Monday, 30 October 2017

Tech in agric: a new opportunity for growth



Adnan Adams Mohammed

In an era that technology plays a pivot role in our daily activities in all aspects of our life, it is imperative to consider the new opportunities technology can help grow the most essential sector of the economy, that is, the agricultural sector.

Although, some efforts are already been put in place to exploit the technology advantage for agricultural and agribusiness, a lot more is expected to transform the face of agriculture in Ghana and beyond.

In this regard, the youth have been urged to get involved in the sector as existing farmers do not have the understanding to make use of technology for its full benefit.

Chief executive officer of Trotro Tractor, Kamal Yakub who made this call at the 20th MTN Business World Executive Breakfast Meeting said technology has made farming very easy allowing farmers to achieve more within a shorter period.

He said, “using your phone, you can request for a tractor service for a one acre, using your phone you can request for other inputs as well, using your phone you can get a combine harvester and that is easy to make farming so cool. If you used to do two days on an acre with four people, now you use 45 minutes to finish that acre so it allows you to do more”.

He added that “the farmers we have now is averagely 55-years and life expectancy in Ghana is about 61 so if we allow these people to be in the business, they will not understand what we are doing”.

He said, howerver that, more efforts should be put into convincing the younger generation to apply their understanding of digital technology in improving agribusiness in Ghana.

In the same, ISSER has called on government to focus its attention on financing major projects in the agricultural sector as this is key for economic growth in the country.

At the launch of ISSER’s 2016 review of the state of the Ghanaian economy, Director of the institute, Professor Felix Ankomah Asante emphasized the key role agriculture plays in the growth of every economy.

According to him, a majority of Ghana’s populace is involved directly or indirectly in agriculture and hence progress in the economy will be stifled if the right resources are not channeled into developing the sector.

“Financing Agriculture is so key in this country, its key not because of its contribution to GDP, it’s key because most of the population is in agriculture and if you cannot help those in agriculture, there’ll be problems in the country in terms of trying to reduce poverty”.

“We know that the rural population is into agriculture and most of the poverty is also a rural phenomenon and that’s why it’s important not just because it contributes to GDP but because we want to turn the economy around”.

Prof. Ankomah also highlighted the significance of industrialization as a growth factor in Ghana’s economy. Both sectors he indicated will lead to substantial and evidential development in the country.

Talking of financing agricultural in the country then one is tempted to think of the new innovative areas that must attract the attention of policy makers, key actors and financiers of agricultural activities in the country.

Ghana has adopted several initiatives and models of agriculture aimed at increasing growth and opportunities in the sector, yet, there are more to be done to achieve the desire results.

Preferably, agri-tech is an effective and efficient area that must catch the attention of all the key actors in the agricultural chain.

While technology offers huge potential for Africa's small-holder farmers, Emilio Hernandez, agricultural finance officer at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), believes that beyond Kenya, there is less agritech innovation than there should be on the African continent.

Cumbersome regulation of the IT and mobile industries often act as a brake on progress, he says.

"Everyone agrees there is an untapped potential, but so far it is limited to certain locations and the question is: how big can it be?"

I have always believed that Indian agriculture does not need external inputs. Instead, before devising solutions, one should take out some time to work with the farmers, understand their needs and then provide solutions. Recently there have been numerous technological reforms in the field of agriculture. Agri-tech is the term that has been coined for the same.

Agri-tech is a short form for “agricultural technology.” It involves using environmentally sound and sustainable farming methods in agriculture to increase yield, efficiency and profitability.

This could include equipment like water filters and water pumps or digital services like apps that connect buyers to sellers in the rural markets or heirloom seeds, chemical-free fertilizers, and smart agriculture techniques.

The Agri-tech reforms have many advantages. For example, both home gardeners and farmers are showing a considerable amount of interest in Organic Farming and growing their food. In this scenario Organic Fertilizers, Heirloom Seeds, preparing Compost and Mulch come into the picture. Agri-tech provides aid to this.

Secondly, more and more farmers are moving towards integrated farming. They are exploring honeybee and silkworm rearing, fish culture, etc. so that they are not dependent on a single occupation for income. With a combination of agriculture and technology farmers can explore many more activities.

By utilizing the technological advancements, people can start soilless agriculture i.e. Hydroponics and use nutrient solution instead of soil to grow crops.

Increases in the efficiency of farm: Farmers can grow many crops on a limited land. Each acre gets an adequate amount of seeds, fertilizers and timely water supply that ensures optimum yield.

However, the biggest setback of Agri-tech industry is that it needs a lot of research and development. Technological reforms can be implemented only after proper experiments so that nothing is at stake.

Secondly, it involves high capital. A significant and considerable amount of money is needed to accommodate machines, computers and educating the farmers to use the same. Lack of knowledge is the biggest challenge of the Agri-tech industry. With a huge rural population involved in this occupation, people do not have the means of educating themselves to use Agri-tech methods.

Consequently, talking about the future of agri-tech industry, I would imply that the agricultural sector is and will probably remain unpredictable. As such, the best outcome for the farmers in Ghana would be if start-ups continue to ride the investment wave and solve real problems and not perceived ones.

Future agri-tech will focus on more sustainable methods of production, moving away from the western-influenced chemical heavy methods of today. This will happen when problems faced by small-scale farmers receive the attention that they need. It is important that sometimes is spent with farmers before suggesting solutions.

Finally, the biggest thing to wait and see is how we can reduce the farmers’ dependence on rainfall. Irrigation facilities are still falling short of the mark, and there is a significant amount of work to be done here. The good thing is that the government has shown interest in mini dams to aid irrigation projects and farms as well as making budgetary allocation for irrigation farming.

With more and more people recognizing that the agricultural sector needs support, it seems like the agri-tech industry is about to see some exciting developments.


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