An Examination of the Legal Issues Surrounding Agricultural Technology in Africa

Contributor: John Oladipo Esq.

Agriculture has always been on the scene of Nigeria’s internal revenue generation mechanism before the discovery of crude oil in the 1970s. Even though there was a major refocus of the economy with almost maximum focus on oil, Agriculture has been providing necessary support for the economy. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, Agriculture recorded 23.78 per cent in the second quarter of 2021, higher than 22.35 per cent in the first quarter of 2021.[1]

In Africa, Agriculture is critical to some of the continent’s biggest development goals. The sector is an engine of job creation: Agriculture accounts for about 60 per cent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa, while the share of jobs across the value chain is potentially much larger. In Ethiopia, Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia, the Agriculture industry is projected to add more jobs than the rest of the economy between 2010 and 2025[2].

Agricultural yield has improved tremendously in the recent decade as a result of advances in technology that have increased the scale, speed and efficiency of farm equipment, allowing for more efficient cultivation of more lands. In the same vein, seeds, irrigation and fertilizers have all improved dramatically, allowing farmers to raise yields. Agriculture is currently in the midst of yet another transformation, with data and connectivity at its core. Artificial intelligence, analytics, networked sensors and other emerging technologies in crop agriculture and animal husbandry could also prove beneficial in the pursuit to boost yields and improve sustainability and resilience[3].

From Nigeria to Ghana to Kenya to the uttermost part of the continent, a slew of innovations in agricultural technology (AgricTech) has emerged over the last decade to serve agriculturalists, who have long been neglected yet are crucial to the continent’s food security. These technologies offer services that range from SMS weather alerts and mobile apps offering credit, seeds, and machinery to more advanced solutions such as precision farming, which uses satellite, drone imagery and soil sensors to provide real-time data on crop health.

The purpose of this article is to highlight the importance of AgricTech in Nigeria and Africa, and possible legal issues associated with AgricTech firms.

AGRICULTURAL TECHNOLOGY

Simply put, Agricultural technology or AgricTech, is the fusion and/or application of technology to produce more with less, to make the farming process more efficient, from field monitoring to the food supply chain itself. AgricTech tools can be products, services, or applications derived from agriculture that improve various input/output processes concerning the food chain.[4]

The importance of Agrictech is limitless and cuts across every sphere of life. It is believed that AgricTech will be overly helpful in the fight against the degradation of climate[5].

Other benefits include:

  • Create jobs for the new generation of tech-savvy individuals driving on-farm and off-farm opportunities, such as Million Farmers in Kenya, FarmCrowdy in Nigeria and a host of others scattered around Africa.
  • Derive value from Agriculture data and create the network effect to drive scale. A good example is Twiga in Kenya, a business-to-business, mobile-based, E-commerce marketplace platform that delivers food products to the mass market by digitalizing the supply chain, cutting out layers of middlemen, eliminating food waste and reducing food prices.
  • Democratize access to market intelligence to create an integrated mobile platform of digital services for farmers. DigiFarm, powered by Safaricom in Kenya and which has expanded to Tanzania, Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Myanmar, offers farmers one-stop access to lower-priced farm inputs, loans, learning content on farming, as well as access to markets.[6]
  • Encourage small-scale farmers to develop and harness new business models such as the sharing economy. This breaks the barrier of the inability to perform optimally due to the lack of expensive pieces of machinery or technologies, which may be useful to increase efficiency and production. For example, HelloTractor, an AgricTech company provides a platform where the owner of farm equipment connects with small-scale farmers who require these pieces of equipment.

LEGAL ISSUES

Data security

One of the major business flaws that may be committed by farmers or owners of AgricTech firms is the lack of or inadequate data security measures. This can be detrimental to the farmer or owner of an AgricTech firm when the data ends up with their competitors, or is stolen by cybercriminals to perpetrate fraudulent acts.

In this respect, AgricTech providers should include specific clauses that address this issue. In addition, the loss of personal data may trigger data breach notification obligations under data protection laws, as well as endanger companies from a confidentiality perspective. In any case, a digitalized agriculture needs adequate safeguards for its data sets, which should be treated as an actual asset by each AgricTech firm.

