Impressive line-up of science
and technology speakers addressed delegates on Day 2
South Africa continues to be a pacesetter in agriculture
Asif Valley, National Technology Officer of Microsoft, shared how technology enables transformation across the agricultural ecosystem. In the past gathering farm data was hampered by the lack of widespread connectivity in farming areas and limited access to power in the fields.
The FarmBeats programme focused on solving these problems using low-cost sensors and drones coupled with machine learning algorithms to assist farmers and agribusinesses to harness the power of IoT, cloud and artificial intelligence. The recently launched Azure FarmBeats business cloud platform enables the aggregation of datasets using machine learning and AI to provide farmers with actionable insights. This allows agribusinesses to focus on their core business rather than having to deal with the heavy lifting of data engineering. It is Microsoft's belief that harnessing the power of data, coupled with the farmer's knowledge and intuition of his farm, can increase farm productivity whilst helping to reduce costs.
Undoubtedly the promised agricultural advances using cloud and data cannot take place without farmers in Southern Africa having widespread access to connectivity to enable the required data flow. Sabelo Mabena, Executive head of Department for Cloud & hosting - Product Development at Vodacom shared how the use of 4IR technologies can be harnessed to promote sustainable farming. Vodacom's Connected Farmer, a cloud-based web and mobile software solution, equips farmers to make better decisions thereby improving their efficiencies and ensuring they deliver better produce allowing them to consistently improve their yields.
Cloud computing is of particular value to smallholder farmers allowing them to avoid the upfront cost and complexity of owning and maintaining their own IT infrastructure allowing them to pay for what they use when they use it. Farmers can take advantage of the platform's knowledge base to find the latest information on farming practices, agricultural innovations, livestock production management, production programmes, soil preparation and pest and disease identification.
Global tech giant, Google, was represented by official Google Cloud reseller Dot Modus. Data Engineer and pioneer within the DotModus team, Hardus Swanepoel broke down the use of machine learning in agriculture. He demonstrated how Google Cloud us being used to provide farmers and developers with the tools they need to identify and monitor environmental and ecological challenges affecting crops. Hardus provided an overview of the Google Cloud Platform unpacking the four major tools used to process vast quantities of data using machine learning models. These tools - Cloud Storage, Cloud Vision API, Cloud ML and Cloud Composer - when used in conjunction with one another allow engineers to save farmers time and alert them to problems identified by their data that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Climate and Weather came under the spotlight with the presentation by Professor Sue Walker, of the Institute for Soil, Climate and Water at the Agricultural Research Council. She demonstrated environmental monitoring that uses over 500 automatic weather stations countrywide with information available round the clock using smartphone apps. The potential relocation of specific crop growth areas due to climate change was also explored.
The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) is another organisation that has a big focus on assisting the agricultural industry and is deeply involved the latest technological developments. Dr Moses Azong Cho, Research Group Leader, Precision Agriculture at the CSIR highlighted a need to create a dedicated group of scientists to assist in adapting precision farming techniques to suit local conditions and budgets. Current precision farming projects under development at the CSIR are driven using affordable satellite data to produce Normalised Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) information.
Dr Santosh Ramchuran, Research Group Leader, Bioprocess Development at the CSIR advocated the use of more bio-based control agents as fertilisers and pesticides to replace existing chemical products. This provides South African companies and organisations an opportunity to develop these products as there appear to be no or few local manufacturers at present. Dr Ramchuran announced that the CSIR was involved in developing these products and already had some ready for commercialisation. One of these, in prototype form, had already contributed to an 85.2% increase in wheat crop yield. It is now awaiting proposals from SMMEs to bring this unique product to market.
Scientific presentations related to agriculture and Africa Agri Tech included content from the Department of Science and Innovation, The Innovation Hub, the Agricultural Research Council and CSIR.
National Technology Officer of Microsoft
Dr Moses Azong Cho
Director, Precision Ag,
Executive Head of Department - Cloud & Hosting: Product Development
Dr Blessed Okole Research Group Leader: Agro-Processing, Advanced Agriculture & Food Cluster, CSIR
Nedbank humanoid robot
Professor Sue Walker Institute for Soil, Climate & Water, ARC
Director EMEA, Proagrica
Rod MacKinnon Regional Value Add Partner, eLeaf
Dr Chamunorwa Togo General Manager, Bio Economy, The Innovation Hub
Sales Engineer Security, GEW, HENSOLDT
Chief Digital Officer, Datacentrix
Hardus Swanepoel DotModus
Dr Thulasizwe Mkhabela
Group Executive, Impact & Partnerships, ARC
Dr Moses Azong Cho Research Group Leader, Precision Agriculture, CSIR
Dr Santosh Ramchuran
Research Group Leader: Bioprocess Development, CSIR
Matome Ramokgopa General Manager: Southern Africa, Enza Zaden
Priaash Ramadeen & Estelle Lubbe
Co-Founders, The Awareness Company
Dr Cynthia Motsi
Editor Farmer’s Weekly