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How tech boosts farming

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With the current drought in South Africa, farmers need to find ways to properly manage their resources. IAN THEUNISSEN of Rectron believes e-agriculture, or the use of technology in the farming industry will help farmers get the results.

Ahmed Ibrahim Wakea Allah is a farmer in Sudan. By taking part in an e-agriculture project, he quadrupled his wheat yield in just one year and went from making a loss of 8000 Sudanese pounds in the 2013/14 season to a profit of 80 000 Sudanese pounds in 2014/15.  E-agriculture is an emerging field that sees agricultural services, technology dissemination, information and communication delivered or enhanced through the internet of things (IoT).

Combing farming and ICT yields positive results

Agriculture is strategically important in supporting the livelihoods of the majority of the rural population in Africa and closer to home in South Africa. The growth of e-agriculture has the potential to accelerate agriculture and rural development, promote food security and reduce rural poverty in developing markets.

While farmers and their machinery are still key for the agricultural industry, technology is starting to play a more significant role in uplifting communities. This goes beyond basic computer training to using ICT to improve sustainability, efficiency and profitability of small scale farming. ICT can facilitate relationship building with trusted suppliers of seeds and fertiliser; purchasing aggregation where multiple buyers can result in lower pricing; access to cultivation information and best practices; and an overall reduction in labour costs and wastage.

Ahmed experienced this first-hand when he took part in FieldLook Sudan. The project uses satellite imagery to improve water management and crop husbandry. Satellite images are used to provide information on crop growth, humidity and the nutrient needs of plants. Based on this, along with the current state of the farm, expected weather and the date of last irrigation, specialists send SMS messages to farmers’ phones informing them of the best time to irrigate, when to apply fertiliser and other crop husbandry advice. Ahmed and other farmers participating in the project now irrigate their crops more often, but use less water. They have all seen increases in their crop yields averaging 60%, and their confidence in using ICTs continues to grow.

Beyond this project, the 2015 eLearning Africa Report shows that ICTs are having a significant impact on the productivity and efficiency of the continent’s agriculture. A survey reports that 71% of farmers have used ICTs to improve their farming practices, with 90% saying ICTs are helping to improve food security and sustainability, as well as boost yields and improve income.

The need for partnerships to make it rain

However, an important caveat is that 60% of the same farmers questioned feel they do not have sufficient access to ICTs. The main barriers preventing a greater uptake of e-agriculture include issues around connectivity, bandwidth and electricity supply, as well as the high cost of equipment and services and lack of government support. What is needed is the buy-in and partnering of the public and private sector to scale projects like FieldLook Sudan so that they impact the large proportion of farmers on the continent. In South Africa, the government needs to realise the importance of e-agriculture and the IoT in the agricultural sector and upskill emergent farmers.

Global brands get their hands dirty

Companies like Intel are already on board with various e-agriculture initiatives globally. In India, a joint collaboration between the Grameen Trust and Intel, called Grameen Intel Social Business, is addressing low agricultural output, which impacts poverty and food security. In this initiative, support for e-agricultural programs includes productivity software, technological advice and training, community empowerment, ecosystem structures and building, training of entrepreneurs and capacity building for sustainable agriculture and rural development.

e-Agriculture on home soil

Closer to home, Ronin PFS is providing guidance and precision farming equipment in South Africa – just beginning to fill a gap in the ICT sector.

The Bredasdorp Agri Mega Week also recently showcased just how ICT is being used in the agricultural space. Motorola promoted its IRRInet irrigation syste, which makes use of a typical Motorola communication network for solenoid control. Sustainable food security was also a prominent topic, with e-agriculture touted as a solution to this issue.

Israel and New Zealand’s involvement in modern farming techniques was apparent at the Agri Mega Week, but South Africa and particularly the Western Cape is beginning to understand the significance of IoT in agriculture. The hope is that there will be a lot more local innovation at the next Agri Mega Week.

Cultivating solutions at the heart of the ICT sector

However, e-agriculture does tend to be overlooked as a viable and profitable sector and the result has been the development of in-house solutions as opposed to solutions coming from the ICT distribution sector. Intel is a great examples of the success of providing solutions at the heart of the ICT sector. The sector is, after all, at the centre of solutions like developing better weather mapping thanks to faster computers and more accurate data input; implementing wireless to help curb cable theft; and making use of solar energy and battery storage to circumvent power shortages. These are all building blocks in constructing workable e-agriculture solutions.

In this vein, the Rectron distribution model lends itself to e-agriculture with its green energy solutions, wireless and fixed line communication networking, security surveillance, Intel Next Unit Computing (NUC), the cloud, industrial computing and embedded systems. In addition, premium 3D printing brand in the stable, MakerBot, has the potential to assist in the prototyping and manufacturing of unique and industry-specific parts and tools.

Rectron is certainly evolving, seeing the importance of IoT in paving the way for areas including green energy solutions, industrial computing and of course e-agriculture. Most importantly, new partnerships now include many more market verticals than before, all connected through the common gateway of IoT.

Reaping the rewards

As agriculture makes up a large proportion of Africa’s GDP, boosting agricultural growth and sustainability is a priority – and ICTs have the potential to support agricultural development in poor countries by functioning as innovative solutions to agricultural challenges. Agriculture might be a relatively new area for the ICT sector to think about, but it is an important one. In fact, IoT and e-agriculture is no longer a luxury, but rather tantamount to every farmer’s profitability and existence.

Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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