Last week, I joined thousands at GSMA’s Mobile World Congress Barcelona (MWC 2022 Barcelona), the largest annual exhibition and conference dedicated to the mobile industry, attracting tens of thousands of people from all over the world.
The GSMA is a global organisation unifying the mobile ecosystem to discover, develop and deliver innovation foundational to positive business environments and societal change. Representing mobile operators and organisations across the mobile ecosystem and adjacent industries, the GSMA delivers for its members across three broad pillars: Connectivity for Good, Industry Services and Solutions, and Outreach. This includes advancing policy, tackling today’s biggest societal challenges, underpinning the technology and interoperability that make mobile work, and providing the world’s largest platform to convene the mobile ecosystem at the Mobile World Congress (MWC) and M360 series of events.
This year, more than 61,000 attendees convened in-person and many more online from around the world to discuss the convergence of mobile, the potential of the metaverse and transforming vertical industries.
The Mobile World Congress (MWC) has been tagged ‘The world’s largest and most influential connectivity event’ and I could not agree more. It is the centre of discussion and debate, the place where leaders in the mobile ecosystem continued charting the future to achieve the full potential of technology. Over four days, more than 1,900 companies joined MWC22 Barcelona to showcase the role of mobile technology in unleashing connectivity, exploring subjects ranging from 5G to AI and Internet of Everything. Thought leadership from entrepreneurs, government ministers, and extraordinary people pushing the boundaries of our imaginations spoke from stages across the event. All of these speakers and presenters challenged and inspired attendees to think about new ways of leveraging technology.
From a policy perspective, the Ministerial Programme at MWC was the centre of global digital policy debate. With more than 160 delegations from countries and international institutions around the world, policymakers, regulators, industry leaders, and the international development community exchanged experiences and views on how to build policies for a digital world, maximise the potential of 5G, close the digital gap, and meet global climate targets. As the world becomes increasingly digital, there was broad agreement that more collaboration and cooperation is needed amongst all stakeholders to expand digital inclusion for all. The Ministerial programme also had in attendance Nigeria’s Minister of Communication and Digital Economy and his team.
In the meantime, I was particularly invited by the GSMA to participate in a special event on Catalysing investment in digital agriculture: A roundtable discussion between investors and Digital Agriculture service providers at the Mobile World Congress. The roundtable was a unique opportunity to hear about the latest trends in digital agriculture and to discuss innovative ways and collaborations that drive investment into commercially sustainable and scalable digital solutions for smallholder farmers and the agriculture sector at large.
Led by the GSMA AgriTech programme and the Netherlands Advisory Board on Impact Investment (NAB) (both members of the Digital Agri Hub, a new initiative supported by FCDO, USAID and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to create a knowledge platform for insights and data on digital agriculture), the session offered a comprehensive view of the latest developments in digital agriculture in low and middle income countries, highlighting use cases and specific solutions that are attracting greater investment from organisations injecting new capital and resources into the ecosystem.
Participating as an entrepreneur leading a digital agriculture solutions provider, I joined other entrepreneurs and investors to discuss thought provoking questions around specific challenges and opportunities in catalysing investment in digital agriculture. The discussion focused not only on the peculiarities of digital agriculture but also identified key enablers, blue-prints and collaborations to unlock greater investment in the sector.
My experiences were similar with many others especially my African and Asian counterparts who decried the issue of infrastructure and access as well as stakeholder integration. One recurring example was the FinTech sector which has seen tremendous growth and what Agritech could learn from such growth. Luckily, the two are closely linked and have such transformational power to agriculture’s most vital and yet most vulnerable players; smallholder farmers.
In 2020, I was interviewed alongside many other agritech entrepreneurs in Nigeria on the investment in the sector which led to a detailed report titled “Agritech in Nigeria: Investment opportunities and challenges”. According to GSMA’s report, Nigeria has seen a rapid growth of agritech companies offering digital solutions aiming to address the challenges faced by smallholder farmers and to improve their livelihoods. While some agritech start-ups have transitioned into established companies, only a handful have scaled. Barriers to scale include a challenging business environment, an ecosystem unable to support long-term growth, low levels of agricultural knowledge and skills, and limited access to and awareness of funding opportunities. Funders active in the Nigerian agritech space include incubators, accelerators, angel investors and donors, all of which tend to invest during early funding stages.
Despite this, Nigerian agritech companies face three major funding gaps: limited availability of local capital, a lack of institutional investors investing in agritech and an inability to attract big-ticket investments. The report offered a landscape of the evolution of agritech investment in Nigeria, and the role played by different investors in the growth of the sector.
At the MWC22, we tacitly acknowledged the findings of this report and also the few developments since its publication such as investment, possible opportunities for agritech companies to grow further and how investment could attract additional resources. However, an almost unanimous agreement is a need for meaningful collaboration and stakeholder integration in order to enable growth for the sector as seen in FinTech. As for the rest of the show, the Mobile World Congress 2022, which was successfully concluded despite the pandemic and an alarming war in Europe, did not disappoint in showcasing new and cutting edge mobile technologies ranging from phones, laptops, tablets and especially the underlying technologies that can unleash connectivity like 5G.
The GSMA official press release ended with a profound message. “As the mobile industry gathered this week at MWC22, our thoughts have been with those suffering hardship and loss. Businesses, governments, and individuals alike are wrestling with meaningful ways to help, even as the conflict continues to escalate. Many of our members are responding by facilitating communication with loved ones and by addressing humanitarian needs.” I conclude with this too, in order to remind us that our humanity must come first and all technology should aim to serve it by connecting and uniting us rather than dividing us.