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Agricultural data is becoming big business in Africa

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Africa can often be a continent of major contradictions, but perhaps especially when it comes to agriculture. The African Development Bank (ADB) released a recent report which stated that the continent contained an astounding 65% of the world’s uncultivated but arable land. Many areas also have an abundance of fresh water. The soil is extremely fertile, and the continent has around 300 days of sunshine every year. And when you look at the working population, in excess of 60% of people work in the agricultural sector in some capacity. 

Yet despite that potential, the continent as a whole continues to import much of its food ($64.5 billion in 2017) and many regions continue to suffer annual famines with around five million Africans dying every year from hunger and over a quarter of the population classified as “severely food insecure in 2016”.

To increase efficiency and productivity – and thus hopefully reduce hunger and reliance on imports – many African countries are now looking to data collection and analysis for solutions and creating a new demand and market by doing so. 

A lot of Challenges to Face

There are a number of challenges that Africa’s agricultural sector faces. As far as development of uncultivated land is concerned, many areas have poor or no transport links. There may be little in the way of communications, little credit to buy the machinery and seed stock needed to cultivate the land, issues with property rights, endemic corruption at local and national levels, a lack of access to technology, and various other issues. 

Many now see the use of data identifying the areas offering the most lucrative prospects as the way to move forward. Coupled with simpler smart phones to be used in situ, data scientists can analyse data from satellite imagery and records of climate and weather patterns to help focus on those initially promising areas. 

Another major problem that faces the sector, and also another that technology may offer a solution to, is that many African agricultural products are subject to the overuse of pesticides (or the use of banned pesticides). This means that they do not pass the stringent standards of target markets such as the European Union. 

Using Technology

Companies such as Acquahmeyer in Ghana are now using drones to monitor the health of crops so as to allow farmers to reduce their reliance on these pesticides. At $5 to 10 per acre, this is a growing data market across the continent. 

The ADB are also investing in data and data collection. As of 2018, they had launched a drone programme partnering with the Tunisian government and the city of Busan in South Korea. The programme will include training 32 young Tunisians on how to pilot drones and collect agricultural data. 

South African startup, Zindi, is another African company looking to harness data to improve agricultural yields. They use their platform to host competitions that brings together over 9,000 African data scientists to crunch numbers and data from satellite imagery and other sources to provide real solutions on – and in – the ground. 

But it is also about different data sets being harnessed to improve agriculture. In Nigeria, the government are undertaking a major registration programme to include its farmers on an electronic wallet system. This will allow the government to make grants and subsidy payments, share information on better farming practices, and help improve the continental supply chain. 

Monsanto Has Established Data Sharing Agreements: Good News for Africa?

Multinational conglomerate, Monsanto, has already established data sharing agreements with the American agricultural machinery producer, Agco. They also launched Climate FieldView in 2018, a tool specifically designed to collect and exploit agricultural data from across Africa. Given Monsanto’s track history, there are justifiable worries that while African NGOs seek to reduce hunger and poverty by increasing crop yields. 

Hopefully, the Pan-African efforts by various parties will continue to yield promising results.

Photos : blogs.worldbank.org / idss.mit.edu / agroinformatics.org

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Zindi: finding solutions by encouraging competition

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Social enterprises, companies, and NGOs are always looking for new and innovative ways of solving problems that can be used in real time and in real situations. Cape Town-based Zindi, founded in 2018, have combined that aim of solving problems with the natural competitive spirit that exists in us all. 

Zindi works by bringing together any organisation – including private sector companies, government bodies, or NGOs – to put together a challenged based on data. Their platform has more than 9,000 data scientists from across Africa already enrolled, and they can choose to join any particular competition, submit their solutions, and gain points to move up a leader board and win cash prizes. To date, the highest prize pot has been $12,000, and it was split between the top three data scientists in that competition. 

