Technology is changing livestock farming in Africa

September 7, 2016

More than 80 per cent of African population depends on farming as their only source of livelihoods.The same sector, employs more than 70 per cent of Africans in employment.Sadly, farming cattle in Africa is tough, especially in times of drought with the most affected being the nomadic communities.Thanks to technology, producers are increasingly turning to digital solutions to help them look after their herds.As these new technologies take on more of the load in cattle farming Africans need to change the way they think about grazing industries. Various organisations are teaching those in traditional agriculture industries how to make better use of new technologies as well as creating more opportunities for people in the IT and other high-tech sectors.A growing number of northern cattle producers are engaging in the development and use of digital technologies to enable precision livestock management in extensive and complex cattle productions systems.Typically African cattle production systems are low input and mustering cattle is expensive compared to other parts of the world. The producers aim to minimise the number of times cattle have to be brought through a set of yards.On properties that have well managed watering points it is possible to set up cattle yards with one way gates or spear traps at the watering trough. When cattle come to drink from the trough they can be held in the yards.This system has been traditionally used to reduce mustering costs.A Kenyan company has been working on a project that links automated monitoring using electronic identification tags that are fitted to the cattle.As cattle come to water they walk across a set of weigh scales, and using sophisticated walk over weighing algorithms their weight and electronic identity are recorded.The work from Limuru, Kiambu County in Kenya’s central region project is being developed and refined to incorporate a drafting system that not only allows automated monitoring of cattle but also automatic management, selecting animals which meet a predefined weight range according to computer programmer involved in the project and who happens to be a very close of friend of mine.

When we recently exchanged mails,he told me that Central Kenya has provided a proofing ground for new and emerging beef cattle technologies.One organisation is currently supporting the latest beef cattle scientific research in the same area of Limuru. Others have established partnerships with local and international universities to enable their properties to be further developed to support emerging research and importantly to make direct links with education and training activities.No doubt research work on precision livestock management has established a wireless sensor network to monitor and track the location and movement of cattle across the property.Researchers are working to develop real time data processing algorithms that can be used to determine reproductive status, health and the productivity of the cattle.Technology that allows African farmers to automatically monitor their livestock means they will be able to collect more information with less effort. Linking the information to automatic management systems will further reduce the time farmers spend working cattle.Livestock management data systems will require African farmers to capture the benefits from large complex datasets. Managing technology that can manage cattle. Agricultural training programs need to provide the next generation of farmers with skills to capitalise on the benefits of digitally enabled automated monitoring and management systems.Maintaining and supporting IT hardware platforms that have a dedicated agricultural application is a big jump from simply working out a feed budget.Ironically, the unique challenges of making electronics work in remote rugged locations may well mean that a broader range of industries will seek to recruit the next generation of agricultural graduates.As Africam farmers acquire and apply new technical skills so these skills might end up being used by a wider range of industries. A broader uptake of agriculturally derived innovation might just lead to a more agriculturally minded continent with over 1 billion people.

Contador Harrison