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Data drives agri in Africa

African farmers are at the heart of tomorrow’s global economy

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The potential to increase Africa’s agricultural yields through the strategic use of data could place the continents’ farmers at the heart of tomorrow’s global economy.

“New technologies readily available to Africa’s farmers mean that the continent is finally at the moment where Africa’s vast, as-yet-unrealised, agricultural opportunity can be made relevant to capital, mechanisation and new global markets,” says Antois van der Westhuizen, managing director for Sub Saharan Africa at John Deere Financial.

John Deere has worked with ACDI/Voca, ADVANCE and USAID as well as other input providers in Ghana, to mechanise and provide fertiliser and seeds to demonstration farms aimed at improving the yield of traditional famers in the country. 

“The results have been astounding,” says van der Westhuizen. In some cases, “yields have increased sevenfold.”

This confirms that, if farmers are able to access mechanisation, fertiliser and seed and are then guided to apply these correctly, they can dramatically increase their yields. 

What has changed is that today farmers in Kenya and Tanzania, transacting on M-PESA, can access the formal economy by selling and buying goods online. Since these previously economically excluded farmers now have a digital footprint, “we can start getting a picture of their inputs, suppliers and costs, as well as their yields, off-takers, incomes and payments histories,” says van der Westhuizen.

This data holds the key to revolutionising agriculture in Africa.  

“Without even having a bank account, we now have a detailed view of the input, production and earning numbers of previously financially invisible farmers,” says van der Westhuizen.”   With GPS technology able to provide accurate hectarage, we can now quickly work out how certain inputs, and their cost, might be affordable to specific farmers given the increase in yield that we know these inputs will drive in that location.” 

In short, with just a handful of data points, the ability to provide credit to a much broader segment of Africa’s farmers increases dramatically. For the first time in history all of Africa’s famers are now potentially able to present the credit, expenditure, production and income records to make them bankable.   

“The next step will be to use the data from multiple farmers collectively, to develop new supply chains and markets.”

For example, if a grain mill in Kenya requires 2000 tons of a certain crop each month and John Deere has the data on 100 farmers in that district each with the potential to produce 20 tons a month, the data can be used to build a supply chain for the mill that also provides the farmers guaranteed off-take. 

This data-driven view of the broader supply chain also gives John Deere Financial and other financiers the confidence to extend credit, long-lease machinery or fertilizer to these farmers, secure in the knowledge that the farmers will receive an income from the mill and be able to pay.

“Moreover, if we know that the 100 farmers have secure off-take agreements with a local mill, we can provide tractors or harvesters to start-up agricultural service companies to plough these farmer’s fields and harvest their crops, only collecting payment once the farmers have been paid by the mill,” says van der Westhuizen.

Using data in this way could justify further investment in irrigation systems, beneficiation plants, canneries or other industrial investment relevant to expanding the agricultural value chain. 

Taken to scale across Africa, this kind of data has the potential to make most African countries food secure, freeing up the billions in hard currency that African governments currently spend importing food. This would, ease Africa’s endemic hard currency crunches and reduce sovereign debt – releasing resources for development, infrastructure or education.

This is all taking place in a global context in which, over time, the value of agricultural goods, especially food, is likely to increase relative to industrial products.

“African policy makers struggling to replicate the industrially-driven growth successes of many post-World War II developing economies, would do well to re-consider the vast export and development potential presented by agriculture in a food-scare and largely already industrialised world,” says van der Westhuizen.

In short, agriculture, today seen as the low road to growth and development will, in time, become the source of the world’s most valuable asset, namely, food.  

“Fortunately, the technology is finally here, for Africa’s policy makers to use the new data available on Africa’s farmers to place agriculture – and Africa – at the heart of tomorrows global economy.”

Cars

LHI is coming to save your car from hazards

Local Hazard Information will give drivers advance warning of potential dangers lurking around the corner

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There are many times when knowing what is around the corner could be useful. But for drivers that knowledge could be critical. Now, thanks to Ford’s new connected car technology, it is also a reality.

Local Hazard Information (LHI) marks a significant step on the journey towards a connected transport infrastructure by helping drivers prepare for and potentially avoid dangers on the road. When drivers ahead encounter sudden tailbacks, accidents or spilled loads, the driver behind – and possibly out of sight – is given advance warning. This could also apply to everything from freak hailstorms, to sudden flooding, or even landslides.

