Technological innovations such as use of mobile phones to aid farming are unlikely to increase yields unless strong institutions exist. According to the FAO, a renewed focus on technological innovation is needed to promote sustainable agriculture.
Some experts say that despite a big focus on technological innovation such as smartphone apps in agriculture, the expected returns are not enough.
"If smallholders in Africa are going to be empowered and really thrive as a business, innovation is not just going to happen in technology but also in institutions," said Tom Jayne, a professor of food and resource economics at the US-based Michigan State University, citing institutions such as those that provide agricultural extension services.
Challenges confronting farming in Afrika include migration of youth from rural to urban settings and smallholders’ low adoption rates of conservation agriculture: a farming system that promotes maintenance of a permanent soil cover, minimum soil disturbance and diversification of plant species, Jayne explained.
"Even though it is more commonly thought that Africa is a land-abundant region, there are many places in Africa where this is not feasible anymore," he said.
For instance, in Kenya only 25 per cent of rural people inherit land.
"The fact that inheritance is declining as a mode of land [acquisition] is something that governments are going to have to anticipate and really deal with because there is much greater unemployment now than ever used to be," Jayne explained.
A holistic way of dealing with these challenges will be to create opportunities that allow access to land for rural youth in less exorbitant prices to maintain livelihood in agriculture. Governments need to invest in the right kind of innovative institutions that support small-scale farmers.
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