A good example of what they are trying to achieve is the completion being held for FarmPin, a South African startup that wants solutions as to how to classify fields by the crop type they produce or can produce. Their idea is to find a simple process combining satellite imagery with the smart phones now so common across Africa. Step forward Zindi who brings together the data scientists vying for the $10,000 prize. This brings together experts in that particular area who may have little work at the time and helps to produce a practical solution that can help increase crop yields in areas that need it.

Corporate Interest 

A good indicator of how well a startup is performing – or how good their idea is – is the interest that comes from corporate giants. And it hasn’t taken long for Zindi to come to the attention of a couple of major companies both within and outside Africa. 

African communications giant, Liquid Telecom, which operates across much of Eastern and XCentral Africa, has been hosting competitions on its network on behalf of Zindi. And in August of 2029, Zindi announced a partnership with Microsoft which will see the corporate behemoth’s cloud based system, Azure, powering Zindi’s platform. Microsoft will also host and provide the prize money for another two competitions to support Africa’s AgTech industry. 

The Continent’s First Ever Inter-University Machine-Learning Hackathon

But Zindi look beyond current data scientists and have one eye on the future of Africa. Their latest project sees students from across Africa invited to take part in the continent’s first ever inter-university machine-learning hackathon. The idea is for the students, in teams of up to four, developing machine-learning solutions to one of three real-world problems. 

UmojaHack Africa offers the winning team a share of $2000 for them and a share of $15,000 for their university in each challenge as well as runners-up prizes. With reams registered from universities from more than 10 African countries, Zindi CEO, Celina Lee sees this as an ideal model to both stimulate student interest in their projects and to find real solutions that can be applied across the continent. 

The competition is sponsored by African Bank and Alliance4AI, and Data Science Nigeria is also on board as a regional partner. 

As Africa’s tech sector continues to grow, startups such as Zindi will continue to lead the way, bringing together established and experienced data scientists with the best students Africa’s universities has to offer. 

Photos : globalafricanetwork.com / aiexpoafrica.com /

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New Challenges Faced by the Food Industry in Emerging Markets

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Matthieu Malige

Between physical sales, ensuring a brand’s visibility and enabling the development of customer experience, as well as harnessing digital sales and ensuring a wide geographical reach, the heart of the food giants is in balance. Matthieu Malige, Chief Financial Officer of the Carrefour group, offers us some food for thought.

Physical Sales, a Necessary Step

Physical presence in emerging markets is essential: a reason why many groups develop solid subsidiaries abroad. Matthieu Malige, Chief Financial Officer of the Carrefour group, told us that this was the case for his business, which has formed partnerships with the Majid Al Futtaim group (250 stores in the Middle East and Africa, including 6 in Kenya) and the CFAO Retail group (3 stores in the Ivory Coast, 1 in Cameroon and 1 in Senegal).

The physical sales format, “Cash & Carry”, persists as a particularly popular for customers within emerging markets. Carrefour, via its CFAO subsidiary, intends to massively deploy the “Cash & Carry” format in Senegal, the Ivory Coast and Cameroon,  in their “Supeco” supermarket chain. Matthieu Malige, Chief Financial Officer of the Carrefour group, aims to develop around 100 stores of this type across the African continent over a ten year period, already representing an investment of around 30 million euros in 2019.

But beyond the above scope, and despite its costs, it remains essential to commit to the digital development of emerging markets.

Digitalizing to Conquer Targets with High Purchasing Power

If physical sales can convince very large segments, a digital strategy should make it possible to reach a broader target, particularly customers with high purchasing power. While the digital industry is still emerging on the African continent, it has proved its ability to reach a  bracket of the population that is connected and eager to buy international products.

While the online sales sector in Africa is largerly dominated by American Gafa (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple) and Chinese BATX (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi) a few African players do remain present on the scene, including Jumia, MercadoLibre, Shopee and Konga.

And indeed it was with Jumia, a local actor, that Carrefour chose to collaborate with. In 2018, Matthieu Malige, Chief Financial Officer of the Carrefour Group, announced the online sales of Carrefour products with the e-commerce leader on the African continent. This partnership has already enabled the marketing of Carrefour product ranges in four African countries: Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Senegal.

