Additionally, the FAO states that 80% of farmland in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa is managed by smallholders working on 10 hectares or less.
According to Thomas Fuerst, WING Marketing at Nokia, while research clearly shows that technology can add tremendous value to South African farmers, the uptake has not been what it should be, particularly among subsistence and small-scale farmers.
“This is likely due to the perceived costs associated with technology,” he says.
According to CAB International crop pests and disease account for close to half of the total crop losses in developing countries and in a 2017 UN report, it was stated that about 200,000 people, mostly from developing countries, die every year from pesticide poisoning.
“By using technology, and more particularly the Internet of Things (IoT), we can arm farmers with more detailed data about their farm as well as the macro environment to assist them in planning their crops more accurately and thereby driving a better yield, while eliminating risk,” he says.
“The farmer has a small plot and can’t necessarily afford to buy different types of sensors to measure moisture, temperature or pests and put them on their small farm. Even if they could afford it, they need to know about weather and other conditions from a macro or wide area perspective, so that can predict what the impact of these will be on them in the future.”
“If you look at developing economies, you don’t always have the large commercial farms that you find in developed countries. You have lots of smaller farmers who are working a small plot of land and operate in almost subsistence mode. That means that they have a limited budget available to spend on rolling out technology solutions, even if those will make their farms run more efficiently and save them costs. They require a solution that is packaged as an affordable ‘as-a-service’ package that will enable them to gather data to drive more intelligent decisions. This is where IoT comes into play,” he says.
“They don’t have to rely on the cost and complexity of things like roaming agreements that you have with traditional mobile phone services. It allows operators to roll out IoT services much quicker and scale their network much faster without investing huge amounts of CAPEX,” says Fuerst.
Nokia works with the operator to roll out sensors that detect moisture, temperature, wind speed, and pests and deploy them across their whole network, not just in one province or town.
“This way they are gathering data about the weather, pests and climate conditions across a far wider area and provide this data to the farmers as a service. There’s a smartphone, tablet or a computer application where they can access and leverage that data. It gives them access to data on weather conditions, pest trends, etc. and they can make smarter decisions about irrigation, applying pesticides, when to harvest or not and things like that. The farmer then also has the ability, if there’s some specific problem they have, they can send an SMS to an advisory centre and get advice on how to solve a specific problem.”
Addressing the issue of future food requirements resides not in trying to find and develop new agricultural lands but in transforming current farms into more ’intelligent’ ones for sustainable agriculture.
“A successful smart agriculture program can be achieved through collaboration between the various stakeholders – technology providers, device manufacturers, platform providers, governmental entities, non-governmental organisations, agricultural cooperatives, agricultural companies, and farmers,” Fuerst concludes.
“Critical to this, however, is finding the right business model, which works for both the farmer and the network operator. The WING smart agriculture as-a-Service is unique in this regard because it allows farmers to benefit from IoT technology without the need to invest in it while giving the operator a pay-as-you-go business model that limits investment demands while offering a clear path to new revenues.”