The evolution of civilisation runs hand-in-glove with the earliest forays by our ancestors into agriculture. Simultaneously, the unfolding of early forms of agriculture brought primitive technology into people’s lives, while in today’s modern times, agriculture’s dependence on technology remains as strong as ever.

Rudie Raath, chief digital officer at Datacentrix, explains, “Agriculture encompasses the production of food, fibre, animal feed and other products through the growing and harvesting of plants and animals. It touches us in our daily lives more than we may realise. When we think of agriculture, we think of the so-called five Fs, being food, fabric, forestry, farming and flowers. In growing, nurturing, harvesting and processing agricultural products, technology is a crucial component from the beginning of the process to the end.

“According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), digitalisation in agriculture could be a game-changer in boosting productivity, profitability and resilience to climate change. There has been significant growth in digitalisation for agriculture over the last 10 years, even though such progress has been slow in serving the many smallholders that produce much of Africa’s agricultural output.

Digital technologies that can change agriculture and the food system include the use of the internet, mobile technologies and devices, big data and data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and digitally-delivered services and apps – to name just a few.

“When we look at the envisaged population numbers,” said Raath, “which show 6.1 billion people in 2000 projected to increase to 9.7 billion in 2050, we can understand that the impact of such a global population explosion will be massive. Our food security will be at risk and we will have to produce more with less. Various challenges have risen and continue to rise, such as the problems brought by global warming and its impact on workable land. We need to apply today’s coding abilities and use this to produce enough food to feed the population.”

Adoption of agritech

He added that digital adoption within the agricultural arena can help with such challenges as understanding precision farming; improving yields with the same cost inputs or – better yet – reducing input costs yet producing even more; placing sensors in the soil; optimising the manufacturing plant and categorising harvests, amongst others.

“Data is, as they say, definitely the new oil,” he clarified, “and we need to use it optimally in the agricultural arena for tracking, surveillance and the supply chain, to give insights into what is required, and when, and how much is needed.”

Digitalisation within the agri-arena allows farm machinery automation and a reduction in manual labour; an improvement in accuracy and a reduction in the cost of monitoring crop growth and the quality of land and water, as well as the streamlining of food-supply chains and the provision of information.

However, cautioned Raath, “Using today’s networks, we need to connect to data centres to maximise communication of this data, but cannot forget about security – because everything that is connected via the network must be secure: connectivity without control can become catastrophic.

Software-defined networking (SDN) gives us the ability to connect everywhere, but an over-arching layer is needed to manage all the connectivity points, in sometimes remote geographical areas. It is important to understand your data sources and how they are connected across your footprint, as well as where the risks lie.

“In short,” he concluded, “the new digital world encompasses code within our personal lives and within all types of business arenas. It offers us information on existing and arriving solutions that can help to transform business processes, improve performance and create an enhanced customer experience. We should not be afraid of it, but should understand that it comes with risks, and therefore partner with the right people accordingly.”