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2020 World Expo Dubai: a first for the region

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world expo dubai

The World Expo will be held in Dubai in 2020, meaning that the MENA & SA (Middle East and North Africa & South Asia) region will host the event for the first time. The Expo began in London back in 1851, and once every 5 years a new location plays host to the global event. Hosting such a prestigious event comes as a huge boon for Dubai’s continually growing economy, and marks a breakthrough for the region as a whole. The event demands a lot of planning, not just for the initial hosting, but for the long term use for all the investments.

A long road to completion

The process of securing the right to host the 2020 World Expo began back in 2011, when 5 cities made the final shortlist. These cities were Sao Paulo in Brazil, Yekaterinburg in Russia, Izmir in Turkey, and Dubai of the UAE. Dubai’s bid was titled “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, and in 2013 it was announced that Dubai had won.

The Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) are the body responsible for selecting the winning bid, and after 164 member nations had voted, Dubai was the runaway victor with 116 votes.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said at the time “I am proud of our teams who earned this victory for Dubai with two years of hard work, dedication and commitment.”

The process to build the infrastructure for the Expo then began; as the 6 month event will see millions of visitors arrive, with the potential to generate an additional $40 billion of revenue for the economy, as 277,000 new jobs are created. The main site for the event is named Al Wasl, which means “The Connection” in Arabic, and the 4.38 sq km site will feature a 65 meter tall dome that includes a 360 degree screen to project images to the thousands of visitors.

Every nation that is appearing at the Expo will have its own pavilion, and there will also be 3 main pavilions for the central themes of the event, which are “sustainability”, “mobility” and “opportunity”. Contracts for the construction of these 3 key sites will be awarded later this year.

The UAE is only 45 years old as a nation, but the history of the people and the region is obviously far deeper. To try and illustrate this point, the 2020 Expo’s logo was based upon a ring that was discovered at a 4,000-year-old archaeological site in the Al Marmum area of Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed said that the logo “represents our message to the world that our civilization has deep roots. We were and will always be a pot that gathers civilizations and a center for innovation.”

Building for the Future

Many major global events lead to their hosts finding that they are left with large debts rather than long term growth. The Olympic Games and soccer World Cup have often proved a cost, rather than an economic boost, to their host cities. However, Dubai’s planners are confident that they are building for sustained growth.

Aside from the new jobs created to prepare for the Expo, the organizers say that 80% of the buildings created for the event will continue to be used once it has ended. An additional 28,000 hotel rooms will have been built by 2018, and this should help continue Dubai’s growing tourism trade.

In addition, major expansion of the Al Maktoum International Airport is planned to carry on after the Expo, with the works to finish in 2025. The 2020 Dubai Expo is also aiming to be the first one in which more than 70% of the visitors are from overseas, which should again help sell Dubai as a tourist destination to many people new to the region.

A new city is being built in the Dubai South region, a city which will eventually host 1 million residents and 500,000 jobs. Long term contingency plans for the various developments used at the Expo are in place, and already Siemens has announced that, from 2021, it will use Expo site as its global logistics base.

The arrival of the 2020 World Expo should dovetail well with the government’s Vision 2021 plans, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid has promised “to astonish the world in 2020.”

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South Africa central bank accuses anti-graft watchdog of incompetence

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s central bank accused the head of anti-graft watchdog of incompetence on Friday, following her proposal to switch the target of its monetary policy from inflation and currency stability to economic growth.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane set off a political row and sparked a selling frenzy in the rand currency last month when she said the Reserve Bank current mandate focuses on a “few commercial interests”.

In a scathing court filing, Governor Lesetja Kganyago said the constitutionally mandated watchdog was “reckless” and her later explanation of the report showed a lack understanding of the constitution and the central bank’s powers and functions.

“This is a grave, rudimentary error,” Kganyago said. “The only explanation that the Public Protector has offered for her clearly unlawful conduct exposes her own lack of competency.”

