisory and Nutritious Snacks.

Each positive action when it comes to dietary choices, no matter how small, contributes to the greater goal of healthy lives and for future generations. Whether you're a food actor leader or an individual, your choices matter, and together, we can create a world where nutrition sustainability is not just a goal but a way of life.

During the event FSPN Africa showcased innovations it is bring forth to bridge digital disparity in the food supply chains and supporting youth innovations for healthy diets which contributes to a future where nutritious food choices are prioritized. Onja Foods and Ipop Africa graced the event with their unique value addition innovations. The two growing companies are the vigorous scaling phase powered by HealthyDiets4Africa Living Lab, under HealthyDiets4Africa Project funded by The European Union.

Mary Karoki (Left), and Dorah Momanyi (Right), Founders of Onja Foods and iPOP Africa respectively educate consumers at 7th ALE, 2023.

Pioneered by Young and visionary Founder and champion of Gluten Free food alternatives, Mary Karoki, Onja Foods provided gluten free food solutions such as Gluten-Free flours whereby, interestingly they locally source the raw materials from small holder farmers and add value to these crops produce Gluten free flours and Gluten-free composite flours (Premixes of a maximum of two value chains).

Onja Foods currently focuses on three indigenous crops namely cassava, sweet potatoes and chick pea. They provide Freshly baked Gluten-Free treats such as bread, cupcakes and cookies with similar taste to wheat alternatives but with different scaled nutritional value. To help our customers in the transition to better lifestyles and revert to orphan indigenous meals in fashioned style Onja Foods provide recipes on how to go about the multiuse of the flours

Elsewhere, intrigued by traditional delicacies, Dorah Momanyi, Founder of iPOP Africa, explained to consumers who visited our desk about their marvelous innovation convenient nutritious snacks that are free from oil and gluten while being whole grain. They are Reclaiming sovereignty of indigenous grains the aim to promote healthy weights cut down non-communicable disorders in Africa.

The company has a range of snacks and breakfast cereals made from various indigenous grains including Millet(Pearl and finger millet), sorghum (White and the read sorghum) and whole grain brown rice.

To further enhance nutritional value to their products, iPOP Africa uses high Pressure Popper to pop their products to escape the matrix of using oil to pop as it the conventional popping. Additionally, they use honey as sweeteners alongside others spices like orange and ginger which have health benefits.

Furthermore, FSPN Africa proudly illuminated the event by exemplifying The Shamba Calendar app during the exhibition, illustrating how it provides crucial support services to farmers. The app was demonstrated as a tool that goes beyond traditional farming calendars, offering farmers a comprehensive set of support services, including information on planting schedules, weather forecasts, market trends, and other relevant agricultural data.

The exhibitions aimed to showcase the practical impact of digital solutions on farmers' lives and how technology can be a catalyst for positive change in agriculture.

Key Thematic Areas

Markets/Platforms: Enhanced collaboration for effective digital platforms

This session event emphasized the need for increased collaboration among stakeholders to enhance the effectiveness of digital platforms in agricultural markets. Discussions centered around strategies to strengthen partnerships between various players in the agricultural value chain, including farmers, technology providers, and financial institutions. During this session, a debate on evolving dynamics around existing digital platforms was staged on solutions farmers need vs digital platforms to provide solutions that can serve small scale farmers better.

Digital transitions is moving with speed leading to backsliding in indigenous farming as challenged by Joshua, “Question on indigenous knowledge and organic farming, why are are leaving them behind in digital transition yet they are relevant for producing healthy foods?”

Safari Park Hotel Nairobi: Joshua asking about incorporation of indigenous knowledge in digital transition. Photo: FSPN Africa

While the focus was on creating a more inclusive and resilient digital ecosystem to address bottlenecks in agricultural markets, Mr. Joshua’s question served well as one of the opportunities around scaling robust digital platforms.

Digital Climate Smart Agriculture (DCSA) - Financing Climate Change Adaptations:

Discussions delved into the role of financial mechanisms in supporting farmers in adopting climate-smart technologies and practices where the importance of digital solutions in promoting Climate Smart Agriculture while focusing on practices that enhance resilience to climate change were highlighted. It was underscored that Climate Finance is the catalyst for leveraging resources for new collaborations and promoting technologies that can in long term simultaneously address poverty reduction and sustainable development across Africa.

Safari Park Hotel Nairobi: Presentation by Kuza at the 7th Agrifin Learning Event. Photo: FSPN Africa.

The session Fueled discussions on necessary policies that can positively impact and drive change in the sector bearing its focal point on climate smart agriculture which is an integral approach to help guide the transformation of agriculture food systems. Sprout, an open agriculture content was introduced in this session as a platform that has a range of climate smart agriculture resources and information, as well as climate related products and services that can be relied on in aiding smallholder farmers.

Data - Collaborative Data Synergies for Food System Transformation:

With the growing recognition of the role of data in agriculture and food systems including in the context of smallholder farmers from low- and middle-income countries this subtheme on data explored the collaborative efforts required to harness data for transforming agriculture.

Participants discussed the cutting-edge importance of sharing and integrating data across the agricultural value chain to make informed decisions and optimize resource use. For instance, smallholder farmers can reduce the cost of cultivation, increase productivity, increase sales realization, and reduce vulnerabilities while service providers, shifting to data driven service delivery can enable better customer segmentation, improved product design, reduced cost of service delivery, and improved adoption of services. Not limited to fore mentioned parties, stakeholders such as development funders, data can enable evidence-based funding and also ease monitoring, evaluation, and learning.

However, in practice, when it comes to data in agriculture, notably, most of the efforts are in silos with each organization working on their own data collection, management, and analysis journey. This came out loud as a contributor in duplication of efforts and resources, a fragmented data ecosystem, and farmer fatigue, all of which are detrimental to the data-driven agriculture movement.

To respond forth, collaboration in the data ecosystem through various models such as: co–investment in data collection, data sharing, development of digital public infrastructure were seen a promising pathways to reduce cost in service delivery in programs using data as driver.

Benadict Isiaho, Business Development Associate at FSPN Africa (Right) and Francis Gikaru, Data Scientist at Nendo (Left). Photo Courtesy.

In nutshell, our 2-day ended with a mighty discussion with Francis Gikaru, a Data Scientist at NENDO, who summarized what farmers need with his wise sentiment, “Farmers need ways that catalyze ability to reach solution in more efficient and simple way using their unchanged well conversant route.” This means that as we create digital solutions to cement transformation in Agriculture industry, we need not to impose abrupt change in farmers’ routes but rather assist them propel with efficiency to their hard thought target solutions by customizing tools while bearing in mind the seasonality of Agriculture in Africa.