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Vodacom ropes in satellite for farmers

Vodacom Business and Agri SA have partnered to provide satellite based communication solutions to Agri SA’s members and the wider rural community.

This agreement follows a resolution adopted by Agri SA’s congress in 2011, whereby they were instructed to investigate alternative telecommunication systems for rural users.

‚”By partnering with Agri SA we will have the opportunity to bring Vodacom’s satellite based voice and data solutions to the rural community, including Agri SA members,‚” said Chris Lazarus, Managing Executive, Vodacom Business Services.

‚”The deterioration of rural fixed-line telephone infrastructure means that effective telecommunication in various regions has become virtually impossible especially with regards to gaining access to the internet, email facilities and, recently, also voice. Needless to say that for farmers and the rural community at large, telecommunication is important for transactional purposes as well as for security reasons,‚” said Johannes M√∂ller, President of Agri SA

‚”Vodacom is well aware of the fact that rural areas of South Africa are under-serviced with regard to connectivity. This has presented real challenges to not only the farming community, but to their customers, service suppliers and rural communities in general,‚” said Lazarus.

‚”Agriculture is a critical sector for development, employment and the economy of the country. To realise the full potential of this sector agricultural players need access to cutting-edge technology to market and grow their businesses. This partnership with Agri SA will serve as a catalyst to bring a truly mobile, accessible and affordable solution to these areas,‚” he said.

Agri SA has gone through a lengthy process to properly evaluate possible alternatives to fixed-line telecommunications in relation to the applicable resolution taken by its congress. ‚”We believe that Vodacom is well positioned to provide the necessary services to not only our members but also the wider rural community who are largely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Farm leaders will be offered the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the communication system at the forthcoming congresses in the various provinces. Vodacom will also shortly be launching ten pilot projects around the country for farmers to evaluate and to provide us with the necessary feedback,‚” said M√∂ller.

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Loadshedding keeps small business from the cloud

New research shows nearly half of South African small businesses struggle with internet connectivity

New research reveals South African small businesses aren’t able to adopt cloud technology because of their connectivity problems. The third annual State of Small Business report from accounting software firm Xero, conducted in partnership with World Wide Worx (WWW), shows that over half (53%) of small businesses haven’t adopted cloud technology yet, due to connectivity problems.

Over half (59%) said that scheduled power outages by the national supplier posed a significant challenge for their business. In addition, more than two fifths (43%) said that their internet connection was ‘OK but not 100% reliable’. Other challenges cited include new technologies entering the market (29%) and compatibility with customers (45%).

The research represents the opinions of 400 South African small business owners and 200 South African accountants. Almost half (47%) said their staff were highly tech-literate, but more than two thirds (67%) don’t allocate budget for training employees to use the software provided.

Colin Timmis, General Country Manager, Xero SA and professional accountant said “Our most recent State of Small Business report gives a real insight into what it’s like on the ground for small businesses in South Africa. In uncertain times like these, technology can provide stability. For example, cloud software can help overcome issues with connectivity. It helps to make your business more agile, meaning you can work from anywhere at any time. Being able to move when there are scheduled power cuts or patchy internet is crucial to keeping your business running.”

Nearly all who had adopted cloud technology said that they noticed an increase in profit (98%) and an increase in efficiency (99%). More than half (51%) suggested that it had improved their ability to work anywhere, and a quarter (25%) said it had improved security.

In addition, nearly two fifths (38%) said their IT set up was ahead of the curve. Over half (56%) said they use basic automation, whether in operational or accounting tasks. A quarter (25%) said they were using Internet of Things (IoT) technology, followed by cloud computing (19%).

“It’s great that South Africa’s small businesses are seeing the benefits of adopting technology. But there will be a learning curve for anyone using new software and employees shouldn’t be expected to self-teach. Because people are more tech-savvy than they used to be, training normally only takes a few hours. It could make all the difference in getting return on investment on the technology that you buy”, said Timmis.

Other key findings from the research reveal:

  • Three quarters (79%) of small businesses claim that accounting software support is very important
  • Three quarters (78%) of respondents use accounting software to manage financial records and over half (55%) are using desktop solutions.
  • Only one fifth (22%) are using cloud accounting tools and nearly a quarter (23%) still do their books manually.
  • Only a tiny proportion of respondents (0.25%) are using AI and machine learning.

Download the report in full here.

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Uberising solar energy

A team of students from Strathmore University in Nairobi, Kenya on Thursday walked off as winners with R20 000 in prize money for an innovative concept to provide equitable energy access to remote villages based on, among others, “Uber(ising) solar energy.”

The team was one of four university teams participating in the African Utility Week and Powergen Africa conference and exhibition’s first ever Initiate! Impact Challenge. The 19th edition of the event gathered thousands of power, water and gas industry experts in Cape Town this week and ended on Thursday.

Student teams from Stellenbosch University, the University of Cape Town and the University of the Witwatersrand also took part in the three-day challenge sponsored by the Enel Foundation, the Innovation Hub, Lesedi Nuclear Services and the Russian Nuclear Agency Rosatom. The Initiate! Challenge aimed to create a platform for students and start-ups to drive innovation and share ideas for the energy sector.

Strathmore University’s winning team: (left to right) Fredrick Amariati, Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga and Alex Osunga.

The Strathmore University team included engineering students Ignatius Maranga, Raymond Kiyegga, Fredrick Amariati and Alex Osunga. One member of the team will also have the exclusive opportunity to join the 5th annual student fact-finding mission to Russia to visit several state-of-the-art nuclear facilities and dedicated Russian nuclear universities. Maranga said the team is happy and humbled especially because they competed against some of the top universities on the continent. He said the teams’ winning idea is rooted in real life challenges that Kenyans in rural areas face. “The solutions offered so far to expand energy access are not solving these problems as many are not financially viable.”

The team’s idea is to put a solar panelled container in rural villages that will also house a clinic and a knowledge hub like a school for vocational training to teach people about the use and benefits of solar energy. It will also include a shop where villagers can buy daily essentials like milk.

Maranga said: “The school will help with capacity building as villagers will see and learn benefits of electricity and as the business grows, they will want to have electricity in their homes and when that point comes, we will have solar powered tricycles. These tricycles will carry and deliver batteries like Uber does passengers to villagers in more remote areas. The system is modular so we will add another container to charge batteries. These batteries are ferried on trikes, so villagers in more remote areas can request a number of charged batteries on their phone.”

Maranga explained that it is common cause that Africa is big, and many people live in remote rural villages. “So, it is not always possible to extend the power grid to these areas as it is very expensive. So, what do we do instead? Most people own a cell phone, and everyone needs electricity, so you take it to them. They cannot exactly carry a battery for two kilometres so why then not Uber a battery?” Maranga said their company Kijiji, (Swahili for village) will now look at commercialising their idea, optimise it and do market tests. “If accepted we want to roll it out depending on funding.”

The team’s idea appealed to the judges because it was a simple idea that is easy to replicate beyond Kenya to the rest of the continent. Chief executive officer of Rosatom Central and Southern Africa, Dmitry Shornikov, said: “We are very pleased with the solutions presented by the students. The maturity and depth of their research gives us great hope and proves that young Africans really are devoted to solving Africa’s energy challenges.”

Business Development executive at Lesedi Nuclear Services, Shane Pereira, in an earlier interview said the company partnered with Initiate! because it is dedicated to the youth that will be the leaders of tomorrow. “The growth and development as well as training, coaching and mentoring of the youth is critical to the success of our future economy.”

The ideas of the other three teams focused more on mitigating the risk of climate change and came up with ideas ranging from vertical farms to energy boxes.

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