Across South Africa, a number of smallholder farmers are unable to compete. Because they don’t have access to real-time market information and effective skills required to manage their small scale farms.
The role of smallholder farmers has come under the spotlight in South Africa as the country navigates the tricky process of land reform.
Smallholder farming is billed as the main avenue through which emerging black farmers are likely to grow their share of the country’s agricultural economic activity.
The agricultural sector in South Africa is dualistic. It consists of a well integrated, highly capitalized commercial sector with about 35 000 white farmers,
producing around 95% of agricultural output on 87% of total agricultural land. In contrast, the smallholder sector consists of around 4 million black farmers farming in
the former homeland areas on 13% of agricultural land of South Africa.
To address the shortfalls, a number of agritech startups have appeared in South Africa of late, hoping to use a range of tools to improve the livelihood of smallholder farmers and help the entire industry to adopt smart agriculture.
These firms, including Aerobotics, Wala, ArcAqua, and DroneClouds believe innovation in farming methods can help ensure the continent has a better food security and higher income for its people.
A South African firm with more than 25 years in the agricultural sector wants to play a central role in lifting the smallholder farmers through technology.
Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions, which aims to connect smallholder farmers with market data and buyers, has created an app, AgriSuite Neo.
The AgriSuite Neo app aims to put an agricultural decision support system in the hand of every farmer in the country.
It is an internet-based agricultural information system developed and maintained for farmers by African agriculturists and places a high premium on local knowledge and indigenous experience.
Pretoria-based Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions is a southern African developer of cloud-based agriculture decision support systems.
The company started 11 years ago to embrace digital solutions or smart agriculture.
“This is the equalizer,” Dr. Roelof de Villiers, the CEO of Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions, told TechFinancials on Thursday.
“It gives small farmers the same opportunity as large farmers to become players in the agri economic main stream. It gives farmers access to information that they cannot get access to in any other way. We have seen that if you can provide such information to farmers they are able to take better decisions and reduce production costs, while increasing procuctivity, improve quality and be more consistent in their delivery to market.”
This agri company believes that smart farming will help with food security in the country.
“Smart Farming will certainly have an impact, in this case, smart farming starts in your pocket, getting information right there where you farm allows improved and quicker decisions, linked to the above, people become more successful,” says De Villiers.
The technology of Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions is gaining traction in the country.
There are currently about 2,500 farmers spread throughout South Africa utilising the AgriSuite Neo app.
In South Africa, this is the only open and free system, explains De Villiers.
“It has far outgrown anything else that we do and today we regard it as a flagship project. This is due to the fact that it uses cutting edge tech, has better content than any of our other products, it provide intelligent content through AI (artificial intelligence), and it is really growing at an incredible rate, far beyond what we thought would be possible.”
The app is a complete decision support system for farmers and is free to download on your smart device.
It uses AI to do early warnings and to do farm potential reports predicting which commodities a farmer can do on their farm.
It is always available to farmers, so they don’t have to wait for advisors to help them eventually.
It help smallholder farmers to find out which production system is right, how to manage animals, nutrition, health care and marketing of the farm. It assist with plant production to be able select the right crops and grow it successfully on the farm, plus provide information suitable for home gardeners.
The app also helps with agricultural infrastructure. Through this you can find out where you can buy input resources, sell products and get support in your area. The app provides a simple interactive map giving details on key providers together with their location and contact details.
The app also enables smallholder farmers to access real-time informartion on the South African Futures Exchange. This helps smallholders farmers to know what is happening in the agricultural marketplace. It provides a simple and easy to use presentation of market data, statistics and trading results across the total spectrum of agricultural markets in South Africa.
“The benefits are that it provides information and support over the total agricultural spectrum and is available, right there on the farm where support is needed 24/7/365,” says De Villiers.
The company’s biggest challenge in developing and deploying smart agriculture solutions in South Africa is connectivity. “That’s why Agrisuite Neo has the unique feature to store data offline and that it can also be used offline, this is very important since it allows people to get info even there where no connectivity and it also helps them to save on data costs,” explain De Villiers.
Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions is positioning AgriSuite Neo App as an invaluable and essential tool for any serious farmer.
“Its not just the app, but rather an app or decision support system that is improved almost daily, supported by 30 in-house subject matter experts and continuous liason with our users and user groups,” De Villiers says.
“That means Agrisuite is more than just an app, it is a fully supported dss aimed at making farmers part of the main stream whilst assisting in developing those that are starting.”