Opposition parties, Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, have also branded Mkhwebane incompetent and urged her to resign or for parliament review her ability to execute her duties.

Public Protector spokeswoman Cleopatra Mosana rejected the accusations of incompetence, saying Mkhwebane continued to “discharge her duties as prescribed by the constitution.”

Mkhwebane has been in the job since October last year. Her proposal was also opposed in court by parliament and finance minister Malusi Gigaba, both of whom have said she over-stepped her powers.

The call threatened to further stain South Africa’s credentials as an investor-friendly emerging market, coming less than a week after mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane spooked investors by raising the minimum threshold for black ownership of mining companies to 30 percent from 26 percent.

 

(Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; Editing by Toby Chopra)

 

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Autos supplier Faurecia opens second Moroccan factory, plans third

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PARIS (Reuters) – French auto supplier Faurecia plans to open a third Moroccan plant to build car interiors and emissions control parts for clients, including its parent PSA Group, the company said on Thursday.

The future plant will open next year in the coastal city of Kenitra, Faurecia Chief Executive Patrick Koller said in a statement marking the formal inauguration of its second Moroccan production site, a seating facility north of the capital Rabat.

The seating plant represents an investment of 170 million dirhams (15.4 million euros; $17.58 million) and employs 1,300 workers making seat covers and leather trim for vehicles such as the Peugeot 3008 and 5008, as well as Opel models built at PSA plants. Faurecia is 46.3 percent-owned by the maker of Peugeot, Citroen and DS cars.

($1 = 0.8760 euros)

 

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

 

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Nigerian exchange bureau head urges rate unification

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By Oludare Mayowa

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigeria’s central bank must step up efforts to unify the country’s multiple exchange rates to sustain gains in the local currency over the last few months, the head of the country’s exchange bureaus said.

Africa’s biggest economy has at least six exchange rates which include one for Muslim pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia, a retail rate set by licensed exchange bureaus, and a rate for foreign travel and school fees, in addition to the official and black market rates.

Nigeria is battling a currency crisis brought on by low oil prices which tipped its economy into recession and created chronic dollar shortages. It wants to attract foreign investors and strengthen its currency to ward off inflation.

The central bank has been intervening on the official market in the last few weeks to try to narrow the spread between rates on the official market and black market – where the local currency trades around 30 percent weaker. It has sold about $5 billion since February.

The bank opened a currency window in April for investors to trade the naira at rates set freely between buyers and sellers, hoping to increase the amount of dollars available in Nigeria.

“The gradual convergence of the exchange rate on both black market and investor forex window is an opportunity for the central bank to unify rate in all segments of the forex market,” Aminu Gwadabe, president of the country’s Association of Bureaux De Change Operators told Reuters late on Thursday.

Gwadabe said a move to eliminate multiple rates would restore investors’ confidence in the economy and boost offshore dollar inflows, further strengthening the naira.

Central bank spokesman Isaac Okorafor said the regulator would sustain its current efforts to improve dollar liquidity in the market until it was able to achieve currency rate convergence.

The naira was quoted at 365 to the dollar on the black market on Friday, while the local currency was quoted at 372.70 per dollar at the investor window.

The local bourse rose to a two-year high on Wednesday as investors snapped up Nigerian stocks after MSCI increased the country’s weighting in its frontier market index.

Nigeria’s forex reserves grew to around $30.22 billion by June, from $26.44 billion a year ago, as oil production and oil price stabilise in the wake of OPEC and non-OPEC oil output cut deal, analysts have said.

 

(Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Toby Chopra)

 

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South Africa’s Eskom says Molefe reinstated as chief executive

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By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Eskom’s former chief executive Brian Molefe will return to his job next week, the South African power utility said on Friday, about five months since he stepped down after being implicated in a report by the anti-graft watchdog into alleged influence-peddling.

Molefe stepped down in November last year after a report by the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated corruption watchdog, raised questions over coal deals between Eskom and a company controlled by the Gupta family.

Molefe has denied any wrongdoing.

