Technology can provide Namibia with food security leeway

AS supply chains around the world and in Namibia are disrupted and the demand for certain types of food drops in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak, questions have begun to emerge about Namibia and its ability to ensure food security for its citizens.

While parts of the continent have faced recent food production challenges due to droughts, floods and swarms of locusts, Africa continues to have enough staple food to feed the majority of its citizens, thanks to local farming and imports from other parts of the world.

However, the outbreak of Covid-19 has highlighted the need for Namibia just like the rest of the continent to concentrate its efforts on becoming self-sufficient when it comes to the production of certain staple crops, as well as value-addition and processing of raw materials.

More formalised or efficient value chains in other parts of the regions, for instance in South Africa, mean that Namibia will continue to import certain food but, thanks to the current global outlook, there is an opportunity for Namibia to refocus and think proactively about the future.

One aspect that Namibia cannot ignore in this need to change the status quo is the growing role of technology in Africa’s agricultural sector.

According to the African Development Bank, there are currently more than 350 agritech companies operating on the continent and Covid-19 has accelerated digital adoption across sectors, not just farming. In Africa, 70-80 percent of produce is from smallholders – the majority of whom are subsistence farmers.

All these farmers own a mobile phone and can potentially contribute to the agribusiness value chain by becoming out growers who sell into the milling and processing companies, and to exporters.

The new buzzword in digitisation is ‘platforms’. By leveraging off the ‘network effect’, the objective is to bring the whole food value chain together to ensure the easy flow of inputs and produce across the value chain while seamlessly enabling payments and collections, as well as access to knowledge and democratising data.

Without doubt, Sub-Saharan Africa is the ideal playground for this technology based on the complexities around smallholder producers, the lack of infrastructure and markets.

For agribusiness to grow farmers and everyone else in the value chain must embrace these technologies which improve crop yields, lower costs, create efficiencies and bring them closer to the end consumer.

Government and other regulators are taking stock of global shifts that have been brought about by Covid-19. They are seeing moderation from pure reliance on globalisation and a shift towards deglobalisation in respect of food security. Covid-19 has also cast a harsh light on many countries’ over-reliance on food imports and the challenges during a pandemic.

All of these factors point to the need to examine how Namibia reimagines agribusiness and the opportunities it presents.

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, Namibia has been presented with an opportunity to strengthen regional relations in agribusiness and finally start down the road to self-sufficiency when it comes to food security.