With the current geometric rise in Africa’s population estimated to reach about 2.6 billion by 2050 and a growth rate of more than 2.5% p.a. (Population of Africa, 2019), it becomes imperative that agriculture and food systems (AFS) are reviewed to embrace innovative approaches for sustaining and improving the system from production to utilization. One of the most promising ways for achieving this target is through science, technology and innovation (STI) (Ozor and Urama, 2013; UNCTAD, 2017). STI is recognized as a means for achieving the sustainable development goal (SDG) 2 (End hunger). Artificial Intelligence (AI), which is the capacity of a machine to perform cognitive functions associated with human minds, such as perceiving, reasoning, learning, interacting with the environment, solving problems, and even exercising creativity (Manyika et al., 2017), stands out as one of the emerging technologies with a great potential to transform the AFS and ensure that all aspects of food security including food availability, access, utilization and stability are achieved even for small-scale farm enterprises in Africa. The introduction of AI for AFS is enabled by other technological advances such as big data, robotics, machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), availability of affordable sensors and cameras, drone technology, and even wide-scale internet coverage on geographically dispersed fields (Eli-Chukwu, 2019). Despite the growth of movements applying ML, IoT, and AI, among other tools to solve the AFS challenges, it remains necessary to identify how these tools may best benefit Africa under its peculiar circumstances.
It is against this background that the African Technology Policy Studies Network (ATPS) is partnering with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe) and Kumasi Hive as a consortium to manage an innovation research network (Hub) on AI for AFS in Africa (AI4AFS). The overall objective of this initiative is to advance the responsible development, deployment, and scaling of home-grown AI research and innovations to tackle pressing challenges in agriculture and food systems in Africa. This will be accomplished through setting up, managing, and supporting an innovation research network on AI for agriculture and food systems. This network will consist of 6-10 innovation research projects that will develop, deploy, test, and seek to scale responsible and home-grown artificial intelligence research and innovations. This research will deepen our understanding of developing, deploying, and scaling responsible AI innovations for sustainable AFS in Africa. The project will also seek to use these lessons learned to inform African and international AI policy and practice conversations. This project is part of the innovation stream of the Artificial Intelligence for Development Africa (AI4D Africa) program dedicated to a future where Africans across all regions create and use artificial intelligence to lead healthier, happier, and greener lives. AI4D Africa is co-funded by the Swedish International Development Agency and Canada’s International Development Research Centre. The specific objectives of this project include:
1. Deepening the understanding of how to develop and scale sustainable African agriculture and food system AI innovations;
2. Building the capacity of African innovators and researchers to develop, deploy and scale such AI applications; and
3. Facilitate the contribution of African research to relevant international AI policy and practice conversations.