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November 2nd, 2018 / SciDev.net

• African smallholders face challenges including rural-urban migration
• To help smallholders increase yields, strong institutions should aid innovations
• Technology should help spur yields and farm operations, says an expert

Technological innovations such as use of mobile phones to aid farming are unlikely to increase yields unless strong institutions exist, an academician says.

According to the FAO, a renewed focus on technological innovation is needed to promote sustainable agriculture. But some experts say that despite a big focus on technological innovation such as smartphone apps in agriculture, the expected returns are not enough.

“If smallholders in Africa are going to be empowered and really thrive as a business, innovation is not just going to happen in technology but also in institutions,” says Tom Jayne, a professor of food and resource economics at the US-based Michigan State University, citing institutions such as those that provide agricultural extension services.

Jayne adds that the strength of rural agricultural institutions, research and development, and the rate of farm technology advancements will influence African agriculture.

Challenges confronting farming in Africa include migration of youth from rural to urban settings and smallholders’ low adoption rates of conservation agriculture: a farming system that promotes maintenance of a permanent soil cover, minimum soil disturbance and diversification of plant species, Jayne explains. Read more