Innovation in Africa agriculture

December 4, 2015

Farming in Africa is evolving from medieval to modern methods but it is still largely a small scale famers dominated sector with majority living in abject poverty.If African farmers wants to make serious money from agriculture it needs to abandon new foreign investment controls on farmland, wake up to the importance of genetically modified crops and develop an aggressive value-adding mindset.Such moves will help cultivate investment in the agri-food sector and lifting farming’s export potential and improve on how the sector should cash in on huge market growth on both in and outside Africa.Despite Africa’s respected agricultural credentials, the agri-food sector currently represents more than 30 per cent of the continent’s GDP, with many food manufacturers moving offshore rather than expanding in the continent.In the past seven decades, Australian agriculture has made massive leaps in technological development and innovation.Countries need need to explore how rapid technological advances are radically reshaping agriculture from automated robots able to weed vegetable crops, to computer operated gates and virtual fencing, and the use of drones and we’ll take a glimpse into the African farming landscape of the next two decades.

African countries Agriculture and the Environment research has seen investments worth estimated six hundred millions of dollars in its agriculture research programs in the last three years alone.There’s some really exciting things coming on and real world practical solutions that farmers in Africa can utilise.The future of farming is an exciting field of study for researchers including computer programmers who want to specialise in developing farming tools.Looking at the drones, the sensors, the new technology, that’s the ‘sweet part’, but there’s lots of great research that are going on.Am aware of several projects that are looking at infrastructure, new export opportunities, using food as medicine, value chain development and climate modelling.A Namibian friend who is a farming engineer is researching the use of drones to automatically detect hot spots in crops, and is hoping to be one of the first person in Africa to operate unmanned aerial vehicles for commercial farming.When we spoke recently, he informed me that at his research centre he’s been spending a lot of time in developing computer systems that can automatically interpret camera images.His mission is to have drone collect images and then automatically interpret them.

Instead of going in by foot, the farmer will be able to deploy the drone, it can be doing transects over the paddock, collecting images and automatically interpreting where there are unhealthy areas in the paddock, or where there are weed outbreaks, and presenting that information in real time to the farmer.The Namibian believes that by 2030, drones would be as common on the farm as tractors as they offer a big time and labour saving in doing the scouting operations.Another Agri researcher based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe is trapping moths in a device that allows him to photograph them under a microscope and upload the image, to help spot incursions early. He revealed to me that moth traps do is they effectively extend the reach of the researcher trying to monitor incursions. As of now, he does use a standard moth trap which means that he is going to have to spend a lot of time travelling to remote areas to check what’s been caught in the trap in the last week or two.In this instance, he is planning to use drones to gather real time information so they can see immediately when there’s an incursion occurring.The information will help him stop the spread of pests and save millions of dollars in control methods.

Contador Harrison