How Farming Technology Is Becoming More Widely Available to Farmers across the Globe
Watching a seedling break through the ground holds special weight in the world’s poorest nations. Drones, automatic irrigation systems and internet connections are changing the nature of farming in Africa and the Middle East, giving farmers unprecedented opportunities to grow crops and get them on the market. Here’s how technology is becoming accessible and what it means for producers.
More people are connected to the internet than ever before. Africa still has the lowest percentage of users globally, with just 22% of the continent enjoying access. However, it has great potential for progress, especially as satellites expand the reach of internet service.
Nigeria, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Mauritius and Rwanda have access to Starlink, with more countries scheduled to join in the coming years. The internet is a tool that gives farmers a way to order equipment they normally couldn’t access. Additionally, online tutorials and books can teach them how to repair or modify tractors, seed drills and combine harvesters.
Technology is no longer the exclusive realm of the rich. The iPhone cost $599 when it debuted in 2007. Today, a used iPhone 4 is less than $20 on eBay and a refurbished Chromebook laptop is under $100.
The price of internet and phone service has also markedly decreased in the past few years. The longer technology is on the market, the less it tends to cost, giving low-income farmers the opportunity to adopt it. Used equipment can also improve profits since they won’t pay as much up front. Countless companies make knockoff versions of new farming technology like drones, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and other vital equipment.
Startups and co-ops
Many digital startups have cropped up across Africa and the Middle East. For example, the Ghana-based company Esoko offers farm management support and helps farmers analyze their records using its data collection tool. It also provides links to online markets, advisory services and secure payments. Farmers can access the app on a smartphone or the Esoko website.
In Saudi Arabia, the agri-tech company Red Sea Farms helps producers grow crops with salt water. The startup addresses the country’s dry climate by giving farmers the technology to harvest their own produce sustainably. Agriculture accounts for over 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, and startups supporting sustainability provide a much-needed service that benefits the world.
Agricultural co-ops also give farmers a way to access new technologies. They can pool their resources to buy new equipment, perform repairs and share knowledge.
How the spread of technology impacts farmers
New technology that reaches previously unconnected farms greatly impacts the people living there.
For example, the internet has allowed farmers in Rwanda to use Menyesha, a pilot project that determines users’ creditworthiness. The program aims to reduce risks for smallholder farmers by making securing loans to purchase new technology easier.
Digital technology gives agriculture greater appeal to younger generations. Africa’s agricultural workforce is rapidly aging, but incorporating technology into the field is helping attract younger workers, creating jobs and revitalizing the industry.
Online platforms have opened up new ways of doing business. The Nigerian ag-tech company Hello Tractor operates a lot like Uber, allowing farmers to easily share equipment on demand. In Kenya, the mobile e-commerce platform Twiga delivers produce to the mass market, helping farmers reach more customers.
New technology has also allowed farmers to better manage their crops. Drones can monitor plant health, selectively spray pesticides on weeds and even kill flying pests with their blades. IoT-connected sensors control greenhouse temperatures and humidity so farmers can grow vegetables hydroponically.
The spread of ag-tech even helps with conservation. Electric fences keep elephants out of crops and improve the relationship between farmers and pachyderms. No-till planting machines, like seed drills, let people plant crops without causing soil erosion.
Growing a food-secure future
The uses of technology in agriculture seem unlimited. Food producers in Africa and the Middle East benefit strongly from ag-tech startups, internet connectivity and new tools that make it easier to grow crops. Farmers’ power will expand as technology does. The future of agriculture may be complicated by climate change and a growing population, but farmers will have the tools to handle it.