Overcoming Barriers to the Adoption of Technology in Agriculture
In the pursuit of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and the modernisation of agriculture, South Africa faces significant challenges in promoting the adoption of digital technologies among small-scale farmers. The state, economic, political, and social factors all affect the adoption of digital technology in Agriculture Value Chains (AVCs). So, how can we get on a path towards a more tech-enabled and resilient agricultural sector?
The benefits of the adoption of technology in agriculture
- Financial inclusion: The adoption of digital technology facilitates financial inclusion by providing better access to payments, credit, and collateral management. It enables secure and fast transactions, benefiting small-scale farmers in their interactions with suppliers, buyers, and financial institutions.
- Supply chain efficiency: Digital marketplaces and logistics optimisation contribute to efficient supply chain management, strengthening market linkages for buying and selling agricultural inputs, goods, and services. This, in turn, enhances the overall efficiency of the agriculture value chain.
- Precision agriculture: The adoption of digital technology in precision agriculture enhances farm productivity by integrating various information and communication technologies (ICTs) in food production, processing, distribution, and consumption. Improved inputs, weather forecasts, and informed agricultural investment decisions contribute to increased yields.
- Transparency and connectivity: Digital interventions increase transparency in food supply chains, making information more accessible to all stakeholders. This fosters networking among food chain actors and empowers small-scale farmers by enhancing their connectivity.
- Empowering women and youth: Access to digital technology empowers women and young farmers by providing them with information to improve agricultural production, connect with finance opportunities, and access markets.
The importance of agriculture in sustainable development
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasises the role of agriculture in achieving goals such as ending poverty, ensuring zero hunger, and promoting sustainable consumption and production. In line with these global objectives, South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP) envisions agriculture as a catalyst for job creation and economic growth, particularly among small-scale farmers seeking to transition into commercial farming. Digital technology interventions have the potential to bring about positive economic outcomes, such as reducing costs, increasing productivity, and enhancing profitability. But they’re not always easily accessible to small-holder farmers.
Challenges faced by small-scale farmers
Small-scale farmers in South Africa encounter various hurdles that impede their ability to adopt digital technologies effectively. These include limited access to farming land, credit, technology, and other essential resources. The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) offers opportunities to address these challenges by revolutionising how farmers manufacture, grow, market, and distribute food. However, the lack of skills within agricultural ministries and extension services hampers the implementation of digital adoption programs.
Barriers to the adoption of technology in agriculture
- The cost of digital technology
- Low capacity usage of digital technology by small-scale farmers
- Inadequate digital technology infrastructure in rural areas (fewer than 30% of adults in rural areas report having access)
- Low education levels and insufficient digital technology skills
- Electricity shortages for disseminating agricultural information
- Lack of localised content in local languages
- Cultural inertia
- Income constraints
- Limited access to relevant information and key players in the agriculture value chain
What needs to be done to encourage digital adoption?
A survey of research on agricultural technology use and productivity gains in Africa concluded that much remains to be learned about how to increase technology adoption and productivity on the continent’s farms.
A multi-faceted approach is needed to overcome the barriers to digital adoption in South Africa’s agriculture sector. Government and developmental organisations need to provide support to ensure equitable access to technology:
- Encourage the development and adoption of innovative agtech tools:
- increase farmers’ knowledge of available digital solutions
- address affordability issues
- improve internet infrastructure
- Implement effective digital regulation to create an enabling policy environment
- Promote digital inclusion and sustainability
- Support tech start-ups in the agriculture sector
- Support agricultural research and development
- Prioritise energy and transportation infrastructure investments in rural areas
And innovators and entrepreneurs need to continue to develop and scale appropriate, affordable technologies that address small-scale farmers’ most urgent challenges.
Digital technology has the potential to transform South Africa’s agriculture sector, particularly for small-scale farmers. But overcoming technology adoption barriers requires a concerted effort from governments, private sectors, and development organisations. Eventually, when other constraints are reduced—along with the cost of new technologies—the digital revolution could pave the way for a tech-enabled agricultural future, contributing to sustainable development goals and food security on the continent.
About the Author: Alex Platt
Alex is Business Development Manager at RegenZ. He's inspired by the potential of regenerative farming and takes a special interest in the technology and products that are moving agriculture in a more sustainable direction.