Data privacy

AgricTech techniques are mainly based on the processing of non-personal data, such as data of animals and/or crops. However, the assignment of such information to a specific identifiable individual can make the said AgricTech firm to be in the custody of personal data. Data protection laws in the various African States provide for the need and importance of data privacy. Nigerian Data Protection Regulation, 2019 of Nigeria, Data Protection Act, 2012 of Ghana, Data Protection Act, 2019 of Kenya, Data Protection Act, 2019 of Uganda, Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 of South Africa, etc.

Further issues may arise if these pieces of equipment, such as drones, tractors or any other equipment employed, can monitor their users, track their performance and identify them.

Intellectual Property

How can the data sourced and cleaned be protected in terms of Intellectual Property (IP)? Who owns the data? These are some of the most crucial questions that an AgricTech company or service provider should consider. Exclusive rights to intangible assets (such as well-organized databases) are protected by IP, which also governs the granting of licences and rights of use to third parties. Various Intellectual Property rights have measures that can help achieve the highest level of protection in several ways. This is why IP protection clauses in contracts involving AgricTech services or goods are vital.[7]

Regulatory Issues

Agrictech comes with novel technologies to achieve its aim and obligations. One of such is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for seeding, spraying fertilizers, and other customized use to improve the productivity level. The deployment of UAVs to improve agricultural activities has been recognized in some African states, however, some African states place what the major populace believe to be a stringent regulatory mechanism for the use of UAVs. [8]

CONCLUSION

We need no soothsayer to posit that the digitalization of farming in Nigeria and other African countries, has the potential to drive massive growth in the economy of the continent, and also the potential to transform the sector. Africa is blessed with vast arable land and has a vast irrigation potential with seven major rivers. We believe that the growth of Agriculture can be maximized by employing technological solutions to increase yields.

It is equally important to bear in mind that although technological innovation is a gift, misuse of same or non-compliance with the existing laws of the land can be very destructive to the firm’s business, and trust placed on such firm which may be crucial, especially for firms who are still considering securing investors for their businesses.

REFERENCE

  1. Mary Izuaka, ‘GDP: Agric contribution improves in 2021 second quarter‘, https://www.premiumtimesng.com/agriculture/481533-gdp-agric-contribution-improves-in-2021-second-quarter.html> date accessed: 18/03/2022
  2. Simeon Ehui, ‘ Why technology will disrupt and transform Africa’s agriculture sector—in a good way ‘, https://blogs.worldbank.org/voices/why-technology-will-disrupt-and-transform-africa-agriculture-sector-good-way> date accessed: 18/03/2022
  3. Lutz Goedde, Joshua Katz, Alexandre Ménard, and Julien Revellat, ‘Agriculture’s connected future: How technology can yield new growth‘, https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/agriculture/our-insights/agricultures-connected-future-how-technology-can-yield-new-growth> date accessed: 18/03/2022
  4. Marina Leiva ‘What is agritech? Driving the future of food‘, https://www.investmentmonitor.ai/global/what-is-agritech-driving-the-future-of-food-from-farm-to-plate> Date accessed: 19/03/2022
  5. Ashwini Viswanathan, ‘Agriculture Technology Is Transforming The Way We Counter Climate Change: Here’s How’, https://www.cropin.com/blogs/agriculture-technology-is-transforming-the-way-we-counter-climate-change> datae accessed: 19/03/2022
  6. Aloysius Uche Ordu, Larry Cooley, and Lesly Goh, ‘Africa in Focus: Digital technology and African smallholder agriculture: Implications for public policy‘, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2021/08/16/digital-technology-and-african-smallholder-agriculture-implications-for-public-policy/ date accessed: 18/03/2022
  7. Giangiacomo Olivi and Francesco Armaroli, ‘UK: Smart Farming: The Rise Of Agritech And Its Legal Issues ‘, https://www.mondaq.com/uk/new-technology/770906/smart-farming-the-rise-of-agritech-and-its-legal-issues

    Date accessed: 19/03/2022

  8. To read on the regulatory framework of UAVs in Nigeria, see our article on the subject here: file:///C:/Users/Omaplex/Downloads/Thought-Leadership-Cutlasses-to-Drones.pdf

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