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Agricultural Transformation through Information Technology; The Path to Sustaining Food Security – Kwabena Adu Koranteng Writes

Kwabena Adu Koranteng with media team visiting some traditional fish processing sites at Chokor in Accra
Kwabena Adu Koranteng with media team visiting some traditional fish processing sites at Chokor in Accra

Food insecurity challenges are confronting many , if not all African countries today due to their inability to produce enough to feed their growing population.

Food shortages on the continent have contributed to high cost of farm produce, high inflation on agricultural products and these have contributed to economic and political instability and diseases and deaths .

Food shortages on the continent has been the result of the inability of countries and governments to produce enough to feed the growing population, the continent boast off enough or adequate arable lands capable of producing the needed produce to feed the growing population but poor agricultural practices and lack of technical know-how has stalled the expected growth.

The style of peasant farming and small holder agricultural systems as well as the ancient practices of farming has been the cause of the crises on the continent. Today Africans rely on imported agricultural produce and products to feed its growing population due to the inability to invest and adopt information technology systems to transform farming systems and practices on the continent.

Modern agriculture is driven by continuous improvements in digital tools and data as well as collaborations among farmers and researchers across the public and private sectors.

It is possible for farmers to utilise scientific data and technology to improve crop yields and keep themselves up-to-date with cutting edge methods of farming.

Countries that have developed successfully have shifted resources from agriculture to manufacturing. The Green Revolution benefited most regions of the world, particularly East Asia and the Pacific, where cereal yields quadrupled between 1960 and 1990. But Africa missed out on this and the continued lack of progress in agricultural productivity has been blamed for holding back the region’s overall economic growth.

So what can be done to boost African agricultural productivity ? According to some analysis by the African Development Bank in the World Economic Forum’s Africa Competitiveness Report African Countries must Develop high-yield crops. Increased research into plant breeding, which takes into account the unique soil types of Africa, is a major requirement. A dollar invested in such research by the CGIAR consortium of agricultural research centres is estimated to yield six dollars in benefits.

Boost irrigation. With the growing effects of climate change on weather patterns, more irrigation will be needed. Average yields in irrigated farms are 90% higher than those of nearby rain-fed farms.

Increase the use of fertilizers-As soil fertility deteriorates, fertilizer use must increase. Governments need to ensure the right type of fertilizers are available at the right price, and at the right times. Fertilizer education lessens the environmental impact and an analysis of such training programs in East Africa found they boosted average incomes by 61%.

Improve market access, regulations, and governance

Improving rural infrastructure such as roads is crucial to raising productivity through reductions in shipping costs and the loss of perishable produce. Meanwhile, providing better incentives to farmers, including reductions in food subsidies, could raise agricultural output by nearly 5%.

Make better use of information technology

Information technology can support better crop, fertilizer and pesticide selection. It also improves land and water management, provides access to weather information, and connects farmers to sources of credit. Simply giving farmers information about crop prices in different markets has increased their bargaining power. Esoko, a provider of a mobile crop information services, estimates they can boost incomes by 10-30%.

Reform land ownership with productivity and inclusiveness in mind

Africa has the highest area of arable uncultivated land in the world (202 million hectares) yet most farms occupy less than 2 hectares. This results from poor land governance and ownership. Land reform has had mixed results on the African continent but changes that clearly define property rights, ensure the security of land tenure, and enable land to be used as collateral will be necessary if many African nations are to realise potential productivity gains.

Step up integration into Agricultural Value Chains (AVCs)

Driven partly by the growth of international supermarket chains, African economies have progressively diversified from traditional cash crops into fruits, vegetables, fish, and flowers. However, lack of access to finance and poor infrastructure have slowed progress. Government support, crucial to coordinate the integration of smallholder farmers into larger cooperatives and groups, may be needed in other areas that aid integration with wider markets.

The benefits of drones in agriculture are numerous, it is one of the technologies that is driving precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is the science of improving efficiency, productivity, crop yield and profitability through the use of technology. According to analysts, drones in agriculture will be worth a massive $5 billion by the end of 2025.

Drones are a powerful tool for farmers and agronomists to assess the health of their crops. With the use of drones, they can get an overview of their fields and collect data much faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. Drones will allow farmers to see how healthy their plants are, where they might need water or nutrients, and if there is any pest activity before it gets out of control.

