Agriculture
Use of smart watering, irrigation and crop feeding systems is helping drive efficiencies and is also increasing the visibility of key farming data across Africa.

Farmers urgently need government support to increase their use of digital tools, in light of the worsening environmental and economic pressures facing Europe and Africa’s farming industry.

These findings are contained in Farmers and Digitalisation survey, conducted by Savanta ComRes and commissioned by Vodafone Group.

Over 600 farmers across 13 countries in Europe and Africa, including Kenya, were asked about their current attitudes towards digitalising their farms, environmental challenges faced and current geopolitical and societal pressures impacting supply chains and rising equipment and materials costs.

As expected, climate change is top of the list of threats facing farmers in Europe and Africa. All farmers surveyed in Kenya said climate change is impacting the financial viability of their agribusinesses in one way or another.

Across Africa, many farmers are similarly concerned, with 93 percent feeling the pain of erratic weather patterns. Other threats cited by farmers include fuel and energy costs, on account of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – as well as low market prices for crops and livestock, and little support from the public sector.

Technology and connectivity are powerful tools when it comes to addressing the prevailing challenges. It is, therefore, encouraging to see the survey reveal farmers are already using digital tools to reduce fertiliser use, water use, and to improve soil health.

What’s more, over two-thirds of farmers in Kenya feel that digital technologies can help farming succeed in the future.

Use of digital farming technology is set to increase with farmers saying they’re willing to invest more in this area to help them mitigate the effects of climate change.

The survey shows 93 percent of farmers in Kenya plan to invest more in digital tools in the next 12 months.

As farmers continue to mitigate the impact of these crises, research shows a growing number of farmers are embracing smart agriculture practices.

Smart tools used on farms can help farmers elevate costs, and reduce the use of energy, fertiliser and water, which is critical at this time. The technologies deployed include drones, vehicle trackers and autonomous vehicles, as well as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology and smartphone applications, enabling the monitoring of weather and soil conditions, as well as costs and market prices.

Further, smart watering, irrigation and crop feeding systems also help drive efficiencies and increase the visibility of key farming data for this community. 

However, there are clear barriers to the widespread and continual adoption of digital agriculture tools. About 97 percent of Kenya farmers surveyed want more government support to help address issues such as the cost of devices and other hardware which was cited as a particular barrier by half of the farmers surveyed in Kenya.

Results show that it’s not just about financial support: 64 percent of farmers in Kenya want training on how to use digital solutions.

Connectivity is also a key element with 31 percent of the respondents in Kenya saying that the government can intervene for better mobile internet connectivity, encourage farmers to use more digital tools.

Joakim Reiter, Chief External and Corporate Affairs Officer, Vodafone Group, said: “This survey should read as a plea for help from farmers who are facing unprecedented challenges. It’s vital both the private and public sectors work together to provide this community with access to the digital technologies, information and training they require to develop their practises. We must transform restrictive regulatory policies and practices around digital, cloud and data services, and create an enabling environment that supports innovations like cloud computing. By doing so, farmers will have the opportunity to access the critical agricultural insights they need to farm more effectively.”

Vodafone supports farmers in Europe and Africa via cloud platforms, digital marketplaces and advisory services.

Read also: Transport and input costs, poor weather throttling agriculture sector

For farmers, data is at the heart of this digital revolution. MYFARMWEB, Vodafone’s interactive, cloud-based platform enables farmers to visualise data collected from agricultural IoT sensors across their farmland, currently serving over 8,500 large-scale commercial farming operations worldwide. Earlier this year, Vodafone announced the launch of a pilot of MYFARMWEB across five farms in Europe, joining customers in South Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Australia, New Zealand and in the West Coast of the US.

Vodafone’s Connected Farmer digital platform helps improve productivity, revenue and resilience for smallscale farmers by connecting them to information, inputs, credit, and buyers, supporting a further 2.3 million smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The platform also offers access to information, good agriculture practice content and demo plots for training and practical change management.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Connected Farmer supported over 200,000 farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa by helping farmers apply for, and secure seed, fertiliser and crop protection subsidies from their local governments, playing an important role in improving rural food security.

Peter Ndegwa, CEO Safaricom PLC, said: “New technologies and digitalisation are transforming agriculture and offering new opportunities. Therefore, there is need to scale up the adoption of digital technology to ensure sustainable agriculture and consequently ensure food security besides strengthening entrepreneurial opportunities for Kenyan farmers.

“As Safaricom, we have been at the forefront to help smallholder farmers to transition into agribusiness through Digifarm – an integrated mobile platform that offers farmers convenient, one-stop access to a variety of services including discounted inputs and advice on input use, financing, and information on crops and animals.”

Vinod Kumar, CEO, Vodafone Business, said: “From working with farmers across Europe and Africa over the past eight years, we’ve come to understand the harsh realities of how the challenges echoed in the survey are threatening the future of not only their farms but the entire industry.  While it is positive to see this community already embracing digital solutions, more must be done to guarantee that Europe and Africa fully embrace precision agriculture. By helping farmers to digitise their operations, we’re helping to reduce the barriers preventing faster connectivity roll-out, which in turn helps farmers alleviate costs and increase yields to ensure a more robust and sustainable future for the agriculture industry.”

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