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Africa’s Transformation: Bawumia’s Vision for AI and Data Potential, as Shared in The Guardian UK

Unlocking Africa’s Potential: The AI Revolution and Data-Driven Growth

As the global AI fervor sweeps across continents, one thing is abundantly clear: Africa holds a treasure trove of opportunities. With a rapidly growing population of 1.4 billion, 70% of whom are under the age of 30, and a significant surge in AI investments, the stage is set for Africa to shine. We refuse to passively wait for others to reap the rewards on our behalf.

Africa and the Middle East are poised to experience the most substantial growth in AI spending worldwide. This year, AI spending in the region is projected to reach $3 billion (£2.4 billion), with estimates predicting a staggering $6.4 billion by 2026.

While Africa may have missed out on the first three industrial revolutions, we are determined not to miss the fourth and fifth. The missing piece of the puzzle lies in data—fuelled by our highly skilled national tech expertise and private-sector investments. For every dollar invested in data systems, there is an average return of $32. Data is the lifeblood that empowers decision-making and holds the key to unlocking Africa’s independent and prosperous future, ensuring that new economic opportunities are shared among all.

Since Google established its first AI research center in Accra in 2019, we have already witnessed progress in sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and education. One notable initiative focuses on aiding Ghanaian cashew farmers by employing unmanned aerial vehicles for AI-powered disease detection. These flying robots collect data from cashew trees’ leaves, stems, and trunks, enabling farmers to identify pest and disease symptoms before they become visible and cause significant crop damage. This project, supported by the German development agency GIZ, is particularly valuable considering that half of the world’s cashew nuts are grown in Africa.

Another project utilizes AI to assist smallholder farmers in Ghana in predicting post-harvest shortages and surpluses. By improving prediction models for crop yields, this technology aims to enhance Ghana’s food security and that of the entire region. Given the challenges faced by smallholder farms, this project, spearheaded by the Ghanaian non-profit organization AGRI-WEB, helps secure more stable and sustainable incomes for farmers.

Considering that Africa’s 33 million smallholder farms contribute up to 70% of the region’s food supply, the potential transformative impact of data-driven technology on livelihoods and food security is immense.

During the pandemic, I personally witnessed the vital role of data in shaping decision-making. Through a collaboration with the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, Vodafone Ghana, and others, our scientists gathered anonymized mobile phone data from districts across Ghana. By analyzing changes in active user numbers, we could assess the effectiveness of lockdown measures in restricting people’s movement. This data was crucial in determining when to lift or reinstate restrictions. Having local experts who collect and analyze data holds tremendous potential for African decision-makers.

With a growing number of young people being trained in data and AI in Ghana, we have a workforce ready to embrace the technological revolution and drive progress and economic transformation throughout the continent. In 2021, Ghana’s Academic City University College in Accra became the first African higher education institution to launch a degree program in artificial intelligence.

However, we cannot afford to sit idly and wait. We must remain focused on nurturing and expanding our pool of data experts. As the acceleration of AI reshapes the nature of work, we must prepare the younger generation to lead Africa into this new era.

This year’s global summits, from New Delhi to New York, present a historic opportunity for a fresh approach to development. In Ghana, we warmly welcomed the Indian government’s commitment to prioritizing data for development at this year’s G20 meeting.

World leaders must demonstrate

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