Discover more from Pale blue dot: the newsletter
Can deep tech solve Africa’s data gap?
Our investment into the environmental data infrastructure for climate action in Africa
The effects of climate change in Africa aren’t limited to its borders, but without timely and accurate data, effective planning and decision-making are next to impossible. Discover how data availability, access, and reliability are the keys to affordable and actionable insights that can reshape Africa’s climate landscape and meet the startup building the environmental data infrastructure that will enable us to revolutionize farming practices, secure supply chains, and drive sustainable development.
Want to learn more about the availability and need for environmental data in Africa first? Check out our public research Notion.
If you think about what is powering our fight against climate change, it really boils down to one thing: data. The insights that we derive from data can help prevent hunger and disease, save lives in the face of extreme weather, and allow for sustainable management of resources. We need information about the world to make decisions and manage risks, and without timely and accurate data, we’re left with either not taking action at all or making guesses in the dark.
Unfortunately, the regions of our planet where the impacts of climate change are the most intense are also some of the most data-scarce regions around. The nations of Africa, in particular, are considered some of the least prepared and most vulnerable to climate change. By 2050, 25% of the world’s population will likely live in Africa, and all of those people will be highly exposed to climate hazards while also facing developmental challenges like environmental degradation, poverty, and hunger.
In the coming years, Africa is due to experience many more extremes in weather. Temperatures across the continent are rising faster than the global average, leading to extreme weather in the form of prolonged droughts and extensive floods. But how are both droughts and floods possible? As temperatures continue to climb, precipitation in Africa will come less often but in heavier amounts. The ground becomes hard and compact when an area doesn’t see rain for long periods, so when it eventually returns, the water can no longer penetrate the surface and causes massive flooding that damages infrastructure, destroys crops, and even leads to loss of life.
The last and largest emerging market
While Africa’s contribution to global value chains may be small at present, it is growing faster than all other regions. With its abundant natural resources, much of the raw materials required for the green transition are found there, as well as many consumer goods and agricultural products that the world relies on.
As the global population continues to climb, we need to expand food production, and 65% of the world’s arable land is in Africa. Africa is already a top producer of cacao, coffee, tea, and cotton, but many countries are also known for fruit and vegetable exports. South Africa exports around half of its fresh produce and is the world’s second-largest exporter of citrus fruits, following Spain. Egypt exports more than 400 agricultural products, and Morocco’s produce exports more than doubled in value between 2016 and 2021.
Africa’s contribution to global markets continues to grow, so the effects of climate change here also threaten food security for the entire planet, in addition to our ability to decarbonize rapidly. Africa needs data to safeguard its people and value chains, but the data available until now has been sparse and unreliable. Let’s look at weather stations as an example. Germany has over 200 active weather stations across the country compared to Mali, a country three times its size, which only has 13. Overall, Africa has just one-eighth the density of weather stations recommended by the World Meteorological Organization, and of those, only 22% meet its reporting standards.
This lack of accurate data also makes it difficult for farmers to secure crop insurance, especially since 60% are smallholder agriculturalists. Crop insurance is designed to protect farmers against the loss of crops to natural disasters, but many banks and lending institutions also require it of their borrowers. If those natural disasters are challenging to predict, insurers cannot accurately price the risk-related premiums, making the costs unattainable for many farmers or, even worse, completely unavailable.
More and better data leads to a productive and reliable agricultural system. For example, satellite images can detect crop damage and soil degradation before the human eye can see them. They can also help fine-tune and direct the application of fungicides and pesticides, removing the need for broad spraying that can damage the surrounding environment. Additionally, with the right kind of data, the insurance industry can deploy effective and equitable crop insurance programs that encourage investments in the sustainable development of climate-resilient agriculture.
Looking to the skies
The need for reliable environmental data in Africa is an enormous hurdle affecting multiple stakeholders. Beyond international instruments deployed by the United States and European Union, at least 21 African nations have now developed space programs, meaning more data availability than ever. This new data will go a long way in ensuring that Africa has the data it needs to become resilient to the effects of climate change; it just needs to be pieced together in a helpful way for decision-makers.
Given the massive implications that this data gap has for the progress of climate mitigation and adaptation measures, we were excited to find a startup working to solve this problem in Amini. Amini is building the environmental data infrastructure for Africa that will deliver real-time, verifiable, actionable, and low-cost data-driven insights. We were blown away by the ambition and expertise of this highly skilled team of operators. The Amini team has more than 20+ years of experience working with artificial intelligence and machine learning in emerging markets and building highly scalable startups in Africa. Africa needs the infrastructure to gather, standardize, process, and analyze its data, and Amini is on track to make that happen.
Just because data is available doesn’t mean it is easy to get ahold of or even useful in its raw state. Many organizations lack the in-house expertise necessary to find and access environmental data, let alone analyze it and derive actionable insights. Amini has developed a robust data aggregation and analytics platform capable of collecting, unifying, and processing satellite, weather, and other data types down to the square meter. The platform provides access to valuable environmental data analytics, including drought, flood, soil, and crop health.
Value beyond agriculture
Amni’s first customers come from the agricultural insurance sector, but the significance of their approach isn’t limited to this space, and they plan to expand into other verticals like supply chain management and climate finance. Amini’s work is especially relevant for Europe as the compliance spaces tighten the guidelines and regulations around imported goods. Trade between the European Union (EU) and Africa reached €280 billion in 2019, rising 20% between 2016 and 2019. About 28% of African exports are bound for the EU, and steps are being taken to ensure that these products are produced sustainably and without negative consequences to nature and wildlife.
The NaturAfrica initiative is one way the EU is working to ensure biodiversity conservation in Africa; launched in 2022 as part of the EU Green Deal, it has identified vital landscapes for protection. On the regulatory side, the EU Deforestation Regulation bans products that cause deforestation after 2020 from being sold in the EU, and the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) that kicks in this year will apply tariffs corresponding to the carbon price of imported goods and materials. Beyond Europe, environmental data from Africa is also needed for reporting frameworks like the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) and the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD). All of these programs require data to be successful, and Amini is making sure that data is readily available for anyone who needs it.
Want to learn more about Amini? Check out their website for additional information.