Can Big Data Unlock Africa’s Agricultural Potential? Sara Menkar Believes So.
African agriculture is a huge $300 billion business opportunity. The World Bank estimates that it could grow to $1 trillion by 2030. The continent, whose inhabitants are overwhelmingly employed in the agricultural sector, has over 60% of the world’s uncultivated land. This has huge implications as global populations grow and as the demand for food begins to increase globally. Africa will have to become the world’s next major supplier of agricultural commodities and products. Indeed, over the next couple of decades global food security will inevitably have to depend on dramatic improvements in African agricultural productivity and c o m p e t i t i v e n e s s .
H o w e v e r , t h e competitiveness and productivity of Africa’s agriculture continues to lag the world. For instance, emerging market countries such as Brazil often export more agricultural products than the whole African continent combined. One of the fundamental problems, among several structural constraints, is the lack of high quality data. Harnessing the data to drive decision making, planning, and investing in Africa’s agriculture remains one of the continent’s largest bottlenecks. Moreover, many of the continent’s sources of official data and statistics are often criticized by the poor quality of their statistics and their low investments in the ability to produce high quality data. Thus, in this environment many of the continent’s numbers about critical issues such as population sizes, market growth rates, crop production, and agriculture output are often of poor quality.
One African woman, the Ethiopian born Sara Menker, is hoping to change that by building a platform that will provide data products to help governments, investors, farmers and agricultural stakeholders to make better agricultural related decisions. She is founder and CEO of New York and Nairobi based Gro-Intelligence . Sara is on a mission with Gro intelligence to help provide data that can improve decision making across agricultural value chains via the provision of accurate and reliable data. Such data, Sara argues, can equip agricultural stakeholders to make better decisions from financial institutions which can develop better financial products for farmers and make more informed assessments of risk to policy makers who can design more targeted policies. Farmers stand to benefit in a multiplicity of ways which include accessing real time i n f o r m a t i o n o n p r i c e s f o r t h e i r commodities. Sara believes that building high quality data and information infrastructure is essential to the efficient running of Africa’s agricultural markets. Thus Gro-Intelligence marries the power of technology and big data to help close the information gaps that affect African agriculture.
The company builds and processes data to create information products provide detailed analytics on a variety of agricultural related themes such as investments, weather and climate trends, and pricing. Before she founded GroIntelligence, Sara was worked in Morgan Stanley’s commodities division in New York. Sara is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a fellow of the Aspen Institute’s African Leadership Initiative. She is also a trustee of the Mandela Institute for Development Studies