The digitisation of our economy is changing various sectors of the economy – and the agricultural industry is no exception.

By 2050 the world’s population will reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than today, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The organisation points out that to feed this larger, urbaner, and richer population, food production (net of food used for biofuels) must increase by 70%.

Nearly all this increase in population will take place on the part of the world comprising today’s developing countries, which includes Africa. The greatest relative increase, 120 percent, is expected in today’s least developed countries, according to the UN.

However, feeding this growing population will also be threatened by climate change that will have a negative impact on food security in the least developed continent of Africa. Although countries in the Southern hemisphere are not the main originators of climate change, they may suffer the greatest share of damage in the form of declining yields and greater frequency of extreme weather events.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, agriculture is still dependent on a labour-intensive form of farming that is not digitised.

But this is about to change. Huawei X Labs recently published a white paper that highlights the potential for telecom operators to help farmers increase efficiency and productivity through smart agriculture.

The report identifies significant opportunities for telecom operators to provide end-to-end Internet of Things (IoT) services to contribute to the entire agriculture value chain.

The total addressable market for telecom operators in agriculture is estimated to be at $2.9 billion by 2020 from vertical integration, partnership and marketing, and value-added services, according to the Huawei X Labs report.

The total addressable market for smart agriculture
The total addressable market for smart agriculture (Photo Credit: Huawei)

Developing regions have a lot of untapped markets where agriculture is largely unorganised.

The key factors for successful adoption to these markets include the development of local relationships, mutual understanding, testing solutions, and a sympathetic regulatory environment. Consolidating these elements will help ensure that the content and methods of delivery are tailored to both markets and crop types, optimising the potential value for farmers.

Huawei X Labs estimates that the total telecom agricultural addressable market in the Middle East, Africa region was $1.6 billion in 2015 and predicted to rise to $3.2 billion by 2020.

Telecom Agriculture Market by Region
Telecom Agriculture Market by Region (Photo Credit: Huawei)

The report says telecom operators can help the world in tackling the challenge of feeding an estimation of 9.5 billion people by 2050.

“The immense potential in smart agriculture applications such as drones, precision farming, livestock monitoring, payment systems, and information and agricultural trading platform presents a great range of opportunities. However, the systems required to deliver these opportunities are increasingly complex and fragmented, demanding the collective and unconditional support of all stakeholders”

However, the report shows that connectivity remains a key obstacle for smart farming as connectivity services in agriculture have not yet reached the maturity levels that they have reached in other verticals, such as retail and automotive.

Additional barriers that need to be overcome to drive smart agriculture include the cost of deploying and maintaining services, lack of industry standards for data management applications, and the fragmented nature of the agriculture sector.

The report highlights that narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), which has strong industry support as an effective global standard for low-power wide area (LPWA) connectivity, will deliver a step-change in the number and type of things that can be connected to the Internet by offering efficiency, the reliability of licensed spectrum, low-cost, secure connectivity, and a long battery life.

Sensors can communicate real-time information to assess the conditions of soil, crops, and the air, predict weather patterns and monitor equipment and vehicles.

Huawei Helping to Build Africa’s IoT Infrastructure

Vodacom and MTN in partnership with Huawei to launch a NarrowBand IoT (NB-IoT).

NB-IoT is a new technology that will extend the utilisation of IoT by making it more efficient to connect objects requiring a long battery life and are in hard to reach areas to the Internet by ways of mobile connectivity. This Low Power Wide Area technology will connect more objects to the Internet of Things.

MTN Store (Delareyville Sellular)
MTN Store (Delareyville Sellular)
(Photo Credit: Wiki Village)

MTN and Huawei have recently jointly launched the Smart Water Metering solution, the first Narrowband Internet of Things (NB-IoT) solution in Africa. The solution is designed to help MTN develop their NB-IoT services to explore new markets. MTN is planning to launch the Low Power Wide Area technology in Nigeria by the end of 2018 and followed by Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Uganda, and Zambia throughout 2019.

MTN is already deploying IoT solutions to make farming smart in Africa. To exemplify, the telco in 2016 launched a livestock tracking solution to assist herdsmen in monitoring and tracking cattle in Nigeria. The solar-powered ICT device can track the location of cattle, send emergency alerts to the authorities in times of trouble and help in creating grazing areas separate from farmlands. It uses GPS technology to perform location tracking for cattle and geo-fencing for grazing areas.

The telco has other smart farming solutions and planning to develop more.

Rival Vodacom, which is owned by British mobile phone giant, recently launched a connected farmer solution.

A mobile phone-based solution for Agri-businesses to interact and transact with Smallholder Farmers.
A mobile phone-based solution for Agri-businesses to interact and transact with Smallholder Farmers. (Photo Credit: Vodacom Youtube Channel)

Vodacom connected farmer is a mobile phone-based solution for Agri-businesses to interact and transact with Smallholder Farmers. With an estimated combined investment about R21 million over three years, the ‘Connected Farmer’ platform, a cloud-based web and mobile software solution, will link thousands of smallholder farmers to the agriculture value chain enabling access to information, services, and markets.

For more read: The Connected Farmer: How Vodacom is Making Farming Cool

“Digitising the agricultural value chain means that smallholder farmers will benefit from access to information and markets. Vodacom and its partners will enable this while reducing some of the risks carried by agribusinesses,” Vuyani Jarana, chief officer for Vodacom Business, said recently.

The connected farm is the future of farming.

“Connecting, collecting and analysing data in real-time through fast and reliable IoT applications is becoming crucial as farmers need to maximise their yields while reducing their costs,” Qiu Heng, President of Marketing Operations, Huawei Wireless Solution, said.

“By innovating collaboratively with telecom operators, we aim to help them implement smart IoT solutions that enable the connected farm to become a reality.”

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