Vodacom has partnered with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the German Government and Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions to launch a mobile technology solution to support South African smallholder farmers into commercial agriculture.
With an estimated combined investment amount of €1.5 million (ZAR21 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.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has a much wider impact on nation economies and in the case of agriculture, IoT is expected to help improve agriculture productivity, address food security, create jobs and increase incomes in the agriculture sector. The project will support participating agribusinesses to promote sustainable agricultural practices among smallholder farmers.
“Vodacom believes that ICT provides innovative solutions to address Africa’s societal and economic challenges. Leveraging the successful implementation of Connected Farmer projects in East Africa, we are laying the foundation for inclusive growth in the agriculture sector through integrated value chains in agriculture. Africa is a net importer of cereal, yet it is endowed with greater proportions of arable land. For Africa to be able to feed itself, the application of ICT based solutions like the Connected Farmer is critical,” says Vuyani Jarana, Vodacom Business Chief Officer.
“German development cooperation views ICT solutions as having huge potential to support smallholder farmers in the commercial agriculture segment through linking farmers and agribusinesses to potential buyers and services. At the same time, we find that producing agricultural goods sustainably and at high quality, is key to the farmers’ success. With this initiative, we address both of these challenges and expect significant employment effects,” says Christiane Kalle, GIZ Country Director South Africa and Lesotho.
Food security in South Africa remains a challenge, with just 30 000 commercial farmers being responsible for most of the country’s food production.
Over 200 000 smallholder farmers and an estimated 2 million subsistence farmers have an important role to play in food security and poverty reduction, yet their access to markets, information and finance is limited or non-existent. There is also a lack of available data on smallholder farmers and their supply chains, which is a barrier to informed decision-making by agribusinesses and policy makers.
Mobile ICT solutions such as Vodacom’s Connected Farmer platform will help to address this by providing farmers with the services they need. This promotes sustainable agricultural practices, enhances productivity and, most importantly, reduces risk. Sourcing from smallholder farmers as a result becomes more realistic and executable for food manufacturers and retail businesses, increasing the number of smallholders and subsistence farmers in commercial agricultural value chains. This has been proven in the deployment of the Connected Farmer platform in East Africa.
“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. Vodacom’s ICT services enable enterprises to have real time visibility of their supply chains, as well as the ability to engage and communicate with smallholders directly,” says Jarana.
The Connected Farmer platform is aimed at connecting enterprises, small and commercial agribusinesses, NGOs and farmer associations. Vodacom’s partnership with GIZ will provide commercial and operational support to link thousands of farmers to this platform, enhancing the sustainability and longevity of the initial deployment of the service in the South African agriculture sector. The launch of this platform further complements the current Internet of Things platforms which Vodacom has launched into the various markets and segments.
A farmer can use any mobile device on any network to access the Connected Farmer’s platform and through SMS receive valuable information including weather forecasts and market prices. Farmers with smartphones can access the same platform with increased capability to access additional content. Through the partnership with Manstrat Agricultural Intelligence Solutions, a local developer of Agricultural Decision Support Systems for the past 25 years, Vodacom will provide farmers and enterprise users with access to a broad and deep reservoir of relevant and expert content.
Agribusinesses pay a monthly service fee per farmer and per mobile enterprise user, who are provided with the requisite hardware, software, training and support as a managed service.