CTA, Africa Goes Digital win big at WSIS Forum

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) took the big prize again at the World Summit on the Information Society Forum (WSIS), for their sterling work in offering drone-based solutions to precision agriculture in Africa.

In a classic example of going out with a bang, the latest WSIS Project Prize accolade – a fourth for the organisation since 2007 – is the last hurrah for the CTA, which will be closing its doors for the last time come December 2020, following the end of the Cotonou Agreement (a pact between the European Union and a group of states in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (ACP), and aimed at the reduction and eventual eradication of poverty while contributing to sustainable development and to the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy) at the end of this year.

“CTA has a proud track record of bringing knowledge and innovation to smallholder farmers for more than 35 years,” said Michael Hailu, the CTA director. “The staff and management are incredibly proud to have worked for an organisation that has contributed to transforming agriculture across developing countries through access to technology, innovation and knowledge sharing. Our priority now is to ensure an orderly closure and provide as much support to our partners going forward as possible.”

In recent years, CTA has driven the agenda for digitalisation in agriculture, including launching a flagship report that identified a €2.3 billion untapped market for digital services in sub-Saharan Africa.

And it was the drive to tap into the digital side of precision agriculture that in 2016, the CTA started establishing youth-led enterprises offering drone-based solutions to small holder farmers across Africa. Titled Eye in the Sky, Smart Techs on the Ground, the venture has now grown into a fully-fledged independent industry association called Africa Goes Digital Inc, comprising 38 precision agriculture start-ups from 21 African countries.

“This project exemplifies how talented and educated African youth can build on innovative and disruptive technologies to launch start-up enterprises which can propel Africa into the digital age and serve decision-makers at various levels with current, high resolution, location specific and actionable remote-sensed information,” says the WSIS of the CTA project. “By embodying components like scientific research, proof of concept initiatives, capacity building, support to investment, enterprise development, networking, experience capitalisation and communication, this project has started transforming Africa’s agriculture into a high-tech industry, with decisions being based on real-time gathering and processing of data, productivity and yields.”

Giacomo Rambaldi (left) with International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Secretary General, Houlin Zhao

The organisers also praised how CTA has cleverly leveraged social media to spread the word, in mainly English and French, and raise awareness about the potential of drone technology on the African agricultural landscape, and how restrictive regulation can work against the overall goal of improving agriculture on the continent.

Programme Coordinator ICT4Ag at CTA, Giacomo Rambaldi explained that the Eye in the Sky project has been implemented through capacity building that focuses on safe drone piloting, data acquisition and processing, with special emphasis on supporting enterprise and business development.

“The project caught the attention of young entrepreneurs who were selected via a competitive process, before they were trained and supported in offering drone-based services to farmers, organisations, agribusinesses, government, international development agencies and other parties,” said Rambaldi.

“A June 2019 survey confirmed that the enterprises have been recruiting staff, investing in new equipment, increasing their turnover and client portfolio. Africa Goes Digital Inc will provide further support to the enterprises and enable members to share ideas, offer diverse services and be more competitive,” he said, adding that the establishment of Africa Goes Digital will ensure the long-term sustainability of the project.

The CTA has also worked hard in lobbying African governments to give drone technology a chance to grow, and their badgering bore fruits when the African Union Executive Council passed a decision [EX. CL/Dec. 986-1007 (XXXII)] recommending that member states harness the opportunities offered by drones in precision agriculture through friendly drone regulation.

Having won the same prize in 2007, 2013 and in 2015, the CTA this year shared the spoils alongside Pakistan’s Comsats University; Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture; Lives Talk (a South Korean company helping nomadic farmers in Kazakhstan with technological solutions to agriculture); and FHI 360, which created a digital platform for Senegalese small scale fisher people, alerting them when they cross into restricted zones and also communicate their GPS location to rescuers if stranded at sea.

Now in its ninth year, The WSIS Project Prize recognises outstanding initiatives from governments, the private sector, civil society and academia that channel the contributions of information and communication technologies (ICTs) towards the betterment of society and achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.


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