Drones help farmers save money by enabling them to quickly identify problems that may have been missed without the use of a drone. The wrong approach could lead to hundreds or even thousands of dollars’ worth of lost crops due to issues that were not caught early enough on the ground.

Uses of Drones In Agriculture

Drones use in agriculture forms part of an emerging trend to use advanced technologies in farming operations that allow farmers to optimise their workflow and use resources more efficiently.

Drones have a wide range of uses in agriculture, however, their main uses are in acquiring highly detailed data through the use of different sensors. This data can then be turned into different types of maps and 3D models of the area, these maps can then be used to analyse crop health, detect disease and stress in plants and identify irrigation problems.

Another emerging use of drones is in spraying chemicals to fight disease and pests as well as spreading mulch and planting seeds.

Benefits of Using Drones in Agriculture

Through a method called drone photogrammetry, drones can help farmers and agronomists create highly accurate maps and 3D models of the area. With drone mapping software such as Pix4DFields or Drone Deploy, images captured by drones can be stitched together to get a topographical map of the farmland. Drones can be fitted with different types of cameras like RGB, multispectral and thermal cameras that will allow farmers to gain access to different forms of data.

Data from these maps will help farmers make necessary adjustments to ensure that the land stays healthy and productive. As drones are easy to deploy, farmers can obtain field data as often as they want which will help them identify problems as soon as they occur and allow them to put together a plan of action and reduce any negative effect these issues may pose.

Time & Cost Saving

One of the main benefits of using smart technology in agriculture is the reduced time it takes to complete many tasks. Drones are much more time-efficient than manned aircraft for things like mapping, surveillance, and crop spraying. Drones are also used to plant seeds, spray crops with water, fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides. As many of these operations can be carried out through intelligent flight modes, they are semi-automated which results in less time being spent on the field which saves farmers money on labour equipment.

Improved Crop Yields

Drones allow farmers to obtain crop data fast and frequently, this keeps them on top of things like irrigation issues, plant disease and soil condition. All these things need to be at optimal conditions for crops to thrive and farmers can meet crop yield expectations. Through precision agriculture, farmers and agronomists can improve overall crop yield by data-driven variable rate prescription. By using remote sensing technology, farmers will easily be able to identify areas of the field that are not producing healthy crops, find out what the problem is and only target that area for any treatment that may be required. This will improve the overall quality of the crops, improve yield and save money in the long term.

Safer Way to Spray Crops

Pests and plant disease are always going to be an issue for farmers, spraying chemicals manually will always pose a health hazard and is very time-consuming and labour-intensive. Using drones to treat infected plants is much safer and more efficient than manual labour and using land-based machinery. Smart drones also come with autonomous flight modes, this will allow farmers to plan flight paths only around areas that need to be treated and leave the healthy parts of field free from unnecessary chemicals. Not only is this a safer way to treat crops but farmers will also save money by not wasting treatment on plants that don’t need it.

Helping Fight Climate Change

By reducing the use of chemicals through data-driven targeted treatment and reducing the need fossil fuel as drones are powered by intelligent batteries, drones can help reduce pollution, help the environment and help in the fight against climate change.

Drones for agricultural use come in two types, fixed wing and multi-copter drones. Fixed-wing drones are more robust, they can withstand harsh weather conditions and usually have a longer flight time than multi-copter drones. However, fixed-wing drones are more expensive, and their design requires them to have a large area to take-off and land.

Multi-copter drones are far more versatile, are easier to fly and are a lot cheaper than fixed-wing drones. Not only can multi-copter drones be used for photogrammetry, but their design also allows them to be used for precision spraying of pesticides, fertilisers and even seeding.

The following are drones suitable to use for mapping and generating 3D surface areas for agricultural use.
The agriculture industry is using precision or smart farming methods to find innovative ways to increase their yield, reduce expenses and improve the health of crops. Drones are a fast way to map out fields easily without having to use manned aircraft or land-based equipment like rovers and laser scanners which is time-consuming and not very efficient. Drones are having a positive impact on farming and this trend is likely to continue as drone technology is utilised more and more in the agricultural industry.

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