How technology is transforming agriculture

In the business speak; technology ena­bles scalability and opportunity for a savvy entrepreneur to make money even while they sleep. That is a measure of true success.

Any CEO or entrepre­neur must make deliberate effort to ex­plore how they use technology to enable growth in more better and scalable ways no matter the kind of business you are.

And this leads us to your business model: how do you enable scalability in your business?

How do you enable so many people to access and pay for your services in an “elastic” way? How does technology offer you a competitive advantage?

Take the case of Google’s android open source; it changed the face of ecom­merce, powering so many developers globally and redefining programming.

But that is advanced for us for now.

Let’s talk about farming, specifically cows.

It is milking time at the late Dr. James Mulwana’s Jesa mixed farm. Slow music is being played for the cows.

In what could be compared to bride and groom matching to the altar for that vow of a lifetime, the cows’ one by one, and match into the milking corner. The milking machine gets hold of the tits and starts milking. When the milk runs out, the cow automatically walks away, in a shaky mode.

If you own a farm with cows, you have probably observed that cows tend to defecate a lot during the milking process. This is bad as milk could get contaminated with excrete. To ensure tidiness, a computer guided chain starts cleaning when the milking process starts.

By the time the milking processes are done, the milking area is so clean and the characteristic smell associated with farm is no more. According to Hon. Victoria Ssekitoleko, former minister of Agriculture, all this is possible because of ICT.

Mobile apps in agriculture

Research in 2014 revealed that mo­bile technology could boast farmers’ productivity and increase agricultural income by US $ 15 billion by 2014 across the market primarily in Af­rica and Middle East. This revelation underscores the power of information and communication technologies in agriculture.

Technology improves on crop yield and farm productivity. Coupled with Uganda’s natural blessings with favour­able weather conditions, the opportuni­ties are endless.

Robert Kintu, the FIT Uganda Direc­tor, notes that thanks to technology in agriculture, many young executives are engaging in the sector.

Many are using their smart phones, laptops, tablets to farm by monitoring what is going on at their farms as well as explore market opportunities for the produce.

More so, technology is being used to prevent diseases and theft at the farms.

In the past, lack of clear supervision of the farms led to lots of losses. Farm land is very expensive around the city.

Many people are comfortable buying land for farming up country which is normally miles away from their places of work or residence. Not anymore. Now technology closes they gap, thanks to the proliferation of mobile phones, affordable solar panels and digital cameras.

Thanks to open source platforms like Android, many people have been empowered to develop mobile applica­tions or mobi apps addressing common challenges in the community.

Areas in health, education and agri­culture have been given a lot of focus with many budding apps developer focusing a lot in fixing problems in that area.

As they say, information is power. ICT plays a great role in enabling access to real-time information pertaining to reli­able weather forecasts, available markets for farm produce, reliable extension services and locations, global prices and movements as well as easing communi­cation between stakeholders.

All this possible thanks to latest apps specifically developed to enable farmers avoid middle men who tend to benefit more, yet it is the farmers who do the donkey work.

A plethora of apps on the Google play store are changing farming and agricul­ture in Uganda.

Some apps merit a mention. Jakuza, a marketing app has attracted eyes of regional leaders. The app developer is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with governments of Kenya and Burundi.

With the Jakuza app, farmers can monitor processes for efficiency, access to money and financial services such as mobile money, something that is changing the face of micro-lending for agriculture, the once no-go zone for main stream financial institutions.

In Kenya, customers on Mpesa can borrow the equivalent of Ugx. 100,000 and pay later. Such money can be used to buy inputs.

One of the major challenges to farm­ers is pests and diseases. For those keeping animals on the farm, diseases are the major pain.

Overnight you find some of your most productive animals too sick to treat. Not anymore. The Jakuza farm app is able to notify you in advance of the probable sicknesses to your animals a day or two before.

The farmer can then take the neces­sary precautionary measures like isola­tion, observation, special treatment and care, among others.

This process saves panic that comes when your animal falls sick suddenly and the resultant loss for late isolation.

Like in all other great apps, Farm­ers get notifications in advance about animals about to give birth. After giving birth, the app tracks the animal, moni­toring it along the way giving all the key details required to ensure proper feeding and recovery.

Up country farmers using their smart phones can take images of affected plants upload it on the app’s website site.

The farmer will get real time feed­back, giving him details of the disease and possible solutions, from the expert community subscribing to the app.

