Food security: New partnership launched in 11 African countries

Apr 10, 2019

A new partnership to boost food security in Nigeria and 10 other African countries by using artificial intelligence (AI) and satellite imagery to measure and predict crop yields, has been launched in New York.

The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to that effect was formed in New York between Atlas AI and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) with support from The Rockefeller Foundation and other partners.

The collaboration aimed to address food insecurity in 11 priority sub-Saharan African countries: Nigeria, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

Among beneficiaries of the initiative will be 270,000 farmers in Kaduna state enrolled in the AGRA-supported project to upscale maize, rice and soybean value chains, who can now peg their livelihoods to markets rather than subsistence.

The Kaduna Maize-Rice-Soybean Consortium remained one of the best outcomes that is stimulating agricultural development in the African countries, according to AGRA.

The new partnership allowed Atlas AI and AGRA to use technology to the benefit the millions of smallholder farmers who are unable to invest in tools and technologies that could increase yields and improve the lives of millions

Atlas AI is a Silicon Valley-based corporation founded in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation while AGRA is an African-led, farmer-centred institution transforming smallholder agriculture.

The MoU established an agreement between Atlas AI and AGRA to collaborate around predictive analytics for smallholder agriculture.

This is through applications of satellite imagery and machine learning to offer useful insights in areas of land use, yields, and peak time for harvest, input distribution gaps, and other contextual monitoring aspects.

Dr Agnes Kalibata, President of AGRA, said the organisation currently worked in Kaduna and Niger States in Nigeria to fight food insecurity by transforming smallholder farmers.

Kalibata said: “There have been many exciting advances in data, satellite imagery, and machine learning for agriculture over the years.

“Until recently, very little of these technologies have been available to African farms due to the inability of farmers and governments to pay for them.

“We are delighted to partner with Atlas AI and the Rockefeller Foundation in making these cutting edge advances in digital technology real and bringing them home for the millions of smallholder farmers we work with to improve their yields and lives.”

She said AGRA was working to transform Africa’s smallholder farming from a struggle to survive to a business that thrives through efforts to develop and deliver high-yielding and locally adapted seeds and improve soil fertility.

Kalibata added that AGRA worked to upgrade storage facilities, improve access to markets, strengthen farmers’ associations, expand access to credit for farmers and suppliers, and advocate for national policies that benefit smallholder farmers and agribusinesses.

Dr Rajiv Shah, President of The Rockefeller Foundation said the Foundation recognised that technology had the power to improve food security that was critical for both human welfare and economic growth in Africa.

“This collaboration will utilise Atlas AI’s cutting-edge tools together with AGRA’s unique local data sets to help improve food security across sub-Saharan Africa.

“It will unpack the results from predictive analytics to aid government and private sector decision-makers in the face of emerging threats and shocks such as changing weather, diseases and pests.

“It will support regional bodies in advancing the continental and global agricultural agenda,” the organisations said in a joint address.

According to him, the Foundation was optimistic that the partnership represented the future of defeating large-scale food insecurity around the world.

“I am excited that AGRA and Atlas AI will work together to drive agricultural transformation that will improve the lives of millions of smallholder farmers and the communities they serve,” he said.

Victoria Coleman, Chief Executive Officer of Atlas AI expressed optimism that the organisations would work together to be more effective in growing agribusinesses and agricultural markets across the continent.

Coleman said Atlas AI used cutting-edge machine learning to help decision-makers get more impact at lower costs through better planning, management, and assessment.

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