Parliament Inquiry: How can tech scale up efforts in developing countries?

UK seeks to enhance trade with the developing world - opportunities for the tech sector.

The International Trade Committee has launched an inquiry to explore whether the Government has an appropriate trade strategy with developing nations. With the upcoming COP27 climate talks being hosted by Egypt, there has never been a better time for companies to focus on providing technological solutions to developing countries.

Opportunities for the UK tech sector

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated digitisation across the world. Developing nations are adopting new technologies at lower costs, which is allowing them to remove traditional barriers to growth.

Although a divide remains between high-income and lower-income countries in digital usage, disruptive technologies have made significant gains in emerging markets.

For example, during the pandemic, the Rwandan Ministry of Health deployed robots to deliver food and medications, and to screen the temperatures of 50-150 people per minute. Similarly, the Safe Hands Kenya initiative started in the East African nation to manufacture and distribute PPE and disinfect public spaces. Technology is a key enabler of their operations, with the use of geospatial maps to decide where supplies are sent and IoT devices to enable order and replenishment systems. 

Climate adaption technologies  

Developing nations are also overlooked for investment in climate tech. In 2020, approx. 93% of climate tech investments went to the USA, China and Europe, leaving only 7% for the rest of the world.

However, the negative impacts of climate change are felt most severely by developing nations who are ill-equipped to mitigate climate risk. According to the World Health Organization, by 2030 climate change is expected to result in approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, arising from factors such as malnutrition and heat stress.

Technology can be used to alleviate the impact of climate change and several UK tech companies are working to address the issue. Following an endorsement by the Department for International Trade, UK firm Aceleron recently secured £5m in funding to accelerate the development and use of sustainable batteries in Africa. The company is also pursuing markets in Europe and India using its patented battery technology, designed to reduce the amount of waste generated by the industry.

UK-based company Solar Water signed an agreement with middle eastern country Jordan to build the first ever desalination plant based on “solar dome” technology. This uses concentrated solar power (CSP) to treat sea water, reducing the high costs and emissions associated with the traditional process.

Providing innovative solutions

Innovative technologies are already in use in developing countries, proving that opportunities exist for greater digital expansion. This growing digital infrastructure has helped to promote the use of digital identities in Uganda.

According to the UNHCR, Uganda hosts around 1.6 million refugees, largely from South Sudan and DR Congo and is recognised as one of the most generous host states. With the help of the UK tech start-up YOTI the country has created a web-based refugee information management system, allowing for the distribution of ID cards and access to services such as education and healthcare.

Next steps

The case studies highlight the importance of greater investments and trade with the developing world.

techUK is submitting a response to the International Trade Committee’s call for evidence. For more information, please contact [email protected] before Monday 21st February.