Unlocking the Potential of Sub-Saharan Africa

Region's diversity of cultures, regulations, and farming practices present challenges.

By 2050, the global population is expected to exceed 9 billion people according to a 2015 United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs report.

In order to meet skyrocketing nutritional demands, farmers around the world are working to find new areas in which to produce high-quality food. One of these regions is Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), a region encompassing more than 8 million square miles and containing approximately 60% of the planet’s uncultivated arable land.

Tavonga Siyavora, John Deere systems engineer, recently visited Kenya and Nigeria to learn about wheat farming practices in this region.

Tavonga Siyavora, John Deere Intelligent Solutions Group (ISG) systems engineer, visited Kenya and Nigeria earlier this year to learn more about opportunities and challenges facing this vast region. He says it’s critical to better understand SSA to help those linked to the land feed, clothe and shelter a growing world.

A vast region full of potential

“I was born in Zimbabwe, and moved to the U.S. during my formative years and have always had a persistent curiosity about SSA,” Siyavora says. “Though I don’t want to under-represent the complexity of the region, John Deere has long appreciated what’s possible.”

In April, Siyavora traveled to SSA to learn more about smallholder farmer and contractor ecosystems within the wheat-growing value chain.

“I truly believe unlocking the potential of small growers via the contractor segment is vital to future success,” he says. “In recent years, John Deere has helped contractors by creating enabling programs and providing access to financing. The next frontier, in my opinion, will be finding the best mix of frugal technologies to grow farmers’ capabilities.”


Behind the fence, for as far as the eye can see, fields of wheat still in their early growth stages mature beneath the Kenyan sun.

The importance of precision ag

In Kenya, Siyavora spent time with smallholder farmers and commercial customers.

“The two commercial growers I visited in the Narok region reported wheat yields that were equal to or less than those of area smallholder farmers with less capable equipment,” Siyavora says. “Without precision-ag technologies, they were essentially scaling up inefficiencies.”

During his visit, he saw a customer take delivery of a John Deere 9R Series Tractor in addition to older 8 and 9 Series tractors. “Not one vehicle had a StarFire (GPS) receiver,” he says. “So, I asked about their approach to precision agriculture.”

He says one customer he visited with was first exposed to a guidance system last year. “In fairness to John Deere, we just received StarFire regulatory approval from the Kenyan government in December of 2015,” Siyavora says. “If the company can expand our precision-ag footprint in the region, farmers might very well be able to produce higher yields. And that can help curtail annual wheat imports necessary to meet local demand.”

His focus in Nigeria was on understanding the contractor segment, particularly the possibility of implementing new telematics technologies to assist with increasing business.


A new 9R Series tractor displayed inside a John Deere dealership in Kenya.

Helping SSA and similar markets

Siyavora says SSA is a diverse mix of cultures, farming practices, regulatory hurdles, and dealer groups. John Deere has a strong presence in the commercial-ag segment, Siyavora says, and is working to meet the needs of smallholder farmers and contractors.

“This is a solid foundation on which to build future success,” he says. “It’s going to take quite a bit of work, but food security is possible for the continent. John Deere has already been in SSA for over 50 years and with a focused effort we’ll be a vital part of realizing this potential.”



Unlocking the Potential of Sub-Saharan Africa


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