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Sunday, September 26, 2021

Technology and poverty alleviation in Africa

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Welcome to the irony called Africa! A continent so blessed yet so poor. My dear country, Nigeria, is known as the poverty capital of the world, and it is a reality I find to be very shameful. This reality is almost the same for the majority of Africans as poverty continues to ravage the continent.

That said, it all comes back to one fact: Many Africans are poor and it is high time leaders from various African countries sat down to address the issue of poverty. The African continent, with a massive population of over one billion people, has more than 500 million of this number living below the global poverty line of $1.25 a day. The first Sustainable Development Goal talks about eradicating extreme poverty by 2030, but the data on the ground does not show that Africa is winning the war against poverty.

The burning question that should be on the mind of any concerned African is how to change the poverty narrative in Africa. In my case, I simply ask myself: “What are some of the practical ways that we can apply technology towards getting more people out of poverty?” The high levels of poverty simply mean we are sitting on multiple kegs of gun powder, and we must collectively do the needful or be ready to face the consequences.

Here are a few areas that can help make a difference if taken seriously:

Digital literacy

The availability of the Internet, social media and acquisition of digital skills that empower digital literacy, fortunately, does not come too expensive. Today, many youths are involved in producing, writing, creating images and designs, made possible by technology. Youths are very much inclined to technology; hence, they form the larger part of the population that has embraced digital literacy.

In 2014, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act defines digital literacy skills as a workforce preparation activity. Digital literacy is required for being employed in some blue-collar jobs now that technology is cheaper and available. With more unskilled population on the continent, digital literacy skill acquisition should be a deliberate plan, enforced by the government at secondary school levels.

Education

Years back, schools used to depend on several desktop computers to empower their students for ICT. Today, the entire classroom has been transformed into a virtual class where students can learn at their convenience. It is even no news that some people have actually gone through an institution without attending the four walls of a classroom!

Leveraging the power of technology, many have become skilled at what they do by simply watching videos and reading e-materials. The skills acquired have been translated into money-making ventures, thus changing the narrative from poverty to wealth.

However, broadband penetration is still a challenge, and this is due largely to the lack of infrastructure and investments, particularly in rural areas. The provision of facilities to enable e-learning and promote ICT will surely go a long way in alleviating poverty on the continent.

Agriculture

The agricultural sector needs technology more than ever before today and this is referring to almost all its value chain. As an example, Farmcrowdy, an agric-tech start-up, is working hard to revolutionise the agricultural sector across the country by empowering smallholder farmers in order to increase food production and security.

Using technology, this digital agriculture platforms have been improving seeds and farm inputs, training framers on modern farming techniques as well as providing a market for the sale of their farm produce. This, in return, has empowered rural farmers to cultivate more acres of farmland and, by extension, lead to increased food production and security in Africa.

Indeed, technology has caused an improvement in the agricultural value chain in the country. With more infrastructure and favourable policies by the government, platforms like Farmcrowdy and other agriculture start-ups would leverage technology more to empower rural farmers for food production and sustainability that alleviate poverty.

Banking

Banks no longer enjoy the monopoly of financial transactions, as fintechs are now giving them a run for their money. Platforms such as Remita in Nigeria or M-PESA in Kenya are disrupting the sector, using technology and making it easier for bank clients to outsource cash handling, deposits and withdrawal transactions. The excitement over mobile money transfer is fuelled by its overall impact on the financial inclusion challenge, driven by the possibility of the providers, offering savings, credit, insurance, and other financial products to the poor at low costs.

If the unbanked masses, usually the poor, could be rewarded by these services, then they opt to stay with a service that uses technology and, at the same time, cushion the ravaging effect of poverty on them.

Identity

A large population on the continent is without identity, meaning that they would lose out on so many benefits in the health, education and social protection services. Nigeria has made progress with its national identity push but it certainly could have been better.

It must be pointed out that the challenge of identity management is not only at the national level. Individuals, businesses and various types of organisations need to solve this challenge as well. This is why I commend what a start-up called Youverify is doing with YouID. It is a secure digital ID that allows safe storage of personal details in an encrypted format while using it to access online services securely without having to fill another Know Your Customer form anymore.

Africa must work extra hard to lift more of its people out of poverty, and technology and all its many possibilities must be adequately employed to make this a reality. This is because technology can help promote transparency, increase access to education, curb corruption, improve accountability and generally push us to become a much saner society where leaders focus on the common good.

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