It has always been a common sight to see local farmers mount pieces of wood and adorn it with some kind of outfit to scare pest birds away from their farms. This is what we all know as scarecrow.
Despite such well-known traditional technology by farmers, the birds have somewhat ‘detected’ that these scarecrows are not human, hence, cannot be scared by them. But change has finally come with the introduction of an innovative product, a drone scarecrow! What is it? This week’s Inspiring Startups has the story. Read on.
This product was developed by four young men and a lady who together formed a company called AiScarecrow technologies, an Agritec start-up with a focus on crop protection through pest bird-scaring on cereal farms, especially rice, millet, and sorghums.
Silas Karikari Boateng, one of the founders of the group of five tells the story of how it all began and where they hope to get to.
Silas is a product of the Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School (PRESEC) in Accra where he read science. He had his first degree in agriculture technology from the University for Development Studies (UDS) where he specialized in Biotechnology and also an MSc in Environment and Public Health from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST). Though Silas loves music and for that matter even represented Ghana at the 2013 Glo X-Factor West Africa, his interest in agriculture was not compromised.
With that interest, he joined the Kosmos Innovations Center’s (KIC) Agritech challenge in 2019, a program intended to invest in young entrepreneurs and small businesses which have big ideas, wanting to see their country grow. It was there he met the other co-founders of the AiScarecrow Technologies, Mary Aboagye who read Environmental Science at KNUST, Isaac Boakye, BSc in Computer Science from KNUST, Bright Tetteh Kwao, BSc in Engineering Physics from UCC, and Boris Boadi read BSc in Accounting from UDS.
“We didn’t know each other from anywhere but through the market research and the competition, we grew interest in the same idea and decided to take it up and we are making strides with it,” he told the B&FT.
“As part of the competition, we embarked on market research throughout the entire country, where we were sent to most of the existing and old companies for them to share with us their stories. Going to the Northern and Volta part of the country, there was a recurring problem among farmers and that was about pest birds. Our interests grew there, we became a group and we worked on the idea. We pitched it and came top among about 20 ideas,” he said.
The team realized that cereal farmers lose on average 20 percent of their yield to pest birds. Also, some farmers spend about 8 to10 hours a day trying to get rid of these pest birds. In addition, there was an issue of child exploitation where some farmers engage their children in bird-scaring exercise which is detrimental to their education. It was one the above problems identified, and the group with their diverse backgrounds, started locally building technologies notably drones to rescue the situation.
According to the Silas, their background diversification is the strength and one of the greatest tools and also an advantage their start-up has, and this helps them identify solutions quickly.
Aiscarecrow Technologies is an AgriTech start-up that leverages on technology to control pest. Currently, the start-up focuses on cereal crop protection, helping cereal farmers cut losses to pest birds by 90-95 percent. The company uses an eco-friendly way to ward off pest birds from cereal farms using aural and visual aids that are biologically understood by the birds and work on their natural fear instincts, hence, effectively triggering a fright and flight mechanism in them causing them to flee, saving the farmer valuable time and money.
Its operations are mostly realized in the Volta Region around Sagakope, Dabala, Addidome, and also Dawenya in Accra.
“We are in contact with the farmers and farm managers so we know when our services will be needed. Based on the farming season, the team goes to intensify its campaign and outreach to get new farmers on board. We also have operations and technicians on the field, who are always around to man the drones when needed. Beyond that, since some manual bird scarers are on the field, we train them on how to man the drone,” Silas said.
AiScarecrow technologies’ services also include crop protection, pest management consultancy, agrochemicals inputs, and using agricultural drone technology for spraying, mapping and for crop management. The team also deals in retail and wholesale of cereals like rice, maize, sorghums and millet.
Sustainable Development Goals
The team’s operations ultimately seek to contribute to SDGs 1,2,4,8. Their Operations ensure that farmers lose less to pest birds, thereby, have higher yields that can be sold to obtain a higher income. According to the team, some farmers lose almost 100 percent of their yield to pest birds but with their intervention, such challenges are reduced, ensuring that there’s food on the tables of all, thus, eliminating or curbing hunger, which is SDG 2, Zero Hunger.
For education, since some farmers engage children in bird-scaring exercising when they are supposed to be in school, AiScarecrow Technologies intervenes to allow the children return to the classroom.
Lastly, because the team operates in communities, they train some indigenes on how to man their special drones and ultimately recruit some of them, providing employment avenue in fulfillment of SDG 8 which stressed decent work and economic growth.
It is the vision of the team in the next five years to be the leading crop protection company in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“Interestingly with the bird pest scaring problem is not much of a Ghanaian issue, but mostly a Sub-Saharan Africa problem. These pest birds are in South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, and other places because of the tropics and the weather condition. However, there isn’t much intervention. It’s our vision to get to all these places and also expand to the aviation industry where they also face challenges with the birds,” he explained
According to Silas, a challenge the group face is that it has to build its devices locally but there are fewer available materials.
“Our first challenge was to build our devices on our own locally. After we won the competition in 2019, there was a lot of expectation on us. We shipped a whole lot of materials into the country to build our drones locally and COVID-19 sets in so we have to hold on for about a year,” he narrates.
Also, like other start-ups, inadequate finance has been another challenge for the team.
How government must support
For support, Silas said, government must assist start-ups by connecting them to already existing companies in line with their activities for mentorship purposes. He also said the move will give start-ups a shoulder to rest on, to learn from, make progress and scale up.
“This could follow with support in the form of funds. When this happens the government or investors are sure their monies will provide good results especially because these start-ups have some grounding and direction from the existing ones”.
The team also believes since adaptability to technology on the side of the farmers has been a challenge, to speed up progress in the sector, the Ministry of Agriculture or any relevant body should take up the role to educate farmers on some of the new technologies.
Advice for prospective entrepreneurs
“Everybody can be an entrepreneur but you need to be ready because it’s no joke. You should be ready to sacrifice, especially, during the first five years of the start-up so as to build the foundations firmly. You should be ready to leave your comfort zones for the success of the companies,” he advised.
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