Technology and digitization have both gravely impacted many industries positively with a wad of convenience through automation and efficiency addition. Talk about communication, with the advent of smartphones and internet connectivity, talk about transport with the development of efficient and eco-friendly transportation, everywhere you turn you are wafted by a rich and refined draft of technological innovative progress.
With the recent disturbing headlines of the relentless drought in Northern Kenya that has left scores dying of hunger, this warrants the thought as to how we can harness the timeless ingenuity of technology to improve the general state of food security in the country. The fact that people are still dying in a country with a historically-proven robust agricultural prevalence in 2019 leaves a lot to be answered with regards to the long-term plans and contingencies we have as a nation to ensuring optimal food security plans for the entire nation especially in trying times such as these.
Agriculture is deemed the backbone of this country, Kenya and according to recent Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) report, agriculture dominates the Kenyan economy contributing to a staggering 26% of the gross domestic product and an additional 27% indirectly through its interconnectedness with other sectors and industries i.e. Tourism and Education. Despite this monumental agricultural edge we might appear to have over most economies, the Kenyan agricultural sector has time and time again been plagued by a multitude of challenges and rocky paths especially in this new transformational era we all come to accept as the digital era.
In this rather recent era, one of the predominant showing that is globally felt and experienced is a lack of consistent climate or patterns thereof. The weather is at an-all-time continuous flux more than in any previously recorded period in history. A wide range of multidisciplinary explanations have been brought forth in an attempt to demystify this unfamiliar shift in weather. Global warming is at the top of many of their blame-list.
This new age effect has made matters quite challenging especially to farmers who depend on their knowledge of weather consistency to make the right farm decisions. When there is no alignment in the knowledge the farmer has of the weather and the actual weather, the results could be frownable because the farmer could end up making the wrong farm decisions which would consequently negatively affect the yield. With this fact, it is crystal to see exactly how sacred the relationship between a farmer and the weather is and through the magic of digitization, one can further improve his/her ability to predict future weather patterns as they come. This knowledge is especially important to the farmer as he/she can better orient farm operations with the oncoming weather conditions giving him/her an upper hand and shielding him/her from yielding poorly.
Sensor technology has come a long way from being just a fancy gimmick in action movies to it being applied in normal everyday households (a good example being air conditioning systems) and its integration with the internet, it usually forms an efficient and highly futuristic Internet of Things conduit that can be applied in operations that are looking to boost their efficiency ratio. In the agricultural context, think of it as having a computerized farm structure, whereby elements such as soil humidity, air humidity, soil pH levels and sunlight intensity that are vital in the yield production are closely monitored and adjusted to fit their ideal and optimum levels.
In crops and herbs that require precise conditions to grow and flourish, this could be most important. Additionally, in instances where you cannot presently avail yourself to tend to your farm (which is a high possibility given that most of the new age farmers are multifaceted in that they involve themselves in a number of jobs so they might not always be available on the farm on a full-time basis), this agricultural IoT revolution could just be the thing for you provided that you are able to operate the system autonomously from the comfort of your office or class.
On top of this, the data collected through these devices can be analyzed and studied to discover specific details on where the farm needs better improvement on a long-term basis. As the saying goes, information is power and this quote is especially relevant in the twenty-first century seeing as to how the top tier of the most productive companies in the world is primarily dominated with data companies. The case isn’t too different from agriculture. One can leverage the long-term data garnered by these sensors to identify areas which might need improvement in his farm operations or management to positively impact on future yield. One can also alter and tweak certain variables in order to trigger a varied number of outcomes from which he/she could choose the most ideal one that favors his/her farm philosophy e.g maximum yield, resource conservation e.t.c
There has been a flurry of tech companies that have recognized the potential of IoT in the Kenyan agricultural sector and they are trailblazing the industry with an expansive range of solutions to cater to the local needs. Waziup and ujuzikilimo are such companies producing low-power, long-range and ready-to-use wireless devices for better farm and resource management in agriculture. Waziup, through its recently launched product, Lora soil moisture sensor, measures the real-time and accurate water content in the field and notifies the farmer about irrigation decisions and contrary to popular myth, it is actually quite cost-effective and easy to maintain. Illuminium greenhouses, on the other hand, are focused on the construction of affordable greenhouses with automated drip irrigation kits and solar-powered sensors for smallholder farmers using locally available materials.
Away from the statistical and IoT side of matters and on to the question of distribution. Now that a commercial farmer has harnessed the power of technology to amass maximum yield, then comes the question as to how the bulky yield can be distributed in a fair and efficient way where the farmer can gain the maximum value for his/her efforts. Technology is once again, here to save the day.
Traditionally but still very actively present is the idea of entrusting a middleman/broker who would link the farmer to the market demand. The middle man could have either been an independent individual, a corporate collective or a government agency. The main problem with middlemen is that they are detrimental to the farmers gain-in-produce in that they take up much of the profit since they have an upper hand on the transactional side of things. The bloom of technology has come up with many advancements that gravely secure the farmer’s profits on yield all through the agricultural value chain by creating platforms where the farmer can directly connect with his/her market allowing for a seamless transactional process. Startups like twiga foods, Iprocure and taimba are in the front line of ensuring and safeguarding the reality of direct farmer-to-customer retail.
Although technology has its shortcomings such as the fact that it usually has a margin of error associated with it, it is safe to say that it is considerably dependable as opposed to the alternative means and its prevalence in the local agricultural sector is only expected to sky-rocket in the forthcoming years.