Precision Farming coming to you

You’ve probably been through or continue to go through the various uncertainties that afflict our farming in Africa. Knowing when to plant a crop is usually a preserve of people that have been at it for long. Fertilizer application, pesticide spraying as well as disease detection are also usually just chanced upon. We have turned out to be reactive as opposed to being proactive. This, among others is one of the reasons we have very low Agricultural productivity on this continent.

Lately, there is a new buzzword, Precision Agriculture, Precision farming or smart farming. I believe apart from the sophisticated sound it emits when mentioned,you might not be having much of a clue about what it is.

Precision agriculture is viewed as an approach to farm management that leverages information technology to enable a more accurate and resource efficient approach to crop and livestock management.

You might be told that you need Phosphorous in your soils to enable a particular plant grow well. How much of it you need tends to be a variable that makes you either over or under supply the soil. With precision agriculture techniques, you should be able to determine the exact quantities needed hence avoiding resource wastage.

It hinges alot on sensing using various approaches like satellites, ground and aerial (e.g drone) surveillance, among others. With the ever increasing need to supply more food with less fixed resources like land and water, a need has arisen to increase efficiency of resource utilisation.

How is it expected to change farming in Africa?

Just the other day someone was questioning why Uganda is looking at the prospect of launching a satellite in space yet we still have lots of poor people around us. I recall responding to him by reminding him that the likes of SafeBoda are offering a very low cost service to the masses thanks to satellite technology.

A similar concern may be leveled when it comes to African farming, and this is what one should consider, the technologies being deployed currently are indeed expensive for the average african farmer. However, like Mobile phones permeated the communication industry and have now become commonplace, the same could be true for precision agriculture. A time will come when soil testing will be as simple as using a phone app to screen a soil sample.

In Africa, technologies that tend to gain traction are those that easily enable communal usage, as in shareable technologies. Take a look at transport that for long was dominated by the expensive buses, taxis and cabs. When bikes (boda bodas) came along with their “small small” payment approach, they are all over the place.

Precision technology can enable one monitor gardens for disease, pest attacks, soil conditions, animal performance and many other variables through the use of simple technologies like drones.

Take the example of the so-called “telephone farmers,” usually urban based but with farming operations in the countryside. By subscribing to a drone service, you will be in position to easily monitor and make decisions on your farm investment without having to fully rely on the farm hand’s report alone.

For those into irrigation, there do exist smart solutions that can monitor the soils and tell when to actually water and for how long.

If it is dairy, you can maximise individual animal potential through telling the daily yields, milk component monitoring i.e. fat or protein content among others.

As the technology averse smallholder farmers see the kind of benefits the “telephone farmers” are getting from their new approach to farming, the demand is likely to surge leading to the introduction of innovations aimed at mass service consumption.

Why for example, shouldn’t a drone based monitoring service costing Five dollars per season not be put in place to meet the needs of thousands of smallholder commercial farmers in an area?

This stuff may look futuristic but that is where we are headed. It is no longer a preserve of high tech farms in Europe and the USA but can be localised to solve our challenges.

James Wire
Technology and Business Consultant
Twitter – @wirejames
Blog – The Wire Perspective

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