In a global society revolving around new technology, computers, and cell phones, African farmers and individuals have capitalized on technological advancements to attempt to alleviate the food crisis and improve their yields.
How much more efficient could farming be if farmers were able to predict weather patterns, access future water table balances and analyze crop status? In South Africa, sugar cane farmers are doing just that with the help of a cell phone technology system called My Canesim. The system, developed by a South African agronomist, uses automatic weather stations, the Internet and cellular technology to update farmers on water deficits, soil content, crop statuses and yields in real time.
This system is estimated to cut the cost of irrigation by $300 per hectare by giving farmers accurate information via text messages on weather patterns and how and when to irrigate their crops. Additionally, information from the Internet that outlines crop prices and market reports can be downloaded onto cell phones, giving farmers the power to negotiate the best price for their crops. A similar text messaging system geared towards cattle farmers in Kenya gives livestock traders access to countrywide markets and prices for their produce. The system is expected to help farmers and dealers keep in touch with the market and have better control on the prices they receive for their cattle.
African farmers and scientists have also used biofuel technologies to their advantage at a local level. In Tanzania, coffee farmers have installed a bio-gas converter that is expected to decrease the dependence on expensive diesel fuel that is used to power machines used in coffee production. By using wastewater from the processing of raw coffee beans, methane gas is produced that can fuel the machines. Farmers express that they are happy to use the wastewater in production; one farmer said, “We're amazed that we can make power from water which we have always considered as useless and just thrown away.”
This process is also beneficial to the environment, as it prevents highly acidic water from entering and degrading the soil, which can cause stunted crops. Though the start-up costs are high ($4,000 to build), with the help of aid agencies, farmers will be able to reap the benefits that will come when they no longer have to pay the high cost of diesel fuel.
In Sierra Leone, a farm equipment manufacturing company is attempting to use a similar process to create fuel for their trucks to replace expensive diesel by using palm nut by-products usually fed to pigs. Read more about the successes of this particular project here. Biofuel use is not just for large-scale farmers and companies; rural communities can also benefit from recycling waste and using it to produce energy. Afrigadget profiled a village using a rural bio-gas generator in Kenya that produces methane gas from cow manure that villagers used instead of firewood or charcoal.
Dealing with all of the environmental and economic stressors that affect agriculture, African farmers never cease to come up with innovative approaches to farming. International development organizations and donors have recognized this and want to reward and encourage future creativity through prizes for new technologies. The prize will “help innovators expand their activities, and also attract private investors and other donor funding to help to spread the most successful new technologies.” Cash payments, essentially royalties for new technology, would be rewarded in direct proportion to the social benefits generated by the new technology, such as a reduction in malnutrition or an increase in individual incomes. With the support of the international and local communities, African farmers will continue to develop innovative, efficient and effective ways to improve yields and ameliorate the effects of the food crisis.