Accelerating Growth and Development in Africa: The Role of Technology and Innovation

By: Emmanuel Nwaka

Good day, distinguished ladies and gentlemen. I am Nwaka, Emmanuel Nwaka, a final year student of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. From the stone age to the information age, man has consistently been developing techniques and technologies to improve his standard of living. Growing up, my father told me tales of our ancestors using sticks and stones to hunt for prey. Through simple metalworking of copper and iron, they made spears and knives to ensure a better hunt; they also built better farm tools like hoes and cutlasses to cultivate their crops. During the advent of civilization, the process of mechanization in making better farm implements like tractors and lawnmowers was in vogue. In essence, the application of knowledge for practical purposes is what technology and innovation are all about. Africa is a blessed and endowed continent but is the least wealthy per capita. Despite the rapid spread of digital technology in this information age, Africa’s growth is considered one of the slowest in the world. Hence, the need for greater technological innovation is highly pertinent. 

Agriculture forms a significant portion of the economies of all African countries. This sector contributes to major policies such as eradicating hunger and poverty, boosting intra-African trade and investment, and economic diversification. Equipped with the vast majority of land and labour, Africa should be at the forefront of self-sufficiency in agriculture, but this is not the case. Today, Thailand exports more food than all of Sub-Saharan Africa. From being self-sufficient in the 1960s, Africa imports products that compete with its own: meat, dairy products, cereals, and oil. The major factor responsible is subsistence farming. Africa is dominated by family farming which relies mainly on family labour and thus has the lowest rate of improved seed and fertilizer usage of any continent for years. With low farm productivity and lack of modernized farming equipment, technology and innovation are in dire need to improve the agricultural sector of Africa. Zenvus, a precision farming startup in Nigeria, uses computational algorithms to transform farms. Zenvus collects soil fertility and crops vegetative health data to deliver precision agriculture at scale. This data can be used by farmers to increase their agricultural yield. In tackling irrigation, KickStart, a nonprofit organization supplies portable water pumps to countries like Mali and Tanzania to improve its water storage systems. FarmDrive, a finance startup connects small scale farmers to credit facilities and helps financial institutions increase their agricultural loan portfolios in Kenya. With the global population expected to exceed 9 billion by 2050, producing enough food of sufficient quality and making it accessible and affordable for people around the world is one of the most important policy objectives of our time. With climate-smart production technologies and Africa’s productive potential, it can be a key contributor to feeding the world. 

In our Health sector, governments face a myriad of challenges ranging from poor infrastructure to lack of adequate funding. These challenges are further compounded by the brain drain of homegrown doctors going abroad for greener pastures. Because of widespread poverty and the mismanagement of public funds, few countries can spend the $34 to $40 per person that the World Health Organization considers the minimum for health care. Using science and technology, entrepreneurs are solving the healthcare challenges of our continent. Startups like

‘NiMEDix’ in Nigeria are using artificial intelligence and cryptocurrency to enable people to benefit from the healthcare value chain. With a decentralized approach to tackling funds’ misappropriation and fraud, NiMEDix is using technology and innovation to provide an efficient platform for people to invest in the healthcare sector of Africa. Due to constraints in hospitals and better medical equipment, innovative ideas such as mobile apps need to be embraced in tackling the critical issues of our health sector. Mobile apps like PEEK(Portable Eye Examination Kit) are used in Botswana to test patients who would otherwise find getting proper eye care difficult; FD-Detector in Nigeria helps identify fake medicines using a drug’s barcode. In actualizing the goal of sufficient and affordable healthcare in Africa, access to medical innovation must be a significant priority. 

The role of technology and innovation in accelerating growth in Africa cannot be overemphasized. The influence of technology in the education sector will tackle the problem of ignorance in our society. From barbaric religious practices concerning the education of females to underfunded schools, Africa falls short of meeting its educational needs despite signing the Millennium Development Goals in the year 2000. In Nigeria, we’ve had our fair share. Recurrent student protests in our tertiary institutions, a drastically reduced budget allocation, and the deterioration of basic infrastructure have plagued our education sector for years. Above all, the educational system is preparing us for a world that no longer exists. By applying innovation via mobile phones and the broadband internet, access to education and the quality of education will be achieved irrespective of social class or location. AI-powered education provides flexibility for international students to study in top universities. It fosters personalized learning as traditional systems are designed to suit as many people as possible. New learning platforms such as MOOC(Massive Open Online Courses) customize in-class lectures and tests ensuring each student gets the best possible learning experience. 

Much of Africa’s growth over the decades has been driven by the extraction and sale of its natural resources, whether it is oil from Nigeria, gold from Tanzania, or iron from Mauritania. To accelerate development, investing in the creation of new technologies must be done to improve our industries. Technological innovation must be prioritized in tackling our socio-economic challenges to ensure our productivity on a global scale. The promise of Africa’s tech generation leading us to accelerated development is a path few have walked on. 

References: World Bank, Africa’s HealthCare IT news, New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Agriculture in Africa, World Health Organization, GBC Health News, United Nations Development Programme: Africa, The Borgen Project, Tribune Online Nigeria.

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