Global trends

The use of ICT in agriculture is no longer a necessity, but a must for progressive farmers. Ugandan farmers either adopt or risk losing the global market.

The biggest tend is that global con­sumers are looking for data that is trackable. They want to track goods backwards from farm to the market, as this ensures certain quality along the supply chain.

Unfortunately, without technology it is very difficult, if at all possible to do without technology.

For example, if you are exporting cot­ton from Uganda, potential buyers will want to know the farm from which the cotton come from, the kind of inputs that were used, among others.

For those dealing in speciality coffee, buyers in UK or other markets will what to know all information right from time of planting and then the pro­cessing and through to the market. All this is required because consumers are sensitive of what they are eating.

As a farmer in Uganda, you don’t have to think about embracing technology in agriculture. You must do it now or get out of agriculture.

Consumers want to know about the products on sale. They want to under­stand the processes along the supply chain backed by clear factual data. Investing in systems that provide such actual results is no longer by choice. It is a core advantage for anyone in farming.

Food security

To assure food security, farmers must embrace technology. It will be diffi­cult to plan for food security without adequately planning for our available resources. Take an example of Matooke.

It is a popular staple food in Uganda that requires a lot of land. Unfortunate­ly, the land acreage continues to fall as some of our neighbors in South Sudan and Kenya seem to know how to use it better than us. Even more, breweries and sugar manufacturers are investing more to increase production of raw materials to feed their high appetite factories.

In Hoima, a lot of land has been bought and diverted to growing sugar­canes – with extensive recruitment of out-growers. The end results are limited land for farming foodstuffs. The same story is happening across the country.

The prices of matooke have over the last ten years been and continue to go up. As our neighbors increase their share of demand, Ugandans may soon stop eating this product.

The question is: what is government’s deliberate strategy to ensure sustainable supply of key staple foods like matooke and maize? Do we have future plan for this product? Which kind of agricul­ture data is being collected to aid in the planning for the growing population, now at 38 million plus? How is technol­ogy being used to enable this consider­ing a high tele density in the country?

For long, agriculture financing has been dreaded. Given the capitalist nature of our country, even the so called “development banks” are wary of agri­culture financing preferring trade and commerce. The end result is generally reducing support to large scale and or­ganized farming in Uganda with excep­tion of commercial farms operated by capitalist investors like sugar factories, and the like.

It is high time, financial services especially banks and insurance compa­nies implemented ICTs through mobile phones as well as computers in school labs established in various schools in Uganda, by enabling the capture of key data about farm inputs, seeds, yields and productivity per region throughout the country. This would also provide a platform to offer knowledge and skills about farming best practices and sea­sons. Some farmers lack knowledge of what to plant when.

Despite the direct benefits of rearing chicken, especially traditional ones, some people in the rural areas are so scared of the birds that they easily die.

Financial and insurance institutions need to know how much a particu­lar farmer produces so that they can provide them with appropriate loans and also be able to reduce on interest rates. With such information, insurance companies are able to assess risk for farm produce cover.

Banks normally set high interest to farmers due to high risks associated with agriculture. Equally, insurance companies charge high premiums for farm cover due to the same reasons.

Investing in agriculture technology would go a long way in creating a win for all concerned.

Insurance firms are not likely to give farmers low premiums if they don’t know how this farmer has managed his seasons over the years.

A one Kintu, a principal research di­rector at FIT Uganda says his organiza­tion has for the last ten years collected agricultural data which he strongly believes can be of great help to find various opportunities now and in the future.

Based on available data, Kintu says that contrary to the popular belief that the biggest problem to farmers is lack of market for their produce, is actually incorrect. Market is not a challenge at all. In fact, the market for quality agri­culture products is very high.

He explains that a few years ago, a farmer got a five years contract to sup­ply Irish potatoes to top restaurants in Kampala. Two months later, the farmers in Kabala could no longer keep a stable supply as agreed. The major challenge is lack of stable supply in required quantities.

To tap into big markets, farmers must cooperate and be able to produce enough to ensure consistency.

Unfortunately, without use of technol­ogy and farmer associations, it is dif­ficult to achieve and the country risks remaining substance for the near and long term.

By embracing technology, we can be certain, how many farmers are grow­ing a particular product, on how much acreage and the likely output. From here we can then start looking for the ideal market.

Our planners in the national planning authority must think along those lines if we are to take our country out of poverty.

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