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IoT can boost agri in Africa

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.”

Africa News

Africa gets broadband boost

ITU and Nexpedience, a supplier of proprietary point-to-multipoint broadband infrastructure, are partnering to bring broadband access to Africa.

Under the terms of the deal, Nexpedience will provide 180 new Expedience base stations worth USD 1 million, to be deployed in six nations across the continent. The first nation to benefit from the new infrastructure is Burundi, with deployments also planned for Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Mali, Rwanda and Swaziland.

Designed to withstand extreme meteorological conditions and capable of providing up to 32 kilometres of sector coverage, Nexpedience’s base stations have been specifically designed for rural deployment.

ITU’s Wireless Broadband Network in Africa project aims to develop and implement wireless broadband connectivity and applications that will provide free or low-cost digital access for schools, hospitals, and under-served populations in rural and remote areas Africa-wide.

At the signing of the agreement in Geneva, Brahima Sanou, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau (BDT) emphasized the need to make developing countries part of the global broadband revolution: ‚”This partnership represents another important element in ITU’s efforts to bring broadband technology to the world even in the poorest nations. I am confident that this new partnership will accelerate broadband uptake right across the African continent, bringing the power of high-speed connectivity to users everywhere, from big cities to small villages.‚”

Kiriako Vergos, CEO of Nexpedience said: ‚”Giving access to broadband technology to underserved populations in Africa is of great importance to us. There are enormous benefits to be derived from a ‚’broadband-seed’ deployment strategy, and we decided to partner with ITU because we know that the organization has the team in place to get it done.‚”

ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun Tour√© said the new agreement is a ‚”major step forward in getting Africa connected‚”. Dr Tour√© led the establishment of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development in 2010, which has the aim of putting broadband at the heart of the global development agenda.

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Nokia backs tech hubs for developing world

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev are collaborating with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America to act as scouts for local talent.

Nokia, AppCampus and infoDev, a global innovation program of the World Bank, have announced a collaboration with mobile innovation hubs across Africa, Asia and Latin America – a move that will empower these hubs to act as scouts and agents for local talent, fast-tracking their access to AppCampus funding.

AppCampus was established in 2012 as a mobile application accelerator program managed by Aalto University in Finland. With an 18 million euro joint investment between Microsoft and Nokia, the aim is to foster mobile application development on Windows Phone and any other Nokia platform.

The announcement earmarks part of that investment fund for twenty six awards per annum for the best mobile innovation ideas to be made via the mobile innovation hub network, starting with infoDev’s mobile application labs in South Africa, Kenya, Armenia and Vietnam, as well as mobile application laboratories in Egypt (TIEC), Nigeria (CC Hub) and Mexico. The value of each award ranges from 20,000 Euro (US$ 26,000) to 70,000 Euro (US$ 90,000) depending on the complexity of the solution or business model behind the idea.

‚”By working jointly with the mobile innovation hubs, we are able to connect more effectively with local developers in emerging markets and provide support in terms of funding, especially for locally relevant innovations,‚” says Pekka Sivonen, Head of AppCampus. ‚”Although the criteria to access the AppCampus funding remains the same, with ideas needing to be original, competitive and scalable, the advantage is faster processing and the mentorship provided by these innovation hubs.‚”

The hubs and mLabs will be responsible for scouting talent and vetting ideas to be submitted to the global pool. infoDev’s mLabs foster regional entrepreneurship, employment and competitiveness by providing open spaces where developers can find training, mentoring, technical expertise and access to financing. In a short time, mLab-supported startups have brought over 120 commercial apps to market The best new entries from this network will compete against each other each quarter for the available awards.

‚”Nokia, working closely with infoDev, has supported the establishment and operation of a number of mLabs across emerging markets in support of local developers,‚” says Jussi Hinkkanen, vice president corporate relations for Nokia Middle East and Africa. ‚”The AppCampus collaboration showcases our commitment to strengthening the growing mLab network around the world and infoDev’s vision of supporting emerging market entrepreneurs in conquering local, regional and global markets‚”.

The official launch of the program took place during the mobile stream at the Global Forum on Innovation & Technology Entrepreneurship in East London, South Africa, organized by infoDev and the South African Department of Science & Technology. A key theme of the Forum is how innovation can lead to high-growth entrepreneurship which creates sustainable jobs. Valerie D’Costa, infoDev’s Program Manager says, ‚”The AppCampus initiative fits with the philosophy of infoDev of supporting innovative entrepreneurs from developing countries. We want to support those who can excel with some level of mentorship, skills training and seed financing. We provide potential job-creators better access to markets, which is what we are all about.‚”

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