• August 11th, 2020

Why Precision farming is – not a black thing?

Rochelle Neidel

For the past 30 years, black farmers have grown crops on small plots, communal farmlands and even commercial farms mostly to feed families and sell for meagre profits. As farmers all over the continent, our struggles are typical, perpetual pest infestations, drought and little to no access to formal markets.

Similarly, farmers with livestock have for many decades believed in the fable that a full kraal represents wealth even if the animals are barely surviving this is a fallacy that has destroyed the potential of many black farmers. Notwithstanding the symbolic history of our forefathers and their farming techniques, I am convinced now more than ever that effects of colonialism were mainly to mentally enslave our parents, who are the currently established farmers to stick to narratives that just never worked.

As a young budding farmer myself, I can’t keep it to myself that numerous journals and extensive research indicate that precision farming should be adopted in the current economic space for the bleeding agriculture industry to be transformed and withstand the constant blows of nature that come in the form of droughts and drastic climate change.

For farmers to invest in good genetic pools for their livestock could mean that the animals would be less affected by droughts as they would be able to survive longer periods as opposed to livestock coming from weaker gene pools. This you would imagine was regarded in the past a “white thing”, simply because of limited resources and lack of information on the specific.

In recent months, the Minister of Land Reform Utoni Nujoma received backlash for claiming that we should “farm like whites” a statement that was misunderstood by many. In my view, I understand what he meant and the context in which he stated the above.

He was referring to precision and smart farming. He was referring to the importance of paying very close attention to the issues around grazeland management, financial planning and general data collection that is imperative when starting your farming business or growing your existing farming business.

For far too long general planning has been something very far-fetched for farmers, especially the older generation to take soil and water samples for testing were regarded as a very “white” thing and a far-fetched practice. This doesn’t even cost anything, the ministry provides a free laboratory service where you can hand in samples for basic testing that will indicate the nutritional contents of the soil or water.
You wouldn’t have to plant first, and then see whether the soil and water viable for planting.

The statement may have sparked racial tension and perhaps tinted the ability of blacks to be successful farmers, either way, there is a need to re-look at the farming techniques and systems in which we operate as black farmers.

My view, like that of other young start-up farmers in Agribusiness, is that precision farming will transform African agriculture as a matter of urgency, as it will shape the continent’s future — and perhaps humanity’s as well.

How do we go about transforming the Namibian agricultural landscape? From drones to satellite images and sensor technology, the agricultural industry is changing remarkably. How do we sensitize the large chunk of farmers that still rely on conventional farming and what about those that still believe in the fairy-tale that farming with numbers-even in drought, is symbolic of wealth?

With the understanding that most farmers operate in family set-ups, how do we sensitize farmers about the benefits of commercializing their farming businesses in such a way that these businesses can be sustainable and viable for generations to come? In my view, the secret lies in sustainability and therefore most of the biggest and successful farming business in a post-independent Namibia is as a result of sustainable business models that survived two to three generations.

While it may take some change management and gradual strategic interventions to change the mindsets of established farmers, we can start off by putting the focus on the benefits of precision and smart farming. The fourth industrial is here, it speaks to the internet of things and the virtual possibilities that the digital migration has brought.

The development and main drivers of precision farming are the data and advanced analytics and robotics, also aerial imagery sensors and sophisticated weather patterns. It redefines what it means to keep an eye on your animals, or crops -literally. Many have argued that these gadgets are expensive and difficult to operate -well in light of that, the financial sector has come to the table and now commercial banks provide financing for production purposes.

Recently The Agricultural Bank of Namibia launched their collateral-free lending program which is very beneficial and speaks to the needs of start-up farmers and more especially those in communal areas that are unable to secure commercial spaces of their own.

The key point here is optimisation. For example, instead of applying an equal amount of fertilisers over an entire field, precision agriculture involves measuring the within-field soil variations and adapting the fertiliser strategy accordingly. This leads to optimised fertiliser usage, saving costs and reducing the environmental impact.

The focus of smart farming is not on precise measurement or determining differences within the field or between individual animals. The focus is rather on access to data and the application of these data – how the collected information can be used smartly.

Smart farming involves not just individual machines but all farm operations. Farmers can use mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets to access real-time data about the condition of soil and plants, terrain, climate, weather, resource usage, manpower, funding, etc. As a result, farmers have the information needed to make informed decisions based on concrete data, rather than their intuition.

Against the backdrop of a prolonged slump that has brought financial paralysis to much of the Western world, experts have identified Africa as having many of the world’s fastest-growing economies, due to more and more young people using smart and innovative ways to transform industries such as retail and agriculture.

* Article-Agriculture thought leadership series

Staff Reporter
2019-09-24 07:56:34 | 10 months ago

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