Christine Chemnitz is Department Head International Agriculture Policy at the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

16.06.2017

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Digital technologies no doubt hold a great potential to trigger changes in African agriculture. But the euphoria over digitisation must not eclipsethe issue of who actually benefits from new developments and whether they are not increasing pressure on those who are already marginalised instead of supporting fair participation, our author maintains.

As a rule, governments, federations and business representatives paint a rosy picture of what the future of African agriculture could look like with the aid of digital technologies. It is understandable for people to hold such hopes. After all, over the last 40 years, digitisation has changed many societies and business fields world-wide to an extent that hardly anyone would have predicted – albeit not necessarily in a fairer and more sustainable direction. Given the major challenges that many rural regions in Africa are facing, fundamental changes really are appropriate and needed. There, efforts to reduce rural poverty and hunger have met with less success than elsewhere, and the impacts of climate change and dwindling natural resources are going to further aggravate the situation that smallholders are in. In addition, more than 60 per cent of Africa’s population are younger than 25 years of age. From today up to 2035, around 350 million young people will be entering the labour market. Only about a third of them are going to earn a reasonable income in sectors other than agriculture. This is why strengthening the agricultural sector in its multifunctional role is absolutely paramount.

Do digital technologies strengthen participation and ownership?

So there can be no question that changes will occur. And whatever they may look like, digital technologies are going to play a role in them. But only one role in a cluster of political, social, legal and technical innovations and measures required to implement the targets defined in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Any technology can only be as good or as bad as the social and political context in which it is embedded. Technologies form our environment, change or consolidate power structures and thus crucially influence future developments, all of which also applies to digital technologies.

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