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The Future of Farming in South Africa - Few ideas.

South Africa's farmers compete in a global village and have to use the latest technology to ensure that decision-making is as effective as possible. Technology also has an important role to play in empowering small-scale farmers to make their businesses more viable. 

Sixty percent of the world's unused land is in Africa. And one must acknowledge the difference between South Africa and north of the Limpopo, where predominantly smallholder farmers are responsible for 90% of the production in Africa. In South Africa, it's the exact opposite. 90% of production comes from commercial farms. So, there's opportunity here. There's unused land, there's small farmers, and technology being introduced. It's possible, through education and training, by introducing new seed and fertiliser and providing subsidies, to increase production of small farmers.

Using artificial intelligence and machine learning to extract data gathered via satellite and drone images, the company supplies reports to farmers informing them of pests and disease protection measures. It gathers data which allows banks and insurers to assess the risks associated with agricultural proposals and ventures. 

Hydroponics in farming using mineral nutrient solutions to replace soil is another farming method which aims to minimise inputs whilst maximising yields. This method saves on land use (which again favours suburban environments), eliminates the restrictions of seasonality, and is estimated to use only 10% of the water required for traditional farming. 

Urban farming, on the other hand, takes an extremely pragmatic approach by looking to address the problem of distribution and supply by growing food in urban environments. This is where food is needed most and urban farming reduces the costs, whilst making urban farming a profitable venture for those who are attracted to solution-oriented food production.

So-called precision farming uses technology to constantly monitor and adapt the relationship between farming inputs and outputs in order to combat climate change, reduce the use of harmful pesticides and make optimum use of scarce resources whilst at least maintaining, and often increasing, expected yields.

Climate change means increasing temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and a growing susceptibility to drought conditions; while technological innovations revise older farming practices whilst also expanding the definition of what agriculture is and can accomplish.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is changing how we live, work, and communicate. It’s reshaping government, education, healthcare, and commerce,almost every aspect of life. The First Industrial Revolution, used water and steam power to mechanize production. 
The Second used electric power, to create mass production.  The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production.

Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution, is building on the Third, the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. 
The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity, and access to knowledge, are unlimited.

It would be difficult to imagine a more exciting time to be involved in South African farming: traditions must be respected and built upon, but there’s no denying the focus has shifted towards innovative approaches seeking to exploit South Africa’s diverse resources to the full.

Agriculture remains the nation’s food source. But amongst the sector’s two biggest challenges are currently a need for decisive strides by the government towards policy certainty around land reform (that will enhance food security); and, of course, a lack of rain. Without these, much-needed investor confidence continues to wane, our crop yields remain compromised and our livestock continues to die.

By 2050, the global population is expected to exceed 9 billion, with the UN projecting a required 70% increase in food production to match this growth. This’ll translate into greater demand for innovative job creation tactics. The increase in population is set to also impact significantly on climate change. In 2015 SA signed a pledge at COP21 in Paris – known as our Intended Nationally Determined Contribution – to combat global warming by reducing our coal production to 90 million tons within 12 years. 

The total area farmed in South Africa grew from 77.8-million hectares in 1918 to a peak of 91.8-million hectares in 1960, and declined to 82.2-million hectares in 1996 before stabilising around that level. 

Over this period, the average farm size declined from over a thousand hectares in the 1940s to around 700 hectares in early 1950s.

South Africa need  to know where is going- but Agriculture must do the same.  

The fact that 45% of sub-Saharan Africa’s population is below the age of fifteen and over the next two decades will be looking for employment, which will potentially be in the agricultural sector. Education and access to information can improve the lives of billions of people. Through increasingly powerful computing devices and networks, digital services, and mobile devices, this can become a reality for people around the world, including those in underdeveloped countries. The social media revolution embodied by Facebook, Twitter, and Tencent has given everyone a voice and a way to communicate instantly across the planet. Today, more than 30% of the people in the world use social media services to communicate and stay on top of world events.

Climate change and the management of environmental risks – the exact impacts of climate change are still highly uncertain and are likely to vary significantly across various regions, but two general predictions are that much of Africa will experience greater variability in rainfall and a rise in temperatures. This, naturally, would have an effect on agricultural production, and possibly a decline in crop production. This would inevitably alter the geographical spread of crops, have an effect on horticulture and affect animal production. Whilst other sectors of the economy may see a greater focus on climate change mitigation, agriculture will need to focus on climate change adaptability.

 Although the South African agricultural sector is arguably one of the most advanced on the African continent, there is still room for improvement; this is particularly evident in communal areas. Therefore, the subject of infrastructure and technological advancement will remain a key focus in the near future for both commercial and smallholder farmers, not only in South Africa, but more so across the rest of the continent.

There are already clear examples of this through precision farming, big data, drones, satellites and other methods currently in use in the industry. Moreover, the climate change challenge could also lead to further developments in seed breeding in an effort to find seeds that would adapt best to erratic rainfall. 

Africans are urbanising which means more people will be getting their daily foods from retailers instead of producing for themselves. This is an opportunity for agribusiness to expand their share in the retail space in order to meet the needs of the urban consumers.

Overall, the agricultural sector will need to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change, technology, infrastructure, and proactive social and environmental sustainability initiatives. The sectors will need to become more agile and innovative, to take advantage of the opportunities provided by the urbanising demographic of the African continent and labour supply. Going forward, the need for innovation and agility will only become more imperative for the continent, as its tracts of land will be expected to not only feed Africa, but also to increasingly contribute to the food security of the growing global population.

The future will always be uncertain, as our evolving world continues to demand that we do more with less. But with decisive action, robust partnerships, and continued innovation the agricultural sector can rise again to become the fiscal champion that it is.

There is no better time than now to write about agriculture. Food production is increasingly important, and billions of people must be fed globally. Africa is in a good position to produce food, with 60% of the earth’s unutilised agricultural land available on the continent.

Knowledge about technology is of utmost importance for large, small and even subsistence farmers to enable them to improve agricultural methods.

This was just a few ideas - we have lots of ideas to share- but we need to understand the future of farming and agriculture. Farmers need to take control of their own business and start speaking for themselves.  Its good to have the input of all the clever highly trained people with their huge degrees. But you as a farmer as still in control of you farm. Take notice what all these corporate people are saying- remember you got the knowledge and wisdom. 

Johanel  ANN


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