The Internet of Things has the potential to increase agriculture in Africa by 70% by 2050, a figure similar to which the demand for food is set to grow in the same period.
It is estimated that, through technological innovation, the Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to increase agricultural productivity in Africa by 70% by 2050. This is exactly the figure by which demand for food in Africa is set to increase based on population growth. This is according to a Deloitte US report on the impact of IoT on agriculture, titled Dirt to Data: The second green revolution and the Internet of Things.
Agriculture is seen as a key economic driver by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which holds its Africa regional meeting in Kigali, Rwanda on 11-13 May. Under the theme ‘Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation, the 26th WEF on Africa will convene regional and global leaders from business, government and civil society to discuss the digital economy and agree on strategic actions that can deliver shared prosperity across the continent.
WEF has identified the IoT as one of 21 ‘tipping points’, when a specific technological shift enters mainstream society. For the IoT, WEF estimates that this point will be reached by 2022. Given rising agriculture demand and the associated resource scarcity challenges, the IoT will ensure that the tipping point is reached sooner rather than later.
Carlton Jones, Agriculture Sector Leader for Deloitte Consulting, says the drought in Southern Africa caused by the El Niño phenomenon resulted in lower than expected crop yields. “To some extent, the crop failures reported could have been avoided through use of technology that is only now becoming available. Technological innovation within the agricultural sector could have helped ensure that farmers were better prepared in dealing with the current drought by informing them of what to plant and where to plant it given the El Nino effect on the region. “While these technological advances may help farmers mitigate against bad yields, implementing such technologies remain fairly expensive and may not yet be feasible for small holders farmers, but rather is likely to be implemented via multinational corporations at present.
Enhanced data translates into better products being developed for the market therefore ensuring all round benefits. “The IoT has the potential to ensure that all stakeholders within the agricultural value chain, whether large company, smallholder farmer, food manufacturer, retailer, or consumer are able to maximise onvalue”, adds Jones.
“The report notes that the IoT has proven its value in numerous industries and that the main question for stakeholders in the nascent agricultural IoT ecosystem is how to commercialise and scale the technologies, and who will pay for their development and deployment”, says Jones.
He adds that these are the strategic issues, which he would like to see WEF apply its collective mind to across the agricultural value chain. Technological innovation tied in with data analysis has the potential to ensure that food production will be able to keep pace with population growth globally.
“Despite the green revolution having being modelled in the USA, an African green revolution is yet to take place. Such a revolution will take into account localised factors, learning’s from other developing economies and use the IoT as an enabler to enhance the sector as a whole,” says Jones.
This revolution is one driven less by new techniques with consequences of resource depletion and soil degradation, but rather by technology which gives farmers the data to help make better choices. It will likely be grounded in the use of data to inform more efficient and effective farming practices and drive associated environmental and social benefits.
A wave of innovations, from satellite geo-mapping by NASA to the use of drones to collect aerial data, provides insights into the health of the land on a real-time basis. Technologies such as advanced sensors and monitoring equipment can now allow farmers to monitor crops more precisely and continuously, thereby enabling more strategic decision-making to increase productivity with reduced impacts on the environment, thereby doing more with less.
“The uses of these technologies cover the entire spectrum, from more productive farming techniques to improved nutrition. Sensors attached to livestock give early warning of illness, enabling prevention and thereby increasing milk yields. Such a targeted approach to veterinary care can have the added benefit of reducing the need for herd-wide preventative antibiotics, which have been shown to contribute to drug-resistant bacteria,” says Jones.
One method whereby smallholder farmers can benefit from IoT is through aggregation of their resources and equipment, something already implemented in South Africa.
Additional value can be created when one considers the role of agriculture in emerging economies. In these economies, the IoT can provide value not only through increased resource efficiency and crop productivity, but also by providing social value and financial benefits for smallholder farmers.
Collaborations like these to deploy IoT technologies will be increasingly vital if we are to put the world’s farms on track to feed the estimated 11 billion people who will inhabit the earth by 2050.
“Despite the challenges,” says Jones, “there is cause for optimism.”
IoT’s answer for Africa
IoT and digitization enables us to efficiently, proactively and predictively address the sustainability challenges that are faced globally and on the African continent, RESHAAD SHA, CEO of Liquid Telecom.
With Africa’s population set to increase from around 1.3-billion in 2018 to 1.7-billion in 2030, both challenges and opportunities are presented with regards managing issues including food production and security pose as well the utilization of limited natural resources in a sustainable manner.
Water scarcity and quality for example are realities that negatively impact health, food production and security. Population growth rates and climatic changes place an exponential demand on this scarce and dwindling resource. These are just some of the sustainability challenges facing not just the African continent, but other developing nations and the world as a whole. In addition to this, the demand for the delivery of basic services as healthcare and sanitation also increases.
Against this background of African population growth lies the grim projection that Africa will account for more than 50% of child deaths (under 5) by 2030, while each day, nearly 1000 children die owing to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrheal diseases according to the UNICEF 2017 trends in child mortality report. It’s an alarming fact, given that while some 2.6-billion people have gained access to improved drinking water sources since 1990, 663-million people still do not have access.
The department of Water Affairs and Forestry estimate that the agricultural sector accounts for more than 50% of water use in South Africa and experience water losses of between 30 and 40 per cent. Further, the department states that around 35% of irrigation system losses, often nutrient enriched and containing herbicides, pesticides, and other pollutants, return to rivers. These are just some of the ways in which reactive, inefficient, and manually driven processes have limited us in responding in an impactful manner and timeously mitigating these risks
It is for these reasons and other socio economic and environmental concerns that the United Nations has established its Sustainable Development Goals strategy, addressing the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate, and environmental degradation.