The triggers for the system come from what is happening in the cars ahead. It could be that airbags have been activated, hazard warning lights are flashing, or windscreen wipers are in operation. Previous traffic incident alert systems have relied on drivers to input information in order to generate alerts. LHI works autonomously, without the need for any driver interaction, to generate information and issue warnings.

Hazards are only displayed – via the dashboard display – if the incident is likely to impact on the driver’s journey. LHI is designed to be more beneficial to drivers than hazard information from current radio broadcasting systems, which often deliver notifications not relevant to them.

Already featuring as standard and free of charge for the first year on the new Ford Puma, LHI technology is being rolled out across more than 80 per cent of Ford’s passenger vehicle line-up by the end of this year. Crucially, the benefit will not be limited only to those travelling in Ford vehicles. Information sent can be used to alert drivers of other manufacturers’ vehicles, and vice-versa.

“What makes Local Hazard Information different is that it is the cars that are connected – via the Internet of Things. There is no reliance on third party apps. This is a significant step forward. Warnings are specific, relevant and tailored to try to help improve your specific journey.” Joerg Beyer, executive director, Engineering, Ford of Europe

How it works

Sensors monitor activities including emergency braking, fog lights and traction control to detect adverse weather or road conditions. Data from these activities is then computed to determine the hazard location and whether a traffic incident has occurred.

The vehicle automatically provides updates through a secure connection to “the cloud” using the Ford Pass Connect modem. Ford’s technology partner HERE Technologies operates the central cloud-based platform that collates information from multiple vehicle brands, governed by a business-to-business agreement.

The more cars are connected to the network, the greater the efficiency of the system. When many vehicles generate the same warning, others in the vicinity receive incident information from the cloud via the cellular network, enabling drivers to reduce speed or take appropriate action.

Additional information is sourced from public authority incident databases and traffic reports to provide drivers with further advance warnings including approaching vehicles driving on the wrong side of the carriageway, animals or people in the road ahead, and roadworks.

The on-board modem will be connected at the time of vehicle delivery. Customers may choose to opt in/opt out of certain data sharing.

Local Hazard Information data provided by HERE Technologies.

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Bundesliga plans to “revolutionise football viewing”

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Germany’s Bundesliga football league has selected Amazon Web Services (AWS) as its official technology provider to deliver more in-depth insight into every live broadcast of Bundesliga games and enable personalised fan experiences. 

Bundesliga says it will use AWS artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), analytics, compute, database, and storage services to deliver real-time statistics to predict future plays and game outcomes. It will also use the technology to recommend personalised match footage across mobile, online, streaming, and television broadcasts.

Using AWS technology, Germany’s premier national football league will build new cloud-based services that automate processes, increase operational efficiency, and enhance the viewing experience for the league’s rapidly growing global fan base. By developing a new, next-generation statistics platform on AWS, using Amazon SageMaker, a fully managed service to build, train, and deploy ML models, Bundesliga will offer fans real-time predictions on when a goal is likely to be scored, identify potential goal-scoring opportunities, and highlight how teams are positioning and controlling the field, based on live data streams and historical data from over 10,000 Bundesliga games. Bundesliga also plans to leverage AWS ML services, such as Amazon Personalize, an ML service to create real-time and individualized recommendations, to offer fans personalized game footage, marketing promotions, and search results based on their favourite teams, players, or matches.

Using other AWS ML services, including Amazon Rekognition, an intelligent image and video analysis service, Bundesliga will build a cloud-based media archive that will automatically tag specific frames, from its more than 150,000 hours of video, with metadata such as game, jersey, player, team, and venue, so that the league can easily search historical footage and surface pivotal plays for in-game broadcasts, in more than 200 countries. This archive will enable Bundesliga to search across its entire history of football footage to provide a more enhanced viewing experience for fans and automate the current manual process of searching and tagging match highlights.

“We are extremely excited to be working alongside AWS to develop the next generation of football viewing experience,” said Christian Seifert, CEO of Bundesliga. “Innovation means challenging the status quo. Working closely with AWS, as one of the most innovative technology companies in the world, significantly enhances the investment we’ve made in innovation over the past two decades, all of which contributes to us being able to deliver a world-class football experience for our fans.”

“As the league with the highest average number of goals per game, and the highest stadium attendance globally, the Bundesliga is one of the most entertaining sports leagues in the world,” says Andy Isherwood, Vice President and Managing Director EMEA, Amazon Web Services, Inc. “We are thrilled to work with the Bundesliga and help them use cloud technology to give football fans around the world a more engaging match day experience and look forward to helping them leverage our deep portfolio of ML and AI services so they can deliver even greater insight into the world’s favourite game.”

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