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Saturday, 19 June 2021

Egypt turns to digital agriculture

Al Ahram Weekly reports on a competition designed to encourage agricultural efficiency, productivity, and sustainability

Nesmahar Sayed , Thursday 10 Jun 2021
Digital solutions may help rationalise water usage
Digital solutions may help rationalise water usage Photo: Reuters

An agri-digital startup competition was recently launched to improve proficiency in agriculture.

Launched by GIZ, the German development agency, the startup is part of the Agriculture Innovation Project (AIP) in collaboration with the Arab Women’s Enterprise Fund (AWEF), a women’s economic empowerment development programme, and Ain Shams University’s Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Creativity Hub (iHub) as the strategic implementing partner.

Digital agriculture is the use of digital devices to gather, process, and analyse spatial (object) or temporal (time) data. The data can then guide targeted actions to improve agricultural efficiency, productivity, and sustainability.

The competition aims to enhance the digital agriculture ecosystem in Egypt to empower existing and potential entrepreneurs, particularly youth and women, Myriam Fernando, project manager of AIP at GIZ Egypt, told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Traditional agriculture can greatly benefit from the technology that will allow greater yields using less water and resources and will allow greater income generation to farmers,” Fernando said.

The goal is for the platforms to provide farmers with better and timelier access to information and relevant data to increase productivity as well as create market linkages leading to growth of farmer income, Fernando said.

The competition is in three phases. The first is a call for applications that will end on 13 June. Phase two is for training and mentorship, including an incubation programme, from mid-June to mid-August. The last phase is selection and awards which will take place on 31 August.

By helping the agriculture sector rationalise water usage, the competition hopes to mitigate water shortages. Egypt’s per capita share of water currently stands at 600 cbm/year, below the international standard of 1,000 cbm/year.

The agricultural sector is one of the biggest consumers of water in Egypt but remains seriously hindered by land fragmentation of smallholders of one to three feddans. This results in the loss of economies of scale, leading to higher production costs and resource waste, including excessive use of water, explained Fernando. Therefore, agri-tech and precision agriculture techniques enabled by digital solutions are a potential solution to the productivity constraints due to the currently adopted practices, Fernando said.

Women have a big role to play in developing the sector, Yomna Mustafa, country director at AWEF, told the Weekly. “There is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to female empowerment in this important sector. The competition has a very clear focus on encouraging not only youth and women’s entrepreneurship but also solutions that empower them in their communities,” Mustafa said.

“We aim to stimulate sustainable systemic change towards women’s economic inclusion. We hope that interventions like these will spur further innovations among entrepreneurial minds in the digital finance space willing to develop gender-smart strategies and tap into one of Egypt’s most underutilised resources: women,” Mustafa added.

Data is a critical element of any project that people, managers and owners can use to improve quality and productivity, Maged Ghoneima, director at Ain Shams University’s iHub told the Weekly. “Exact statistics tell me how much fertiliser and source materials are needed. This will help farmers to plan properly. If they have exact data about temperature, the actual humidity inside the soil which is actually happening right now, then I can control the amount of water used for irrigation and control the amount of pesticides and fertilisers that is being sprayed out,” Ghoneima said.

Ghoneima stressed on the effect of digital agriculture to increase the quality and quantity of farmers’ production. “From a strategic point of view, Egypt is on the brink of a water crisis and in such a case we need all farmers to reduce water usage, and be more efficient during our daily use consumption on industrial, personal or in the business level,” he said.

So what is the criteria for choosing the winners of the competition? “Candidates have a better chance at winning if their solution is innovative, focused, clear, achievable, scalable and sustainable,” Fernando said. “These are some of the criteria we will judge the solutions by, in addition to viability, social impact and gender/youth inclusiveness. Our candidates will go through a tailored mentorship and coaching programme that will allow them to iterate and improve their product before the final selection.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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