Category Archives: Agriculture

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

WFP – Promote Local Ugandan Producers

For once I realise that when Ugandan Public officials choose to use logic to reason out issues, they can be spot on. On Thursday 22nd April 2021, the Honourable Minister for Relief, Disaster Preparedness and Refugees Engineer Hillary Onek without mincing words and in response to the United Nations Resident Coordinator stated that, “I don’t agree that our farmers toil and suffer to get market for their produce, and then you are telling me the quality. Which quality has failed? All of you (UN officials) are eating Ugandan food you buy from the market here. Why are you thinking of quality now? I don’t agree with that because that is a way of protecting [food market for] the foreign [people] in America and other places. You want money to remain there. We also want market for our food and we are very strong on that.”

There has been a sense of taking Uganda for granted, a country known to be very refugee friendly. You keep hearing of food supplies being imported from other countries and the story peddled by agencies like the World Food Programme is the lack of quality. While they may have a point, it is a feeble one as effectively responded to by the Minister.

If these entities are genuinely interested in empowering Uganda to handle these refugees, is it better for them to continue sourcing food expensively from foreign suppliers or empowering local value chains to ensure that they get the quality and quantity they need? That song of poor quality is a ruse and has been sung for long.

In June 2019, a story broke out of food poisoning in Karamoja and the very WFP was accused. Four people died in the process while hundreds got affected. The culprit was a fortified porridge blend called Super Cereal supplied by a Turkish firm, the Demirpolat Group. This is allegedly a big multinational firm according to online sources having numerous contracts to supply the UN with food. How could it supply poisonous food if indeed it meets the standards that the UN Resident director was pointing out?

It is intriguing to note that a subsequent investigation launched into the matter yielded inconclusive results. Really? People die after eating the food and you fail to trace the fault in the food? It is time for us to stop stomaching such crappy talk aimed at lining the pockets of international capitalists when our local farmers are failing to get adequate market for their produce.

If quality is an issue, I know for a fact that improving quality of foods produced shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to solve. The factors affecting it are known and it’s a matter of just pulling a few strings and all will fall in place. I have engaged in similar quality upgrade of the rice value chain and seen results out of the small efforts we undertake. How much more would happen if WFP with its millions of dollars undertook that initiative?

What further hurts is going to Turkey to get fortified porridge when in Uganda we have numerous companies that make very good fortified foods. One of them exports high grade fortified posho to Khartoum and WFP keeps a blind eye over that? Someone somewhere is not being genuine and wants to keep Ugandans poor while praising them for being hospitable. Does mere hospitability bring food on our tables?

I am glad within a day of the Minister’s pronouncement, the WFP came up and agreed to purchase food from local suppliers.

“We have made affirmative action to buy (relief food directly) from Uganda for national and regional intervention of WFP. We already started purchasing maize for school feeding programme in Karamoja from local farmers such as a group of female farmers in Kaabong District,” Mr El Khidir Daloum (WFP Country Director) said.

“But they (farmers and traders) need to observe quality. We are open to provide technical support and train people on post-harvest handling,” he further added.

As a country, I hope the Minister’s stand ends up rewarding the numerous Cooperative Societies, Small and Medium Enterprises as well as Commercial farmers involved in Agribusiness. There is a fear lurking that this directive might be a veiled effort to further reward those that were responsible for providing poor quality food supplies for distribution during the Covid-19 Lockdown period. For once Honourable Minister Onek, surprise us further by ensuring equitable access to these WFP opportunities.

James Wire

Agribusiness Consultant

Twitter – @wirejames

Email – lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

The Wire Perspective

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