In the last couple of decades there has been a drastic upheaval in the Agricultural sector. Since the beginning of information age and digitization of vocations, a new concept and system of farming, called precision agriculture, had started to gain momentum and wax in popularity. Experts have suggested that more than 50 percent of today’s farmers use at least one or more precision farming methods, and by 2025, Precision Agriculture will scale up overall agricultural productivity by up to 400 billion US Dollars.
What is Precision Agriculture?
Precision agriculture simply entails a controlled method of farming or a system of agricultural practices that utilize Information Communication Technology (ICT) to achieve accuracy in farming and farm management. In other words, precision farming is a farm management approach that is site-specific and animal-specific and relies on information technology tools such as GPS guidance, control systems, sensors, robotic drones, autonomous vehicles, variable rate technology, GPS-based soil sampling, automated hardware, telematics, and software for operations.
Elements of Precision Agriculture
1. Variable Rate Technology
The basic components of the VRT which include computer, software, drones, a controller and a differential Global Positioning Systems (GPS) allow farmers to control the number of inputs they apply in specific locations of the farm.
2. GPS soil sampling
Testing a field’s soil helps to reveal available nutrients, PH level, and range of other data that is important for making informed and lucrative decisions. Soil sampling will enhance knowledge of productivity differences within a field and how to formulate plans that take these differences into account. Collection and sampling services that are worth the effort will allow the data to be used for input for variable rate applications for optimizing seeding and fertilizer.
3. Computer-based applications
This can be used to create precise farm plans, field maps, crop scouting and yield maps. This enhances more precise application of inputs such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, thus helping to reduce expenses, produce higher yields and create more environmentally friendly operation.
4. Remote sensing technology
This is an invaluable tool for monitoring and managing land, water and other resources remotely. It can help determine everything from what factors may be stressing a crop at a specific point in time to estimating the amount of moisture in the soil. This data enriches decision making on the farm and can come from several sources including drones and satellites.
5. Artificial intelligence and the big data
Artificial intelligence is a key element in precision agriculture especially in area of data optimization. AI has the capacity of analyzing huge amounts of data in a short period and using it to suggest the best course of action. This information could then be used to ascertain the best time to plant, to predict pestilence and to offer in-field inventory management that could offer yield predictions prior to harvest.
Why Precision Agriculture?
The principal justification for precision agriculture is that it ensures precision in farming activities, high farm yield, profitability, efficiency, and sustainability as well as prevents environmental degradation. Precision Agriculture saves time and agricultural labour and production cost while delivering better and impactful results. Companies in most parts of Europe and America are now deploying autonomous picking machines and abundant robotics which operate on the basis of machine vision and sensor fusion to harvest mature crops and fruits. Analysts have suggested that the use of robotics in harvesting and picking crops could cut labour and production cost to as much as 50 percent.
The incidence of food waste which has debilitating effects on both the humans and the environment has been reduced with major advancement in precision farming practices. According to a report by McKinney & Company in 2016, one-third of all food is lost during production year globally, especially in developing countries. This accounts for annual financial loss of 940 Billion US Dollars; over 700 Million people who go hungry and more than 8 percent of global greenhouse-gas emission. However, precision agriculture is targeting this problem and changing the agricultural story positively. In a 2014 report by ReasearchMoz, highlighted in the Robotics Business Review on January 1, 2017, it is estimated that the market size of agricultural robots will increase from $ 817 Million to $ 16.3 Billion by the last quarter of 2020.
More so, through the use of the big data gathered from sophisticated technology and/or Artificial intelligence, precision farming practitioners could reach informed decisions on both immediate and future farm needs. The optimization of data in farming and farm management is a thriving practice in most parts of Europe, Asia, North America and even some parts of South America. In the province of Córdoba in North Colombia, a web-based platform was developed to collect and maintain data from individual farms for maize plantation, harvest, yields and cost. Researchers in that region were able to match daily weather station information with individual fields and the various stages of the growing season.
Precision Agriculture in Nigeria
The inclusion of Nigeria into the orbit of Space technology and Remote sensing in 2003 would presuppose a country that was better positioned technologically and ready to revolutionize her Agricultural system. However, the practice of Precision Agriculture in Nigeria is still very much at its anabolic stage even as the number of Startups and Agritech companies in the country increases yearly. In the Africa’s Agricultural Summit held in Abuja on September 2019, it was raised that despite major development in ICT and its increasing relevance across different sectors of the economy, less than 10 percent of the emerging agritech and agribusiness companies in Nigeria practice precision Agriculture or satisfactorily integrate the ICT into the nation’s agricultural system. This incidence of culture lag poses imminent threats to the realization of the nation’s agricultural potential.