His return follows a refusal by Public Enterprises Minister Lynn Brown to approve Eskom’s board’s 30 million rand ($2.24 million) pension payout for Molefe. Brown asked Eskom to find an “appropriate pension proposal.”

“Most of the options that were discussed were not mutually agreeable and the board decided that it was actually optimum to rescind its decision to grant him early retirement,” said Khulani Qoma, spokesman for Eskom’s board. “By virtue of that, then legally … you need to then proceed and reinstate him.”

Molefe was widely touted to replace Pravin Gordhan as finance minister but lost out to Malusi Gigaba in a cabinet shake-up late March.

His first stint at Eskom began in April 2015, when he was drafted in from state rail freight firm Transnet to stabilise the utility, which at the time was battling power shortages.

 

 

 

($1 = 13.4182 rand)

 

(Additional reporting by Mfuneko Toyana, editing by Larry King and Jane Merriman)

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Kenya launches phone-based bonds, tapping pool of small investors

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By Duncan Miriri

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya began selling its first mobile-phone-based government bond on Thursday, part of an ambitious plan to broaden the pool of investors in government securities.

The government is initially making a limited offer of 150 million shillings to test the system before a bigger offer in June, Finance Minister Henry Rotich said.

Governor Patrick Njoroge said the bond, called M-Akiba, allows people to invest as little as 3,000 Kenyan shillings ($29.20).

“This is a product that will dramatically improve the savings culture of our people,” he said.

Treasuries in other emerging economies will be watching with interest. Most would like to broaden their sources of borrowing beyond local banks and international financial institutions.

Kenya pioneered the use of mobile money in 2007 with M-Pesa, a money transfer service, by telecoms operator Safaricom.

The M-Akiba bond will be offered on M-Pesa and similar mobile-phone financial services by other firms. Investors will be able to buy the bond through their phones, where a record of their holdings will be stored. Coupon payments will also be made through the phone.

M-Pesa allows users to transfer cash and make payments on even the most basic mobile phone. In partnership with local banks, Safaricom has since expanded the service to offer savings, lending and insurance products.

($1 = 102.7500 Kenyan shillings)

(Writing by Katharine Houreld, editing by Larry King)

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Africa’s richest man Dangote plans rice mill in Nigeria to tap growing demand

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LAGOS (Reuters) – Dangote Group, controlled by Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote, plans to launch a rice mill with a farm scheme in Nigeria to tap growing demand for paddy in Africa’s biggest economy, the company said on Monday.

Rice demand in Nigeria hit 6.3 million metric tonnes (MT) in 2015, with 2.3 million metric tonnes produced at home, leaving the country reliant on imports, according to the agriculture ministry.

Dangote Group subsidiary Dangote Rice Ltd will launch a pilot project starting with 500 hectares of farmland by Gonroyo Dam, Nigeria’s second-largest dam, located in the northern state of Sokoto.

The multi-million-dollar project will be expanded to cover a land area of 25,000 hectares across three sites in northern Nigeria by the end of the year, the firm said.

“By year-end 2017, Dangote Rice plans to produce 225,000 MT of parboiled, milled white rice. This will allow us to satisfy 4 percent of the total market demand within one year,” the company said in a statement.

“Our model can then be successfully scaled to produce 1,000,000 MT of milled rice in order to satisfy 16 percent of the domestic market demand for rice over the next five years.”

Dangote Group has grown aggressively, venturing into cement, food manufacturing, oil, gas and real estate. Last month, the group launched a $100 million truck assembly plant to tap a projected rise in demand for transport as the government boosts agriculture and farmers need to move goods across the vast country.

Dangote Rice said it would partner with smallholders and contract farmers to grow paddy rice for milling. It will offer inputs to farmers while the smallholders provide land and labour.

At harvest, Dangote will recoup input costs and buy the paddy rice from farmers for processing at market price.

The 25,000-hectare land will be cultivated by nearly 50,000 farmers, organised into groups. Dangote will engage with the groups to sign contracts with each farmer.

 

 

(Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Dale Hudson)

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