From 14 to 16 March 2023, a capitalisation workshop was held in Dakar (Senegal), co-piloted by Enabel, Expertise France and Oxfam, on the theme of digitalisation as a lever for agricultural production. Expertise France appointed Mandiaye NDAO, an engineer, as facilitator throughout the event, with the aim of sparking debate on the impact of digitisation on agricultural productivity, discussing new digitisation tools and strategies for disseminating these new tools in the countries where they are used.

Digital technology as a lever for productivity and crisis response.

These capitalisation workshops took place over three days, during which the key themes were strengthening internal capacities and improving agricultural productivity through digitalisation. The workshops brought together forty representatives from 7 different countries in Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific and Europe, and from a variety of backgrounds: Chambers of Commerce, administration, finance and the agricultural sector.

During the workshops, participants discussed the problems, impacts and solutions of digitisation on the various links in the agricultural value chain. They also took a closer look at how digital tools are being used in the field by the various players in the agricultural sector, in terms of market access, selling prices and input prices.

Field visits: agricultural uses of digitisation

Three field visits on different scales were then conducted. The concrete presentations of projects enabled participants to become aware of various fundamental elements in promoting digital uses in agriculture, including 1) the importance of involving the various players (farmers, implementers, backers) in the collaborative construction of projects, but also the financial dependence of the ecosystem on international funding; 2) the strategic importance of data when using digital tools (data collection and aggregation, opening up and appropriation of data, mapping, interoperability); 3) the support needed by farmers in this digital equipment phase, via direct public support (subsidies) or credit facilities.

Participants were able to visit Yeesal Agri Hub, the first agritech hub in Senegal. Its aim is to support innovative entrepreneurship in agribusiness, agrictech and the green economy. The visit to Yeesal provided an opportunity to present Tolbi, a digital platform that includes data to facilitate optimal decisions in terms of fertilisation, irrigation and phytosanitary treatments. For example, participants were able to see how farmers use climate information via a climate data sharing network to optimise watering and, consequently, improve yields…

Following the theoretical presentations and field visits, the participants took stock of their respective progress and problems. Using an interactive survey, participants were able to capitalise digitally on the issues raised throughout the event. The aim was to enable each country to appropriate, popularise and share the various lessons learned.

Human-centred technology: an approach for the agricultural sector

This ambitious theme is at the heart of the DIRECCT programme: digital technology must serve users, farmers, and not the other way round. In fact, the projects presented have all implemented digital tools that are perfectly adapted to the real needs of producers.

According to Mandiaye NDAO, “Digital technology is a working tool that can be applied at every stage of the process. As well as being used for marketing products, it is also used for preparing campaigns, sowing, monitoring crops, harvesting, storage systems and processing. Digital is not a sector, it’s a way of working”.

Numerous initiatives are being launched in Senegal and other African countries to explore digital solutions. Even if the question of the sustainability of the proposed systems is often raised, the fact remains that from all these projects will emerge real successes that will give a new impetus to many producers.

So how can agriculture be digitalised?

These capitalisation workshops provided an opportunity to look at digitisation from a number of angles and approaches in the agricultural sector, through practical discussions with a number of players in the sector, including start-ups, farmers and the authorities. These discussions highlighted the importance of human-centred technology, i.e. an approach that involves the uses and concrete needs of users, as well as the longer-term impact of technology on practices.