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Govt policies urged to boost technologies

By Lucie Morangi in Kampala, Uganda | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-08 09:01

A farmer sitting in his house can now learn his cow's movements using a wearable sensor. He gets real time data on his mobile phone of the cow's patterns such as eating, drinking, resting, fertility and temperature. Furthermore, the technology also predicts problems such as digestive disorders and provides the farmer with an online veterinarian.

This is a mobile application in Uganda that shows how artificial intelligence and big data are helping small scale farmers address productivity challenges. Already, there has been a 35 percent increase in livestock production with more than 800 farmers connected, said Ronald Katamba, the founder of Jaguza Livestock.

The company was second runner up, winning $2,000, in a competition pitch during the Africa Blockchain Conference 2019 held Kampala, Uganda, last week.

"I think if the price of the devices could be lowered further, it would boost uptake," he said. The device goes for $7 each and has a life span of five years.

With the continent betting on artificial intelligence, robotics and blockchain to leapfrog development, government intervention will determine the pace at which these new technologies will gain traction, analysts have said.

Government policies, such as tax waivers, can stimulate uptake, said Linda Bonyo, chief executive officer of Lawyers Hub in Kenya.

"Governments should develop innovative policies that would reduce the cost of device and equipment acquisition such as sensors and drones, which are expected to boost production in critical sectors such as agriculture," she said.

A joint report by the African Union and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, released last year, urges the continent to consider drone technology for precision agriculture as a potential game-changer for the continent.

Bonyo pointed to the Kenyan government's waiver of import tariffs on mobile handsets in 2009, making them much more affordable.

Six months after the drop in waiver tariffs, Kenyan mobile penetration jumped 7 percent and reached 75 percent mobile penetration within four years. Currently, Kenya leads the continent with 91 percent mobile penetration. Globally, the country has the highest share of internet usage from mobile phones compared to desktops.

Furthermore, Bonyo said that tax breaks to local developers and foreign firms could spur innovation and job creation, similar to success witnessed in India and Singapore.

"Prudence and bold decisions are needed as the continent finds itself in the 4th industrial revolution. Governments should consider strategies that stimulate nascent industries by making relevant technologies easily accessible. This ultimately means reduction in tax revenues but this policy will pay off over the long run," said Bonyo.

Governments, therefore, need to be agile. To have their thumbs at the pulse of development and be quick to turnaround lessons from successful pilot projects into policies that address the needs of the market. The regulations should be adaptive, human centered, inclusive and sustainable, said Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, a director at the Uganda Communications Commission.

"This is such a totally new sector and brings both opportunities and challenges. We have a chance to leapfrog and position the continent at the cusp of breakthroughs that would transform economies. But we are also acknowledging the fact that to formulate policies in the new digital era will no longer be limited to governments but rather it will increasingly be a multi-stakeholder effort."

It is, however, a complex environment. Traditional bureaucracy and old processes have seen government policies lag behind technological developments. In addition, governmental policy formulation processes are rigid and may not prioritize the need to change policies quickly.

"However, we may no longer have such luxuries in the new digital era. I think there will be a lot of creativity and collaboration with private sector going forward," said Sewankambo.

There has been some changes, nevertheless, especially in the wake of mobile phone technologies. Mobile phones were viewed with caution and governments avoided stifling regulations, which gave the technology room for development and growth. This led to a revolution in the financial sector that saw millions of people brought into formal banking.

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