It is estimated that Nigeria has lost USD 10 Billion in annual export opportunity from groundnut, palm oil, cocoa and cotton alone due to continuous decline in the production of those commodities. In a report released by Central Bank of Nigeria on the 9th of March 2020, Nigeria loses 1.2 Billion Naira to fish importation every year. According to the Food Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the main factor undermining Agricultural production in Nigeria include reliance on rainfed agriculture, smallholder land holding, low fertilizer application, and a weak agricultural extension system amongst others.
The link between the ICT sector and the agricultural sector in Nigeria has a serious economic implication. According to a 2019 report from the National Bureau of statistics, the Nigerian GDP grew by 1.94 percent (year-on-year) in real terms in the second quarter (Q2) of 2019 compared to the Q2 of 2018 which recorded a growth of 1.50 percent. The major impact on the national GDP growth was from the non-oil sector which contributed 91.18 percent to the GDP compared to the 8.82 percent contributed by the oil sector. The ICT sector is one of the top contributors to the nation’s GDP in the non-oil sector with a nominal contribution which rose from 11.22 percent in the Q2 of 2018 to 13.85 percent in the Q2 of 2019. The ICT improved by 2.63 percent between Q2 2018 and Q2 2019 compared to 0.63 percent improvement from the agricultural sector which recorded 19.43 percent in Q2 2019 and 18.78 percent in Q2 2018. An inference that could be drawn from this is that if there is an improvement in the use of ICT in farming and farm management (Precision Agriculture), the agricultural sector will record better growth in GDP than it is currently.
Towards Commissioning the First Agricultural E-centre in Nigeria
A Nigerian social enterprise and the first Agricultural Real Estate company in Africa, FarmKonnect Agribusiness Nigeria Limited is in business to make profiting in Agriculture more attractive and sustainable to all and sundry without limitations to boundaries, time, space, financial and social status. One of the core philosophies of FarmKonnect is that Nigeria does not need more farmers; rather, it needs smarter farmers, hence, the company runs an agribusiness model that is scientific and precision-based, and at the center of this model is the inclusion of the youth who are the largest and smartest internet users.
Thus, in pursuit of her mission to contribute immensely to food security and nutrition through real estate of modern agricultural technologies and methodologies, FarmKonnect is building the first Agricultural Electronic Extension Service Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria which will be commissioned and fully operational by the second quarter of 2020. The project aims to contribute immensely to food security and employment in Nigeria and Africa at large through precision agriculture and smart farming.
The control center will feature state-of-the-heart technology that will enhance quality monitoring and evaluation as well as data gathering and optimization across all our farms and greenhouses anywhere in Africa, using satellite, drones, Electro-Optic systems and sensors. The center can also control certain operations such as irrigation and humidification remotely, while incorporating high tech drones for spraying, agricultural surveillance, early warning of threats and information gathering.
The Agricultural E-centre is part of a concerted effort to revolutionize Nigeria’s agricultural system. It will promote employment opportunities and greater agricultural productivity through engagement and training of Nigerian youths in Precision Agriculture. According to Mr. Afolabi Richard, the Head, Information and Technology Department, FarmKonnect Nigeria, ‘’by the time the center is commissioned and fully operational, FarmKonnect in conjunction with Agricultural Social Entrepreneurial Foundation (AgSEF), will be positioned to train at least 5000 interns across the country by 2030.’’
Since the prehistoric society, Agriculture has maintained its significant influence in the economic subsistence of man. However, as the mode of production changes, the agricultural narratives also change. A new and much more advanced area where Agriculture is contributing to the global economy far more than the traditional method of farming is precision Agriculture which includes the use of ICT for farming activities. Precision Agriculture in Nigeria is still at its anabolic stage despite increasing growth in the nation’s ICT sector. It is expected that improvement in IT-based Agriculture will promote a higher GDP growth rate for the nation’s agricultural sector. Hence, FarmKonnect is setting up the first Agricultural E-centre in Ibadan, Nigeria to promote precision Agriculture in the country. The center will accelerate food security and sustainability as well as investment, employment and training opportunities for Nigerians, especially the youth.