Broadband tech will change Tanzania’s agri industry

Posted on September 12, 2016 12:27 am

United Republic of Tanzania is arguably Africa’s most peaceful country thanks to the foundation laid by the late President Julius Nyerere.It is therefore easy to say that Tanzania has a bright fire because any country that enjoys tranquility, has a higher chance of developing.One of the key drivers of Tanzania’s economy in the next decade will be its national broadband network as well mobile sensor technologies that could transform the country’s agribusiness sector.The farmers in what is commonly known as Mikoani in Swahili or regions in English,have lagged behind the rest of the world in adopting telecommunications technology but that is changing.The agribusiness sector, which includes agriculture, food and fibre processing and agriculture services, contributes about 25% to Tanzania’s GDP and the government’s national food plan sees the value of the nation’s agriculture and food related exports increasing by 30% by 2020.A group of Tanzanian researchers have argued that the sector stands to gain handsomely from technologies such as cloud computing to share information, special farming apps and sensors that track pasture vegetation, soil moisture, livestock movements and farm equipment.However, the researchers noted that while Tanzanian farmers have generally shown strong interest in new telecommunications services, their adoption has tended to lag other industries.Only around 47% of Tanzanian farmers use a mobile phone and while larger Tanzanian agricultural enterprises like Mohammed Enterprises Tanzania Limited have a high level of internet adoption which is about 74%, there is much lower rate of connection for smaller farming enterprises of about 20%, a lower use of broadband internet connections in general. The researchers said a lack of universal availability, cost, capability and lack of maturity and reliability of the services being offered were among the factors behind the lag in technology adoption by farmers.Also, there is a higher pent up demand for improved mobile and fixed broadband services from farmers compared to other sectors of the Tanzanian economy and on average users in outer regional and remote areas have a 30% lower use of the internet compared to the rest of Tanzania, the researchers said.

Tanzania's industry regulator, TCRA, offices above in this picture I took several years back, has been championing expansion of Tanzania's broadband coverage
Tanzania’s industry regulator, TCRA, offices above in this picture I took several years back, has been championing expansion of Tanzania’s broadband coverage

The research did not put a shilling figure on the impact the Tanzania broadband network would have on agribusiness output but said that the rollout of broadband and sensor networks, accompanied by new information services, could not only transform the practice of agricultural industries but also the relationships with upstream service, food processing, logistics and retail industries. In my view, there’s no doubt “Mkonga” as broadband is known in Swahili would transform the sector. Broadband and related digital service could be a game changer in helping agribusiness boost productivity. Many of the technologies identified are already in use and achieving benefits.It is an extension of precision farming but it gives the farmer now even more information about crop performance. The greatest applications are those associated with sustainability using the term broadly to describe the more efficient use of resources. It tells the farmer what fertilisers and chemicals to apply in relation to soils and the environment. In fruit and vegetable production for example, by monitoring things like temperature and humidity, farmers know when it is most appropriate to apply fungicides to prevent infection, rather than spraying to the calendar. And that’s got to be good for consumers and the environment.Such systems are widely used in more intensive farming systems like horticulture, mixed cropping, and pig and poultry production. However, it’s the extension of these systems into the broader more extensive agriculture that’s new, to Tanzania and not all farmers can access the internet, especially the national broadband. Also, not all farmers have the capacity to use the information such technologies provide or get the advice they need. Setting up these systems is not cheap, both in terms of money and more importantly time. For these systems to have the desired impact, the way in which Tanzanian farmer manages the system will need to change and that will present a significant barrier and a lot of farms also face financial trouble due to several actors like drought and low commodity prices.Smart technologies will play an increasingly important role in farm production.The growing farms in Tanzania like in Moshi, Arumeru and Arusha areas use more technologies, including significantly greater use of precision agriculture technologies, with their embedded smart technologies.Key impediments remains to farmers adoption of more sophisticated smart technologies in Tanzania and that is reliable high-speed broadband services which are not available in many inland farming regions like Mbeya, Mwanza, Kagera, Bukoba, Moshi to name but a few and uncertain benefits surround use of some of these technologies relative to their cost. Many Tanzanian farmers have high levels of farm indebtedness so they are not keen to embrace more expenditure on novel technologies whose widespread value remains unknown to them.

Contador Harrison