As humanity grapples with the impact of climate change on food production, experts have determined that a sure way out of the challenge is through the use of cutting-edge technology.
According to Amrote Abdella, Regional Director: Microsoft 4Afrika, "one of most the prominent challenges facing Africa is providing food security for its citizens. While many farmers still rely on traditional techniques to coax a living from the land, there are opportunities to use cutting-edge technology to drive Africa towards a food-secure future."
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) reports that over two billion people do not have access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. A steady increase in hunger since 2014 together with rising obesity, clearly indicates the need to accelerate and scale up actions to strengthen food systems and protect people's livelihoods. It seems only fitting then, that in 2020, the theme for World Food Day is 'Our Actions are Our Future'. Accelerating innovation in agri-tech will enable data-driven farming that can optimise yields, boost farm productivity and increase profitability - all while feeding a nation.
Cutting-edge tech for ancient traditions
AI in agriculture uses cutting-edge data, advanced analytics and machine learning to bring centuries-old farming knowledge into the modern age, giving farmers the tools to optimise crop yields and mitigate the effects of climate change through tools like smart irrigation. With agriculture sustaining 70% of Africa's livelihoods, Microsoft is committed to ensuring that all farming communities are equipped with the latest tools including AI, IoT and edge computing to improve productivity and sustainability across the sector, leveraging our extensive partnerships and initiatives network in the process.
AI as an enabler of farming
There has been reference in the recent past of AI replacing people in jobs, but what happens when AI and IoT devices enables people to spend less time on menial manual labour and more time boosting productivity and crop yields? AI and cloud technology can be used to monitor soil, climate changes and more to make better decisions on when, where, and how much to plant on farms. Precision farming, brought about by the adoption of advanced technologies into the agricultural sector, will revolutionise food production.
In Kenya, SunCulture helps farmers improve their crop yields through solar-powered irrigation systems. Using IoT technology, SunCulture customers are generating 10x more annual income, experiencing a 300% increase in crop yields, and saving 17 hours of manually moving water per week. And by leveraging TV white spaces (TVWS) technology that expands high-speed internet access to underserved areas, SunCulture is bringing precision farming to more smallholder farmers.
The Nigeria Incentive-based Risk Sharing System for Agricultural Lending (NIRSAL) recently entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with Microsoft to collaborate in helping Nigerian farmers become more productive, reduce costs, practice sustainable agriculture and achieve better agricultural outcomes through the deployment of the FarmBeats platform, which harnesses sensors, drones and cameras for seamless data collection, helping farmers improve crop yields as well as increase income. As many as 8 million farmers and 4 million hectares will be positively affected.