AFRICA - Sub-Saharan Africa Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa may have the image of relentless toil and low productivity, but experts say new tech is changing the picture.

Farmers, crop buyers and other sector professionals have started to harness smart gadgets and crunch numbers to improve productivity, reduce costs and smooth out wrinkles in the markets, they say.“There’s a digital revolution unfolding in Africa,” says Pascal Bonnet, a deputy director of CIRAD, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development. “Around the continent, there are excellent researchers in information technology -- digital agriculture is a real opportunity for qualified young Africans.” The idea of directly linking farmers to consumers, cutting out wholesalers and stores is a familiar story in Europe and North America. Awa Thiam, a 28-year-old telecoms engineer, is following suit in her native Senegal. The company she founded, Lifantou, connects school canteens with farming cooperatives with the help of big data. “There’s a huge need for this,” Thiam said, showcasing her work at an agri-tech conference in Dakar last month.

“Today, between 25 and 50 percent of the cost of school meals goes to intermediaries, but schools have limited budgets. If you shorten the supply chain, canteens can bring down the cost of meals and offer the children more varied menus.”

Her one-stop platform draws on a databank of crop production and schools to match potential demand with supply.