Jacqueline Njonjo

Current estimates suggest that approximately 690 million people went hungry in 2019, a number that has increased by 10 million in one year and by nearly 60 million in five years. One in ten people, or close to 750 million people globally, were exposed to severe levels of food insecurity, and an estimated 2 billion people did not have regular access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food during the same year. With ten years left to achieve the SDG 2.1 Zero Hunger target, global agri-food systems are in need of a significant transformation to deliver affordable and healthy diets for all. Apart from overemphasizing calories and protein requirements per person, the strategies to end hunger and address malnutrition must also take into account a wider range of dietary requirements for people’s health and development while also considering the sustainability of food systems.
In Conversation With

Jacque Njonjo

Jacque Njonjo leads an illustrious career in the agricultural sector spanning over 20 years, inspired by her father who is a coffee expert himself. She currently heads IFC’s Food Safety Advisory as the Africa Lead. Access to safe food is a basic human right, she is passionate about food safety, especially in Africa, and strives to support all the work in making this a reality for the continent. She considers some of her greatest achievements to be the strides and developments that have been made in assuring food safety over the years. In this exclusive interview with Cropin, Jacque shares with us her recommendations for a more food-secure tomorrow as well as her perspective on how technology can be utilized to ensure sustainability and inclusive development in the agriculture sector.

While several organizations are focussing on empowering smallholder farmers with information, services, and inputs to ensure better food security globally, one of the challenges that these remotely-located farmers face is access to infrastructure — be it cold storage facilities, warehouses, adequate irrigation systems, or even telecommunications. This has, on numerous occasions, led to significant post-harvest losses. What can governments, NGOs, and private enterprises do to improve this situation, which will consequently contribute towards ensuring reduced food insecurity and better economic gains for the farmers?

Jacqueline Njonjo: Creating platforms/networks/cooperatives that bring essential agricultural services, tools, skills, and resources to the grassroots/closer to local farmers is important to give them a ‘bigger voice’. Also, improving access to rural areas through investment in basic infrastructure, such as more accessible roads, and encouraging Telcos to ensure Universal Access for all by establishing more telecommunication masts/facilities, providing cheaper calling rates, data, and handsets, and improving network coverage further enhance the farmers’ access to markets and other stakeholders. Likewise, organizations and governments need to invest in locally-assembled storage units. Reducing or subsidizing the cost of post-harvest resources and tools, as well as storage for pesticides and preservatives, makes them more affordable to local farmers, thereby bringing down the cost of production. Designing applications/apps that help local farmers use their indigenous knowledge and locally available technology, tools, and resources enable them to reduce post-harvest losses, increase shelf life, improve pest management, and build climate resilience. Moreover, governments need to provide subsidies for small-scale farmers to invest in post-harvest technologies, tools, and resources and create policies that are pro small scale farmers.

When we consider partnerships between private and public sector organizations, what role do you think technological innovations play in aiding in connecting the different actors and ensuring a smooth flow of information between the concerned actors? What are the possibilities for technology in the near future?

Jacqueline Njonjo: Technological innovations from the internet, mobile telephony, apps, WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom, Skype, etc. have been fundamental and extremely invaluable in allowing the communication, networking, and sharing of vital information, especially now, with the Covid19 pandemic. They have enabled people/organizations to continue connecting, sharing, functioning, and working towards their goals and missions. The possibilities for technology in the near future are endless – communication, networking, and sharing of information will certainly be faster, easier, more effective, more accessible, and widespread.

What are the different ways global organizations can support the sustainable use of land, water, and other resources needed for agriculture?

Jacqueline Njonjo: The focus should be on Water & Land Quality, Quantity, and Management, which can be achieved through either mixed cropping or vertical gardening (the practice of growing crops in vertically stacked layers). It often incorporates controlled-environment agriculture, which aims to optimize plant growth, and soilless farming techniques such as hydroponics, aquaponics, and aeroponics. The following also need to be addressed to ensure the sustainability of resources:
  • Scarcity resulting from the increasing competition;
  • Unsustainable land and water management:
  • Low levels of domestic crop production; and,
  • Inadequate international corporation.

Marginalized farmers manage small areas of land and yet contribute significantly to the global agriculture output. However, a lack of inclusive development often limits them from tapping into the enormous potential that agriculture offers them in terms of socioeconomic growth. In your opinion, how can the various actors in the agroecosystem contribute to ensuring these farmers can achieve optimal output?

Jacqueline Njonjo: Invest in women, providing financial resources, access to markets, and support/self-help groups: Women are vital drivers for economic and social development for their families and communities but they often lack decision-making power in the agricultural system and in their own households. Inequitable access to agricultural information, inputs, and land constrain women’s productivity and empowerment.

Industries around the world are switching to more technologically-driven ecosystems, especially now to overcome the challenges posed by the global pandemic. What trends do you foresee in the agroecosystem with respect to the application of advanced technologies in food production?

Jacqueline Njonjo: There is a rising trend in the use of drones and solar/electric-powered rickshaw-peddle carts for deliveries. While mechanized farming has contributed to the shift from subsistence farming to one that is commercial, investments in vertical farming have increased in recent years. Mechanized Farming ensures less dependence on low-income/immigrant workers and large human resources/labor force, and more investment in automation—in soil preparation, planting, weeding, mechanical harvesting, sorting, grading, processing, etc. Current applications of vertical farming coupled with other state-of-the-art technologies, such as specialized LED lights, have resulted in over 10 times the crop yield than would receive through traditional farming methods. There have been several different means of implementing vertical farming systems in communities such as Paignton, Israel, Singapore, Chicago, Munich, London, Japan, and Lincolnshire. The main advantage of utilizing vertical farming technologies is the increased crop yield that comes with a smaller unit area of land requirement. The increased ability to cultivate a larger variety of crops at once because crops do not share the same plots of land while growing is another sought-after advantage. Additionally, crops are resistant to weather disruptions because of their placement indoors, meaning fewer crops are lost to extreme or unexpected weather occurrences. Lastly, because of its limited land usage, vertical farming is less disruptive to the native plants and animals, leading to further conservation of the local flora and fauna.

How do you think artificial intelligence and machine learning are revolutionizing the food supply chain? What does the immediate future look like for increased food safety compliance using technology?

Jacqueline Njonjo: They allow for sharing of improved communication and more accurate and timely information, improved quality control, as well as the improved rate of production/processing/sorting/packing and consistency in the maintenance of standards. They have improved buyer-supplier relationships, facilitated better quality and problem checks, testing, tracing, etc., and are driving greater efficiency in deliveries.

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