Highlights from AfCPA
Highlights from the African Conference on Precision Agriculture (AfCPA)
Steve Phillips1 and Regis Chikowo2
1African Plant Nutrition Institute
2University of Zimbabwe
In December 2020, the African Plant Nutrition institute (APNI) organized and hosted the 1st African Conference on Precision Agriculture (AfCPA) in cooperation with the International Society of Precision Agriculture (ISPA) and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University (UM6P). The mission of the AfCPA was to create an event that would “connect the science and practice needed to put precision agriculture (PA) in action for Africa.” The AfCPA featured 140 presenters speaking to 750+ registrants representing 50+ countries globally.
AfCPA 2020 was structured as a one conference, multiple-site event. The virtual main program was simulcast to 14 satellite conference sites across the continent. Partner organizations serving as satellite site hosts are listed below.
The conference’s hybrid format successfully connected registrants to an international panel of experts while also generating significant discussion on regional PA strategies within the traditional conference venues.
Network of AfCPA 2020 Satellite Site Host and Partner Organizations
- Institute of Environment and Agricultural Research (INERA), Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
- National Polytechnic Institute Félix HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY (INP-HB), Yamoussoukro, Cote d’Ivoire
- National Authority for Remote Sensing & Space Sciences (NARSS), Cairo, Egypt
- Ethiopia Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
- University of Cape Coast (UCC), Cape Coast, Ghana
- Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Nairobi, Kenya
- National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), Kenitra, Morocco
- Institute of Agricultural Research & Training, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ibadan, Nigeria
- Institut Sénégalais de Recherches Agricoles (ISRA), Dakar, Senegal
- Tanzania Agricultural Research Organization (TARI), Tanga, Tanzania
- Advanced School of Agronomy/University of Lomé (ESA-UL), Lome, Togo
- National Institute of Agronomic Research of Tunisia (INRAT), Tunis, Tunisia
- Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI), Lusaka, Zambia
- University of Zimbabwe, Harare, Zimbabwe
Attendees gathered at the AfCPA Satellite sites at Togo, Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Tunisia (clockwise starting top left).
On-Demand AfCPA Content Available for Registrants Only till March 1
The live-stream program featured 8 keynote speakers, 16 plenary presentations, 3 panel discussions, and a technical workshop on the iSDA digital soil mapping tools. Pre-recorded technical presentations and digital posters were also available on-demand during the conference. The individual satellite site programs were designed to combine the live-stream with locally invited presenters (59 in total across all sites). The entire main program and local satellite content are available on-demand from the conference website (www.paafrica.org) to registrants only until March 1; after which time, all content will become publicly available.
Innovation towards Impact
The conference covered several thematic areas, many of which were focused on small-scale producers (SSP). The opportunities and challenges of bringing PA to SSP was highlighted in the opening keynote address given by Dr. Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). He concluded that investment in PA was key for the science agenda of FARA and that the “innovation to impact pathway” must be from the ground up, starting with the producers. This philosophy was supported by several other speakers and panelists throughout the conference. In a panel discussion on Pathways to PA Adoption, Dr. Jens Andersson, Wageningen University, noted that “the importance of local knowledge [grower engagement in the development process] is often overlooked even as PA technologies are being adapted for local conditions.” Dr. Bernard Vanlauwe, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, expanded on this idea by indicating that many existing business models for PA fail to recognize the need for knowledge co-creation with the SSP. Vanlauwe noted that PA services need to be developed with the farmers’ production objective in mind because “farming [for SSP] is a survival strategy in Africa.”
The importance of policy innovation was highlighted in a session on Precision Agronomy and Small-farm Mechanization. Dr. Nicodeme Fassinou, University of Abomey-Calavi, stressed the importance of policy in his presentation on PA in West African fruit and vegetable production by saying that “there are many low-hanging technology fruits, but there is a need to incentivize innovation.” Fassinou highlighted the importance of properly defining PA within the African context when proposing policy support to bring PA to scale. The issues of scale and definition of PA were also noted by Dr. Achim Dobermann, International Fertilizer Association, in his presentation on Imagining Precision Farming in Africa when he said “PA is more than the implementation of expensive technology.” In the panel discussion following the session it was noted that the PA definition developed by the ISPA—Precision Agriculture is a management strategy that takes account of temporal and spatial variability to improve sustainability of agricultural production—appropriately addresses the African context and needs to be more actively promoted among stakeholders on the continent
Precision Agriculture Services
Providing PA services in Africa was another thematic area highlighted at the AfCPA. Jeremy Cordingley, CEO, CropNuts; Aboubacar Karim, CEO, Investiv; and Emmanuel Barkirdjian, Africa Regional Director, Precision Agriculture for Development, discussed their business models, successes and challenges in providing PA services in Africa, and the future of African agriculture services. The importance of what “precision agriculture” means in the African context was again a topic of discussion and all of the panelists agreed that any PA service needed to begin with basic, good farming practices. Communication and collaboration among growers was discussed as an important factor in adding value through services. All three panelists also agreed on the importance of access to good research trial data to support the service industry.
New African Association of Precision Agriculture Formed (AAPA)
The AfCPA content emphasized the importance of PA in reducing yield gaps in Africa. However, many challenges exist in African countries currently struggling to bring PA to scale. Nonetheless, a major “take-home” message from the AfCPA was that enthusiasm for PA in Africa is high and there is a willingness of various stakeholders to work together to develop successful models for PA in Africa.
At the close of the conference, all registrants were invited to participate in the inaugural election of AAPA board. The main objective of the AAPA will be to “work as an organized group to contribute to the development of PA in Africa and to engage the global PA community through scientific, informative, extension, and training activities.” The AAPA will apply for active community status within the ISPA, and will be actively involved with APNI in the planning of the next AfCPA in 2022. The newly elected board members include:
- President: Dr. Kwame Frimpong, Associate Professor in Soil Science & Soil Fertility, University of Cape Coast, Ghana
- President-elect: Dr. Vincent Aduramigba-Modupe, Africa Centre Director of the International Nitrogen Initiative; and a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Agricultural Research and Training, Ibadan, Nigeria;
- Secretary: Dr. Nicodeme Fassinou, Assistant Professor in Crop Physiology, Maître Assistant des Universités du CAMES, Benin;
- Regional Representative (East and Southern Africa): Dr. Regis Chikowo, Agronomy Associate Professor at University of Zimbabwe and Assistant Professor at Michigan State University;
- Regional Representative (North Africa): Dr. Hatem Cheikh M'Hamed, Associate Professor at the National Institute of agricultural Research of Tunisia (INRAT)-Agronomy Laboratory; and
- Regional Representative (West and Central Africa): Dr. Jean M. Sogbedji, Professor of Soil Fertility and Plant Nutrition, and Director of the Soil, Climate and Crop Sciences Interface Laboratory at the University of Lomé