African Farmers in the Digital Age

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SU Agricultural Economist, Bill Gates Contribute to Special Edition

In a special edition of the international magazine Foreign Affairs, the name of Stellenbosch University agricultural economist and PhD student Lulama Traub stands alongside those of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and former United Nations head Kofi Annan. She is one of twenty contributors to the anthology that looks at African farmers in the digital age lose weight fast.

It was initiated by the Digital Thinking Initiative, and discusses aspects of food systems, smallholder farming, and the transformative opportunity presented by digital technology.

The Foreign Affairs magazine is supported by the American Council on Foreign Affairs.

Its special compilation of articles takes a look at how investments in digital technology and policies can be used to empower smallholder farmers and advance rural development. The authors of the essays paint a picture of what a thriving African food system can accomplish and lay out some concrete steps for building that system. It is expected that by deploying the combination of digital technology and human creativity will revolutionize life for Africa’s farmers by overcoming isolation, speeding up change, and taking success to scale.

Traub co-authored two articles along with Dr Thom Jayne of Michigan State University and a distinguished fellow of the African Association of Agricultural Economists.

Traub is a senior lecturer of the SU Department of Agricultural Economics. As part of her PhD research at SU, she examines the impact of changing land prices on production practices of smallholder farmers in Tanzania. She also serves as the Chair of the Technical Committee for the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes in East and Southern Africa (ReNAPRI), of which Stellenbosch University is a member. ReNAPRI is an African-led and regionally coordinated group of national agricultural policy research institutes operating in nine African member states

In their first Foreign Affairs article, Jayne and Traub list seven emerging megatrends that African policymakers should consider and respond to if they are serious about food self-sufficiency and agriculture-led growth. In the process the authors weigh up the development story of Asian economies with that of Africa.

Among the megatrends is the fact that although the share of Africa’s work force in agriculture is declining gradually, the majority of the continent’s people will still be engaged primarily in this sector for at least the next decade. Another trends to consider is the so-called youth bulge. Around 330 million young Africans are expected to enter the job market over the next two decades. Increased competition for farmland, macroeconomic management, the telecommunications revolution, widespread soil degradation in densely-populated African farming systems, and greater climate variability are also pressing issues.

In the second article, Jayne and Traub look at the future of young people in the agricultural business sector. They zero in on the issue of increasing demand for land in Africa, and consider its causes and its implications for the growing rural population, as well as the environment.

According to Ms Traub, their inclusion in the anthology came after a paper they helped co-author on megatrends shaping the African food system. It was read by Sam Dryden, a senior fellow at Imperial College London and former director of agricultural development for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Dryden, together with Kofi Annan, served as co-curator of the special edition. They were invited to a Digital Thinking for Smallholders think tank at Imperial College London in November 2014. They were then invited to submit an article for the Foreign Affairs special edition.

Traub says that valuable ideas contained in the Foreign Affairs articles come from a Horizons Scanning exercise that ReNAPRI members conducted in an effort to engage African policy makers and private sector participants in foresight exercises. Such a session was held in October 2015 in Maputo, Mozambique, and included 160 government officials, academics and private sector representatives.

View and download the Foreign Affairs anthology here.

February 17, 2016 by Engela Duvenage, University of Stellenbosch News