How tech is enabling sustainable development in Africa – Microsoft

Africa is increasingly affected by extreme weather events despite being the lowest contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the world.

The continent only emits 3.8 percent, compared to China at 23 percent and the US at 19 percent, yet it is the continent most vulnerable to climate change.  Countries like Kenya, which is experiencing its worst drought in 40 years, and Nigeria, which has seen 600 lives lost in the worst flooding in a decade, are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. 

The World Bank notes that roughly 282 million of Africa’s population is currently undernourished, contributed to by environmental factors such as drought, environmental degradation, and displacement. With each flood or drought, food security declines by 5-20% and the continent’s food import bill could top $110 billion by 2025 unless significant change is implemented through climate resilient farming.

Floods, heatwaves, and droughts threaten livelihoods and lives – lives that comprise one-sixth of the global population. With agriculture sustaining 70% of Africa’s livelihoods, it is critical that governments and organisations partner to find innovative solutions to aid precision farming using advanced technologies to revolutionise food production and help eliminate hunger and poverty in Africa.  

African countries must adapt to unpredictable conditions through better resource management, such as water management, while implementing sustainable practices in industries like agriculture and energy. Digitalisation has a vital role to play in sustainability, and Africa is no exception: embracing technology like AI, data analytics, the cloud, and IoT has the potential to transform the continent’s present – and future.

Technology solutions help build a sustainable future

Food and agriculture must become climate-smart to successfully tackle current food security and climate change challenges. Technological advancements in the agriculture sector will help meet the growing demand for farm automation, digitization and sustainability. Climate-smart agriculture contributes to a range of development goals including reducing hunger and poverty through prediction of weather patterns, growth of suitable high value crops and connection with agriculture experts for further support. 

Governments and organisations have made climate pledges to address the climate crisis, but they need support to achieve these targets. This support should be underpinned by embracing solutions that leverage the power of technology – doing so will accelerate progress in creating a sustainable future for the continent through real-world impact. 

Tech companies play an integral role in helping partners across Africa embrace and leverage the power of digitalisation. For example, along with investing $1 billion in a Climate Innovation Fund that focuses on emerging climate technology solutions in underfunded markets, Microsoft is also a founding participant in The Carbon Call, a global initiative that uses data streams, machine learning, and cloud computing to improve the measurement, reporting, and verification of corporate GHG emissions. Microsoft is working to close the climate divide with an expansion of its AI for Good Research Lab into Egypt and Kenya, informed by a new Africa AI Innovation Council.

Tech skills are needed

As companies change to meet the challenges of climate change, this will impact a wide variety of processes and operations, in part based on new applications for digital technology, including cloud services, AI and dedicated services like Microsoft’s Cloud for Sustainability. This will also require an equally vital effort to equip companies and employees with a broad range of new skills needed for climate adaptation and sustainability transformation.  

The world’s entry into the digital age has required that computer science move into every school. In a similar way, the creation of a net zero planet will require that sustainability science spreads into every sector of the economy.  

One of the great challenges of closing the Sustainability Skills Gap is ensuring that employees receive the specialised training required to fill the jobs of the future. Employers must move quickly to upskill their workforce through learning initiatives focused on sustainability knowledge and skills, while the world must prepare the next generation of workers for the sustainability jobs of the future.

Agri-tech can help meet the climate crisis head on

According to the World Bank, 43 percent of Nigeria’s population doesn’t have access to grid electricity, and Nigeria has the largest energy access deficit in the world. The use of generators is unsurprisingly ubiquitous throughout the country – according to the African Development Bank, Nigerians spend $14 billion on generators and fuel each year. The cost to the average Nigerian’s pocket – and the climate – simply isn’t sustainable. 

However, a renewable energy provider is helping small businesses and underserved communities connect to reliable and affordable clean energy and manage their power consumption. Nigeria’s ICE Commercial Power partnered with Microsoft to develop a cloud-based system to support the maintenance and management of solar microgrids, and the support includes business development, technical support, and go-to-market strategies.

In addition to installing solar panels and battery storage for each microgrid, ICE utilises IoT-enabled smart meters and inverters to track microgrid performance for remote monitoring. Connected customers can also pay for their clean energy using POS, USSD, and mobile bank transfers, and all of this is powered by Microsoft Azure. 

Addressing the challenge of our lifetime

Adoption and integration of technologies such as the Cloud, AI and more, into the agricultural space will deliver transformation in the form of precision agriculture, which will revolutionise food production and help to eliminate hunger and poverty in Africa. Other measures include collective behaviour change, driven by creating awareness of the climate crisis to accelerate the positive climate change journey. Here, strategic partnerships among governments, civil and private organizations allow for knowledge sharing and collaboration. 

Every corporate and government needs support – whether through data, AI tools, or digital infrastructure like the cloud to reduce emissions, reach targets, and enable Africa’s sustainable development. To build a more sustainable future, Microsoft is providing technology like AI, data analytics, machine learning, the cloud, and IoT to support net-zero economies across the continent – because, without the right technology, these ESG commitments are simply too ambitious and overwhelming.

Microsoft Nigeria is also doing its own small part, with the Microsoft office in Lagos receiving Gold LEED certification, which identifies Microsoft Nigeria as a showcase example of sustainability and demonstrates its leadership in transforming the building industry. The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, efficient, and cost-saving green buildings, and the certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership.

There is no doubt that technology is the key to providing innovative solutions to the most pressing sustainability challenges – and these challenges are indeed urgent. According to the African Development Bank, climate change is the most significant “existential challenge” to Africa’s development, and is eroding many of its development gains. To address the challenge of our lifetime, Microsoft is accelerating progress toward sustainability by helping our customers build solutions that benefit the environment – and generations to come.