Mobile network Vodacom is teaming up with the German government and Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions to bring high-tech internet of things services to rural smallholders in South Africa.
By “digitising the agricultural value chain”, the firm reckons it can help make small farms more productive, help farmers increase their income and create jobs in the agricultural sector thanks to its Connected Farmer platform.
It sounds ambitious, but while you might think of African agriculture as idyllic pastoral villages with the odd bright maize field here and there, across the continent the industry has been one of the most highly scrutinised and affected by tech pioneers.
Whether its applications for processing payments on behalf of smallholders, moisture sensors in the soil or skies full of drones monitoring crops, tech is everywhere in farming.
Like many telcos and banks, Vodacom has been very active in this area. Through its M-PESA payments platform its been breaking ground in financial services to poorer areas for a while.
Connected Farmer is an evolution of the Connected Farmer Alliance, which was originally developed in East Africa as a platform for providing farmers with realtime price information, weather data and access to online markets with the ability to sell directly to buyers.
As well as allowing farmers to sell their produce ahead of market days, Vodacom argues that the platform will also help them to build up a financial profile and credit score so that they can borrow in the future.
South Africa is, of course, very different in terms of its socio-economic make-up and smallholders here struggle for different reasons to do with land reform and where infrastructure was developed under the Apartheid regime. At the same time, good levels of internet connectivity means there’s a lot of potential for apps like Connected Farmer to make a difference
This is why Vodacom’s chief officer for business, Vuyani Jarana – who is leading Connected Farmer here – says that this initial launch is to bring together organisations from government to retail and start adapting the system for South Africa, rather than going straight into a pilot trial.
“We need to look at how to integrate the value chain,” Jarana told htxt.africa, saying that a big part of Connected Farmer will be aggregating information. “Retailers want to buy from smallholders, but they struggle with consistency of supply. We want to give visibility into the value chain by logging everything from planting to harvesting so we can forecast what’s coming through for retail planners.”