As part of its ongoing investment into agriculture for social good and AI, Microsoft announced the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives (MALFC) to collaborate in accelerating innovation in the agricultural sector in Kenya.
The MoU will enable the Government of Kenya, through MALFC, to tap into Microsoft technology to accelerate the aspirations of achieving 100% food and nutrition security in the country as part of the Government’s Big4 programme. This is an accelerated five-year development plan designed to fast-track the realisation of Kenya’s Vision 2030 programme through four key pillars, including food security.
“To ensure that we achieve our food security goal, we are striving for a 34% increase in the daily average income of farmers, a 47% reduction in the cost of food as a percentage of income, a 50% reduction in the number of food-insecure Kenyans and to create 1,000 Agro-SMEs and 600,000 new jobs. Microsoft’s technology will enable us to find innovative solutions that drive progress in agriculture and support our 2030 vision,” says Principal Secretary for Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Cooperatives, Prof. Hamadi Boga.
Microsoft aims to support digital transformation in agriculture in order to drive economic growth. The software company is deeply engaged in finding innovative agri-tech solutions for African agricultural problems. They had previously partnered with the World Bank through its One Million Farmers Platform, and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), to co-create technology solutions in Africa.
As a partner to MALFC, Microsoft will design, pilot and launch a programme to drive agricultural solutions innovation that addresses key challenges facing the agricultural sector such as pests and disease control, sustainable agricultural resource management, agri-weather data, and others. “Microsoft believes that adoption and integration of technologies such as the cloud, AI and more, into the agricultural space will bring about this transformation in the form of precision. Microsoft wants to enable agricultural firms to become thriving digital businesses that provide sustainable food and nutrition to the world,” says Microsoft Kenya Country Manager Kendi Nderitu.
The organisation will leverage its Open Data Platform and Azure Chatbot services to help farmers with agricultural pest control diagnostics. Microsoft 4Afrika will also co-host workshops involving a wide range of agri-tech stakeholders including the World Bank Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (KALRO), AGRA and others, to address issues in Kenya’s agricultural data ecosystem.
In addition to its partnerships with AGRA and the World Bank, Microsoft’s investments in agriculture include its FarmBeats project, which is using is low-cost sensors, drones and machine learning algorithms to support data-driven precision farming. Previous winners of its AI for Earth grants in Africa include SunCulture, DHI Group and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, who are all using artificial intelligence to address food security and nutrition in Africa.
Through its 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft will also partner with MALFC to recruit, train and place interns through its Interns4Afrika programme. This initiative seeks to offer young graduates the chance to grow their careers through six-month placements in Microsoft partner organisations. The programme helps bridge the gap between graduate skills and the skills set employers are looking for, while providing graduates with real-world, hands-on job experience to assist them in moving from learning to earning. By having access to Microsoft trained and certified interns, Interns4Afrika partners can extend their talent pipeline and retain strong talent.
“Agriculture is a priority area of investment for us, not only because of the enormous number of livelihoods it supports and the economic growth it drives, but also because it has a high potential to be a data-driven sector,” says Amrote Abdella, Regional Director of Microsoft 4Afrika. “We’re fully committed to supporting agricultural transformation starting in Kenya – and the rest of Africa – and more critically, the innovators who are key drivers of this digital transformation.” The partnership explores the uses of big data and AI in enabling data-driven, precision farming that increases farm productivity and profitability, and supports AGRA’s digital transformation as it works to improve food security for 30 million farming households across 11 countries by 2021. It is demonstrative of Microsoft’s ongoing investment in agri-tech across the continent, which also features partnerships with Twiga Foods, a mobile-based business-to-business food supply platform that links smallholder farmers in rural Kenya to informal retail vendors in cities.
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