FAO lowers forecast for world cereal production, but this year’s output still expected to reach an all-time high
Global food prices continued rising for the fifth consecutive month in October, led by cereals, sugar, dairy and vegetable oils, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The FAO Food Price Index, which tracks international prices of the most traded food commodities, averaged 100.9 points in October 2020, up 3.1 percent from September and 6.0 percent above its value in October 2019.
The FAO Cereal Price Index climbed 7.2 percent from the previous month and 16.5 percent above its value in October 2019. The surge was mainly driven by wheat prices amid shrinking export availabilities, poor growing conditions in Argentina and continued dry weather affecting winter wheat sowings in Europe, North America and the Black Sea region. Maize, feed barley and sorghum prices also remained under upward pressure in October, while those of rice subsided.
Source: FAO
UNCTAD has assessed the state of play in the two countries and identified policy actions required to harness e-commerce for development.
Tanzania is well-positioned to integrate into the global digital economy, thanks to its growing economy and a rapidly developing innovation ecosystem, a new UNCTAD assessment says.
The assessment of the country’s readiness to engage in e-commerce has revealed its potential to become a leading contender in online trade in east Africa, especially on mobile finance and digital payment fronts.
However, the lack of a national e-commerce strategy is holding Tanzania back, the assessment observes.
Also, the country has neither mainstreamed e-commerce into its national and sectoral development plans nor into inter-ministerial or public-private sector dialogue, further throttling progress.
“The coronavirus crisis has brought to the fore the value of e-commerce and digital solutions in enabling economic activities and broadening options for consumers in times of lockdowns,” said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTAD’s division on technology and logistics.
“E-commerce can help maintain trade flows, an important part of tackling the fallout from the crisis, especially in least developed countries.”
Following the assessment, UNCTAD recommends several policy actions to grow Tanzania’s e-commerce sector.
They include crafting a national e-commerce strategy, enhancing information, communications and technology (ICT) infrastructure, creating a conducive legislative climate and providing incentives to startups.
Promising signals
The assessment acknowledges Tanzania’s promising signals in key areas. It has rolled out a series of e-government services, soon to be extended to its semi-autonomous region of Zanzibar.
The country’s economic growth has averaged 6% to 7% annually over the last decade. Increasing public and foreign investments also bode well for its future.
UNCTAD’s assessment found growing awareness of the benefits of new technologies among the country’s public sector, another positive sign.
Tanzania is well-connected in terms of hard infrastructure, but the cost of smartphones remains high, contributing to the low internet use – around 30% – among its population.
Challenges to overcome
The assessment identifies a slew of challenges the country needs to overcome to optimize its e-commerce potential.
Tanzania lacks specific e-commerce legislation and its legal framework is inadequate to create a conducive e-commerce business environment, limiting trust among users of digital technologies.
The growth of e-commerce is also hampered by the population’s limited awareness, exacerbating the lack of trust, the assessment finds.
While efforts have been made to develop ICT human capital and innovation hubs are growing fast, skills in digital entrepreneurship and e-commerce remain narrow.
Access to financing is also limited, with micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) facing difficulties obtaining bank credit.
High interest rates stand in the way of e-commerce expansion, while angel investment and venture capital funds are few and far between.
The use of formal financial services remains limited, mainly due to high costs and a lack of knowledge among most Tanzanians.
Malawi: An untapped potential
In neighbouring Malawi, a similar UNCTAD assessment found that e-commerce has the potential to move the country closer to achieving its development goals, but the sector needs to be structured and organized.
“Clear policy directions and higher visibility of the digital economy should be prioritized in the national development agenda,” the assessment says.
Though a policy framework for ICT development has given rise to an embryonic digital ecosystem in the country, Malawi has no stand-alone policy and strategy on the digital economy and e-commerce development agenda.
The country also lacks a blueprint for formal dialogue with the private sector and civil society on e-commerce and digital economy issues.
Other challenges include Malawians’ lack of trust in online systems, low level of internet access, low technology adaptation by firms, lack of access to financing and weak IT skills across the population.
Making progress, hurdles to beat
According to the assessment, Malawi has recently made improvements in the ICT infrastructure, with the extension of fiber-optic backbone and cross-border interconnections, the launch of 4G and the establishment of a universal service fund.
However, less than 14% of Malawians use the internet due to the high cost of access. The quality of internet service and last mile connectivity are also low, discouraging investment in e-commerce in the southern African nation.
To accelerate progress, Malawi must beat other hurdles such as red tape, costly and time-consuming procedures that slow e-commerce uptake, the assessment says.
More than 80% of surveyed private sector actors cited an unsupportive regulatory environment as a barrier to e-commerce solutions in the country.
Financial institutions in Malawi provide meagre and relatively costly credit to MSMEs, and the products and services they provide are not aligned to e-commerce business models, the assessment notes.