We need to look at smarter ways that leverage technology in order to addressing these challenges. The situation requires a radical response that delivers a proactive, predictive and data driven approach to addressing these issues with exponentially growing levels of speed and impact.
The IoT ecosystem, comprising of sensors, connectivity, data analytics and workflow automation platforms, and applications are at the core of acquiring, analyzing and harnessing the insights that can be integrated into agriculture, service delivery, health and resource management processer – IoT is at the core of a digitization
One such sector which has benefited immensely from technology is in agriculture pest control, with the implementation of AI and IoT by Spanish startup AgroPestAlert. The innovation makes use of “smart” traps that capture insects and analyse their wing beats to identify their species and even their sex. Placed throughout the fields, the traps communicate with the system to predict an imminent invasion. The system will send alerts to phones, tablets and computers and use an easy-to-understand visual tool to cue farmers instantly.
Around 200-million Africans use approximately 1-million manual pumps across the continent to manually access clean drinking water. IoT applications have been utilised in assuring the delivery of water through manual these pumps, According to estimates, at least one-third of those pumps will break down at least once in its lifecycle, and up to 70% will break in the second year of operation. The impact of not having access to clean drinking water is dehydration or water borne pandemics.
In the Kenyan Region of Kyusoa, Oxford University began a proof of concept project in 2013, which made use of motion sensors) to capture the movements of the pumps’ handle which was transmitted and analysed in real time. A decision support system based on real data was used to predict pump malfunctions, allowing for a better planning and shortening the time needed to repair broken pumps, or avoiding malfunctions altogether, directly improving the access to clean drinking water for the rural population.
Liquid Telecom realise that the future of sustainability lies in technology and innovations such as IoT. We provide high speed fiber connectivity to interconnect as well as access platforms to build IoT solutions, in addition to access to Microsoft Azure suite of platforms for analytics and algorithm driven based processing and execution. Our Pan African network enables collaboration and cross border innovation and learning, fast well as the capability to efficiently scale out these solutions on Africa’s Liquid Cloud.
Africa start-up ecosystem can drive blockchain
Through nurturing and technical support, Africa’s tech start-up ecosystem can be a major driver of Blockchain-based innovation says BEN ROBERTS, Liquid Telecom’s Group Chief Technology and Innovation Officer.
African communities have always come-up with inventive solutions to local problems. Take Somalia as an example. The country is said to have one of the largest diaspora populations in the world. It has few commercial banks and relations with international creditors remain frozen due to debts incurred in the late 1980s.
So its population uses Hawala; an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honour of a large network of money brokers. For example, it would mean a Somali based in the US would give money to a local branch agent, where it is sent to a central country clearing house, then onto a clearing house based in another country (typically somewhere in the Middle East). From there it goes to a Somali agent, before the funds are finally collected by an individual in Somalia.
Much like blockchain, the Hawala system is built on trust – but that’s where any similarities end. In fact, cryptocurrencies – many of which are blockchain-powered – may eventually become a replacement for Hawala and other existing forms of international remittances. Cryptocurrencies can enable people to exchange currency online without any middleman – even banks.
International remittance is one of many compelling use cases for blockchain. The technology’s ability to digitise trust makes it a unique fit for many African countries, particularly those where processes and supply chains remain poorly designed and susceptible to corruption.
At Liquid Telecom, we’re excited about the potential for blockchain technology across the region. Along with other emerging technologies, we recognise this as another major new digital opportunity for businesses that utilises our network infrastructure and services. The rise of blockchain innovation will rely on the skills and talent of the region’s software developers, who themselves rely on a high-speed internet connection and access to cloud-based tools. Our fibre footprint – which will soon stretch all the way from Cape Town, South Africa, to Cairo, Egypt – is providing the foundations for digital innovation, while our partnership with Microsoft is enabling access to the cloud-based services and tools needed to create digital solutions for local problems.
Last year, with support from Microsoft, we set-up our Go Cloud initiative, which is helping to provide the region’s start-up communities with technical support, training and access to software. Using Azure Cloud, start-ups can cut development time and experiment easily with modular, preconfigured networks and infrastructure, enabling them to iterate and validate blockchain scenarios quickly by using built-in connections to Azure.
We’re starting to see the first crop of African start-ups experimenting with blockchain and cryptocurrencies. Take Rwandan start-up Uplus, which is utilising blockchain to secure all transactions on its digital crowdfunding platform. The technology also allows the platform to take contributions from any country and covert it to the local currency.
A lot of existing applications in Africa tend to fall short when it comes to user experience, and blockchain could certainly help address some of these issues – be it by creating a new trusted way to make payments or verify user identification. During this early stage of blockchain experimentation and proof of concept, it will be crucial for start-ups and businesses to develop solutions that are relevant for African communities. Without that, the technology won’t gather momentum.
Regulation can nurture or constrict the technology and will have a role to play in being a ‘make or break’ for blockchain. Living in Kenya, I’m proud to see how proactive the government has been in seizing the blockchain opportunity. The creation by the President of a taskforce earlier this year dedicated to blockchain – led by the former permanent secretary for Ministry of Information and Communications, Dr. Bitange Ndemo (see page 7) – shows how committed the country is to being a leader in emerging technologies. As more African countries follow Kenya’s lead, blockchain should hopefully find itself resonating more powerfully with local businesses and consumers.