Agri-fintech company eSus Africa is supporting small-scale and emerging farmers by gathering and using data. Its onsite system enables farmers to gather machine and sensor data, monitor inputs and feeds from weather and agriculture agencies for planning and decisions, as well as record yields, says eSus Africa head of strategy Dr Thula Dlamini.
The company aims to help small-scale and emerging farmers digitalise their farms; formalise their operations; farm smarter, more efficiently and sustainably; and integrate with regional and national agricultural supply chains.
Better data and information flows will also support farmers in using crops, varietals and technologies that are suited to their local conditions and soil characteristics to become more efficient and productive.
“Data is the key. The solution is designed to be farmercentric and to enable the farmer to access services over the platform, including facilitating the deployment of sensors and Internet of Things devices on farms.”
As the farmer becomes comfortable with the systems and more integrated into the agricultural supply chain, additional sensors, systems and analytics can be deployed as needs dictate and added to the scalable solution, he adds.
Digital platforms connecting farmers also allow for much more rapid, coordinated and effective nationwide responses to mitigate disasters or manage plagues, and help to reduce damage to crops caused by severe weather, notes Dlamini.
Better visibility and information flows will also help to improve food security, and enable small-scale producers to serve local demand and, possibly, reduce logistics costs for some products, he avers.
Helping small-scale farming to move into and up the agriproduct value chain will also help to firm up their financial prospects. The farmers can also investigate diversifying their operations, such as possibly installing greenhouses to serve small-scale local or regional demand based on data and supply chain requirements, says Dlamini.
“Smart farming is embedding farming best practices into operations using data and then managing by exception – for example, irrigating only when soil moisture is below a threshold and weather forecasts predict continuing dry conditions. This will help to reduce waste and improve the efficiency and resilience of farmers.”
The company can set up its solution as an offline system on a farm to process the data and share it with a central repository using constrained and/or intermittent connectivity, such as GSM and satellite links, says eSus Africa CE Watson Matsa.
“The aim is to deploy a cost-effective system that is scalable. “The primary aim is to facilitate the collection of the underlying data, which is foundational for smart farming and all the uses and benefits of an agriculture platform,” he explains.
As more farmers establish their digital footprints, a digital agriculture platform can enable finance organisations to provide digital wallets, credit lines, insurance and various financial products directly to farmers based on verified data.
“The exchange of data is important. It can help farmers to improve risk management and facilitate the provision of risk management services for farmers. “An agricultural cloud platform allows for the provision of services at scale for small-scale farmers that are similar to those available to large-scale and commercial farmers.”
Making farmers more efficient, resilient and sustainable will also support their development and growth over time and improve food security. Additionally, a digital agricultural value chain can also enable farmers to meet new demands more quickly, such as traceability and sustainable sourcing, provide records of quality standards for retail chains, and link up with national databases, and water catchment and management organisations.
“eSus Africa believes that the value of farmers and their contribution to society – producing for a fundamental social need, namely food – must be recognised. Our solution aims to enable sustainable small-scale farming at scale, and fair trade along a value chain by enabling and promoting visibility and information sharing,” concludes Matsa.