A few financial support schemes provided by donors, local and regional incubators/accelerators and partner financial institutions, however, bode well for the inclusion of potential e-commerce projects.
The Tanzania and Malawi assessments are among a series of 27 conducted by UNCTAD in least developed countries since 2017 with the support of Germany, Sweden, the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.
"Now, more than ever, the world's poorest countries need support to bolster their economies. Based on the assessment’s recommendations, we look forward to working with the Malawian government, UNCTAD and other partners to help the country move towards a bright digital trade future," said Ratnakar Adhikari, the executive director of the EIF.
Source: UNCTAD
One of most the prominent challenges facing Africa is providing food security for its citizens. While many farmers still rely on traditional techniques to coax a living from the land, there are opportunities to use cutting-edge technology to drive Africa towards a food-secure future.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that over 2 billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods.
It seems only fitting then, that in 2020, the theme for World Food Day is 'Our Actions are Our Future'. Accelerating innovation in agri-tech will enable data-driven farming that can optimise yields, boost farm productivity and increase profitability - all while feeding a nation.
AI in agriculture uses cutting-edge data, advanced analytics and machine learning to bring centuries-old farming knowledge into the modern age, giving farmers the tools to optimise crop yields and mitigate the effects of climate change through tools like smart irrigation. With agriculture sustaining 70% of Africa's livelihoods, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that all farming communities are equipped with the latest tools including AI, IoT and edge computing to improve productivity and sustainability across the sector, leveraging our extensive partnerships and initiatives network in the process.
There has been reference in the recent past of AI replacing people in jobs, but what happens when AI and IoT devices enables people to spend less time on menial manual labour and more time boosting productivity and crop yields? AI and cloud technology can be used to monitor soil, climate changes and more to make better decisions on when, where, and how much to plant on farms. Precision farming, brought about by the adoption of advanced technologies into the agricultural sector, will revolutionise food production.
In Kenya, SunCulture helps farmers improve their crop yields through solar-powered irrigation systems. Using IoT technology, SunCulture customers are generating 10x more annual income, experiencing a 300% increase in crop yields, and saving 17 hours of manually moving water per week. And by leveraging TV white spaces (TVWS) technology that expands high-speed internet access to underserved areas, SunCulture is bringing precision farming to more smallholder farmers.
The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to collaborate in helping Nigerian farmers become more productive, reduce costs, practice sustainable agriculture and achieve better agricultural outcomes through the deployment of the FarmBeats platform, which harnesses sensors, drones and cameras for seamless data collection, helping farmers improve crop yields as well as increase income. As many as 8 million farmers and 4 million hectares will be positively affected.
Particularly for smallholder farmers, it's a challenge to get reliable weather and market information in real time that can help with agricultural decision-making. But almost every farmer has a phone in their back pocket.
A mobile platform has recently been built by a team of Microsoft developers to democratize access to information using a feature or a smart phone. Farmers can access information on pest and soil diagnosis, market prices, agricultural news, success stories from neighbouring farmers, weather, soil testing and personalized recommendations for maximizing yields based on their soil tests, with an intended initial impact of 100 000 farmers.
Other agri-tech social entrepreneurs are effecting real changes for farmers and their supply chains. Twiga Foods is a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform that links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities. N-Frnds brings the power of digital via mobile to subsistence and smallholder farmers in Africa and other emerging markets, and has nurtured a community of farmers who can communicate with each other without the need for an internet connection or mobile data. It also provides access to financial services for market segments that are traditionally underserved by formal banking and insurance.
Microsoft believes in increasing access to agricultural knowledge through collaboration. It takes an entire ecosystem to initiate change, and that includes companies, government departments and agencies, and a network of startups and entrepreneurs, all with a common goal of solving food insecurity.
Microsoft, through the 4Afrika initiative has collaborated with the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to co-create technology solutions in Africa as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries by 2021. The partnership stands alongside investments such as our support of the World Bank's 1 Million Farmers Platform, which aims to bring one million farmers onto a digital platform over the next three years.
We are also working with ministries across Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Egypt to drive impact in agriculture. In Egypt, in partnership with the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the Ministry of Agriculture, the engagement includes intelligent crop detection and water demand forecasting. Key focus being on a successful farmer engagement to promote good agricultural practices, secure data sharing between agricultural entities, and connected farms that enable data collection through agricultural IoT sensors. Additionally, in South Africa, Microsoft commissioned Research ICT Africa, in partnership with the University of Pretoria, to help identify opportunities within the industry to make farming more efficient and cost-effective, and highlight key regulatory and policy issues to address.
The Kenyan National Agriculture Platform is a key initiative to drive digitalization in agriculture. Earlier this year, Microsoft started engaging with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives (MoALFC) to collaborate in accelerating digital transformation in the agricultural sector in Kenya.
