Precision farming – the way to go for Africa
By Magreth Nunuhe
Windhoek – It is not wise and sustainable to continue practising conventional agricultural methods, such as ploughing and loosening the soil before planting as it puts stress on land resources and is worsened by effects of climate change, says global agricultural experts who convened in Brussels, Belgium, last week.
The meeting brought together participants from the ACP-EU (Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union) technical centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), the European Commission, the EU Presidency, the ACP Group, Concord, and other partners on key issues and challenges for rural development in the context of EU-ACP cooperation.
The participants, who attended the meeting titled “Affordable smart farming solutions for Africa: the next driver for African agriculture” on 13 July 2016, recommended farmers to use soil management techniques such as conservation agriculture to increase productivity as that reduces soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotation.
One of the critical aspects of precision farming is to make technology available to small-scale producers and help them to manage their farms more efficiently.
Precision agriculture (PA) or satellite farming or site specific crop management (SSCM) is a farming management concept based on observing, measuring and responding to inter- and intra-field variability in crops.
African farmers, machinery company representatives with field experience as well as experts from international institutions committed in enhancing sustainable farming systems in Africa also attended the meeting, which focussed on how affordable and smart technology solutions are gaining ground among African growers; what changes and benefits IT tools can bring to farming communities in Africa and successful public-private partnerships that are helping in advancing agricultural strategies in the ACP countries.
For more than 10 000 years, farmers have cultivated crops using trial and error, received wisdom and how the soil feels when they rub it between their fingers and it is only until recently that mechanisation revolutionised the countryside with machinery and replaced horses with tractors.
A new farming revolution triggered by the adoption of staggering new technologies, such as satellites, high- precision positioning systems, smart sensors and a range of IT applications combined with high-tech engineering have emerged.
Furthermore, the participants also discussed issues on smart-farming, such as trends and new opportunities benefiting small-holders, the future of precision farming for farmers in Africa, financing African agriculture and agribusiness development and upscaling agribusiness successes in Africa.
There is a growing number of challenges, which have impacted on the agricultural and rural sector of the ACP countries, including climate change, migration, low interest and funding of the agriculture sector and low priority to rural development, impact of globalisation on small-scale producers, opportunities and challenges posed by biofuels.
But technological developments have transformed the agricultural landscape in Africa with smart farming tools, which have increased the quality and quantity of agricultural production and made farms more “intelligent”.
Speaking at the event, Jean-Pierre Halkin, Head of Unit, Rural Development, Food & Nutrition Security, Europeaid and the European Commission, said that the session was important because rural development is important in the European Union development policy.
He added that food security was also an important factor on the EU development agenda, which is why they have decided to have cooperation with emerging economies and offer assistance to Africa.
“Farmers need to have access to new technology and to innovative approaches,” he emphasised, saying that one of the EU’s objectives is sustainable agriculture as it provides long-term solutions.
According to Halkin, more than 70 percent of jobs in Africa are in agriculture and it is therefore important to use that potential to generate jobs “so that the children of today’s farmers have an opportunity for a brighter future”.
He stressed the importance of the EU to assist farmers’ organisations in Africa so that they can enhance policy dialogue with their governments and the private sector.
Josef Kienzle, Agricultural Engineer Plant Production and Protection Division Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said that there were mechanisation myths about conservation agriculture, in that it creates rural unemployment; leads to monoculture and industrial farming; it is only for large-scale farmers; it does not conserve natural resources and is not climate-smart.
In contrast, Kienzle said that conservation agriculture increases productivity, timeliness and incomes; reduces drudgery; enables improved resource use efficiency; provides employment opportunities and new skills development and has the potential to reverse migration; and provides opportunities for rural entrepreneurial activities and business models, among others.