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Agri on edge of revolution

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Agriculture is currently on the edge of a second green revolution which will entail shifts in how the agricultural sector utilises and implements technology to improve output in a sustainable manner.

These are some of the highlights of PwC’s latest Africa Agribusinesses Insights Survey 2016. “Currently, there is a second green revolution underway. There is a desperate need for food security and therefore higher agricultural output without compromising resources in the process,” says Frans Weilbach, Agribusiness Industry Leader for PwC Africa.

“Advances in technology and innovation are the key to the future of agriculture as agribusinesses strive to feed an increasing population against a background of climate change, scarcity of water and a host of environmental concerns.

“Innovative technology and advancements in productivity are becoming increasingly important as pressure mounts on food systems,” says Weilbach. “The global population is growing rapidly and the climate is ever-changing.

“Agribusinesses are making changes to go high-tech. From data-gathering drones to artificial intelligence farming, technology is making the agricultural sector more precise and efficient as agribusinesses push for increased profits.”

The agricultural sector is regarded as one of the most critical industries for the African continent due to economic potential and is projected to become a US$1trillion industry in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) by 2030. More than half (58.8%) of survey respondents consider investment in Africa as an opportunity for their businesses to expand. The top four countries they are planning to invest in are Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania and South Africa.

PwC’s Agribusinesses Insights Survey 2016 was carried out among a group of African agribusinesses that are mainly focused on delivering agricultural and related services to primary producers. The survey focuses on the strategic challenges that agribusiness leaders face in their businesses, while on the other hand it highlights areas where technological innovation is already taking place and where it can make a difference in the future. In addition, the survey provides viewpoints on the agricultural sector in Nigeria and Kenya.

Survey respondents, however are less optimistic about revenue growth over the next 12 months compared with their expectations a year ago. The majority of agribusinesses (46.2%) are expecting revenue growth of between 0-5%, and 26.9% of businesses expect it to be between 6-10%.

The biggest challenges to business growth cited by business leaders were access to technology, the scarcity of natural resources and supply-side uncertainties. African agribusinesses also feel that there is a long way to go toward better support from government in the sector. For example, businesses are of the view that government does not offer sufficient tax incentives to ensure international competitiveness. Furthermore, they say government is not doing enough to develop skilled workers in the sector.

Edward Kerich, PwC Director in Kenya, says: “Kenya relies heavily on the agricultural sector as the mainstay of its economy, with agriculture contributing 29% of GDP. Kenya is SSA’s leading tea exporter and one of the world’s largest black tea producers. A significant development in the agricultural sector is growth in the number of privately owned tea factories outside of those owned by the KTDA and the large multinationals in the country. The contribution of the tea industry to the Kenyan economy is expected to continue growing, and the benefits realised will be enhanced as some factories move to cheaper renewable energy such as hydropower production.”

Rasheed Rahji, PwC Partner in Nigeria, says: “Agriculture contributed 24.18% to real GDP in Nigeria in Q4 2015. This is mainly due to mechanised farming and to other activities in the agribusiness value chain. It is being fuelled by the Government owing to its focus on agribusiness as a driver for poverty alleviation, and in part by continued investment by commercial farmers. Given the fall in the international price of crude oil over the past 18 months, the Government has encouraged agricultural exports as an alternative foreign exchange earner. A number of challenges in the agricultural sector remain to be addressed. These include inadequate infrastructure, access to credit, and the training and education of smallholder farmers in modern farming techniques. Adequate focus on these matters would certainly assist in improving Nigeria’s food security, grow its GDP and increase its foreign earnings.”

African agribusinesses also indicated they have maintained focus on risk management, with the majority of survey respondents (95.2%) periodically conducting a formal risk assessment. It is also positive to note that 53.8% of respondents prepare an integrated report.

Human resources (HR) models and processes are beginning to evolve, with more emphasis being placed on technology to improve networks and data. Agribusinesses are looking to their HR teams to provide not only basic services and transactional activities but also strategic insights and workforce intelligence. Businesses indicated internal HR capacity, labour unrest, employee turnover, and communication between employees and management as the most challenging human resources matters.

Although there is widespread consensus on the reality of global climate change, much uncertainty still exists when it comes to the exact measurable impact of changes in climatic conditions on agriculture and food security. The majority of agribusinesses are of the view that climate change will have a significant impact on SSA agriculture in the future – 41.2% indicated that there will be a significant impact in the short term and 35.3% that there will be an impact over the next 20 years. In addition, 35.3% of agribusiness leaders indicated that they are considering investment in renewable energy, while 29.4% have already done so. The main forms of renewable energy that agribusinesses have invested in are solar energy and biogas.

Increased pressure on the profitability of farming and agricultural business activities is forcing the agricultural sector to be an early adopter of new technologies in order that it may improve the productivity and profitability of the sector. Survey respondents noted the availability of real-time data as the biggest opportunity for technological innovation. In addition drones are fast becoming a real green-tech tool. Global research also shows that artificial intelligence (AI) farming will be the main enabling factor in increasing the world’s agricultural production capacity to meet the demands of the growing population. This goes hand in hand with precision farming and other technology trends. The majority of survey respondents (76.5%) agree that AI farming will make a major contribution to increasing capacity in Africa over the next ten years. Only 47% of businesses had already invested or plan to invest in the development of AI farming capabilities for primary production. This could be due to the cost of implementation, which was noted as the biggest restriction to the use of AI farming capabilities (64.7%).

All agribusinesses indicated that they felt a responsibility towards food security. Food quality and safety is the one pillar of food security that respondents indicated they can contribute towards the most followed by availability and affordability.  It is also positive to note that all businesses indicated their agribusinesses contribute towards corporate social investment (CSI). The top three areas of investment are: healthcare, education and personal upliftment.

“It is predicted that technological innovation will act as a catalyst in lifting agribusiness to the next level in Africa. The winners will be those agribusinesses that seize the opportunity to create new opportunities through technology – they will be able to reach their strategic goals faster and more efficiently,” says Weilbach.

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Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon

On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.

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Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.

“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.

Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion.   In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.

A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.

David Noton advises:

  1. Download the right apps to be in-the-know

The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky.  Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.

 

  1. Invest in a lens with optimal zoom  

On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.

  1. Use a tripod to capture the intimate details

As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.

  1. Integrate the moon into your landscape

Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.

  1. Master the shutter speed for your subject 

The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability.  By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.

 

On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!

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How Africa can embrace AI

Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.

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To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.

These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.

Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed

AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.

According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.

It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.

Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.

It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.

Combining STEM with the arts

Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.

As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.

For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.

“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.

Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.

Revisiting laws and regulation

For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.

Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.

Preparing for the future

With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.

To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.

It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.

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