Across the continent, from South Africa to Kenya, Ghana, Egypt and beyond, we are working hard to enable agri-tech through various channels and partnerships. Technology has the potential to change the face of farming, using smart tools and platforms for precision farming, predicting weather patterns, and maximizing the use of scarce water resources. By harnessing agri-tech, we can help solve the pressing issues around food security to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #2 of Zero Hunger, and enhance economic development in the process.
Source: Allafria.com
The Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Department of Climate Change and Metrological Services in the Ministry of Forestry and National Resources would like to inform all farmers and general public, that the rainfall forecast for the 2020/21 season is generally favorable for agriculture production. Most of the areas of the country will generally receive normal to above normal total rainfall amounts by the end of the season, specifically:
• During October to December 2020, most of the southern and central areas are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall amounts while most northern areas are expected to receive normal to below-normal rainfall amounts.
• During January to March 2021, most areas in the south, center and the north are expected to receive normal to above-normal rainfall amounts. However, pockets of dry conditions are expected mostly over south and central seasonal rainfall forecast and seasonal forecast probabilities.
The forecast implies that during the 2020/21 rainfall season, there is high chance of many parts in the country receiving good rainfall. However, since La Nina conditions are established, extreme weather events such as floods in prone areas are likely to occur due to heavy rains while some parts of the country are likely to experience pockets of prolonged dry spells during the season.
Source: Daily Times.
The planned investments in Zimbabwe's fertilizer industry will trigger significant reduction in cost of the products and make them more competitive on both local and the export market, according to a Government medium term strategy of reviving the sector.
Zimbabwe's fertilizer products are probably the most expensive in the region, partly due to high costs leading to massive production inefficiencies.
This makes the commodity unaffordable to many farmers, particularly small scale and communal.
Zimbabwe's demand for fertilizer in a normal and good farming season, is about 600 000 tonnes (both basal and top dressing), of which 70 percent goes towards Government farming programmes.
Under the Five-Year Fertilizer Import Substitution that the Government has adopted, nearly US$80 million would be invested to enhance capacity of local firms with prices expected to gradually decline by an average 28 percent over the next four years.
Ammonium nitrate, according to the roadmap crafted by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, will gradually drop to US$18 for a 50 kilogramme bag from the current US$25 while the price of phosphates will decline to US$9,25 from US$13.
The roadmap will be largely anchored on ramping up production at Sable Chemicals, the country's sole ammonium nitrate producer and Chemplex Phosphates.
An investment of nearly US$40 million would see Sable Chemicals increasing output to 240 000 tonnes of AN by 2024. This would in turn reduce imports from the current 220 000 to 10 000 tonnes, according to the five-year strategic roadmap.
About US$36 million would be invested in Chemplex's subsidiaries -- ZimPhos and Dorowa Mines and this is expected to propel phosphates production to 100 000 tonnes from 80 000 tonnes while bringing down imports to 140 000 from 180 000 tonnes.
Fertilizer Association of Zimbabwe president Mr Tapuwa Mashingaidze said he was optimistic that the roadmap would result in improved production efficiencies, which would lead to drop in prices. "Fresh investments will result in higher efficiencies and that reduces costs," Mashingaidze, who is also chief executive of Chemplex said.
Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Sekai Nzenza, said the planned investments would enhance efficiency of local producers, thus enabling fertilizer products to be more competitive.
"Our fertilizer products will target the export market and become competitive within the region," Dr Nzenza told Business Weekly. "We will leverage on the Africa Continental Free Trade area with our quality products. We will bring Zimbabwe into the limelight of local production within Africa."
Zimbabwe used to be a major exporter of fertilizer until late 90s when it lost its competitiveness largely to economic challenges. From being a major exporter, the country is now spending several millions of United States dollars to import fertilizer.
In the past seven years, Zimbabwe spent a whooping U$622 million on fertilizer imports.
The large chunk of the money was forked out by the Government for State-assisted farming programmes such as Command Agriculture and the strategically important Presidential Inputs Scheme for small-scale farmers and vulnerable households.
Had local fertilizer producers been adequately supported, the Government would have spent just US$400 million, not to mention the impact this would have had on industries -- both forward and backwards linkages.
There are 12 fertilizer companies in Zimbabwe with the newer ones being involved in making blended NPK compounds. Out of these, three companies are involved in the primary production of raw materials. These are Dorowa Minerals which mines phosphate rock in Buhera, which is in turn converted to fertilizer grade phosphates by ZimPhos in Harare
Then Sable Chemicals in Kwekwe produces AN from imported ammonia following decommissioning of its electrolysis plant three years ago. At the secondary level, three companies have granulation capacity and these are Zimbabwe Fertilizer Company, Windmill and FSG. Windmill also operate blending plants.
FSG, Omnia, ETG and several other companies operate blending plants whereby granulated materials are physically mixed to make various grades of NPK compounds. The degree of value addition is obviously higher for primary producers.
Source: Allafrica.com