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How tech boosts farming

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.

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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