Agricultural technology: unlocking the agricultural potential


By Queenly Joy SMITH

The world today is developing at a rate faster than forecast, especially, on the wheels of technology. As the world economy would have it, technology has set the stage for disruptive innovation and practices fueling the enhancement of various sectors, while creating exceptional returns for stakeholders. Although one of the oldest industries in the world, the use of advanced technology like the Internet of Things (IOT) in the Agricultural industry is powering what we now call “The Fourth Agricultural Revolution”.

Agricultural technology, also known as Agritech/Agtech, involves the application of technology on a broad spectrum to maximize efficiency, quality, profitability and yield in agriculture, horticulture, and aquaculture. It spans the use of automated machinery (like combine harvesters and tractors) and farm management software on one end of the spectrum, to the more complex use of genetic engineering and agricultural robotics on the other end. Simply put, Agritech seeks to develop and harmonize farming practices and cultivation processes from “farm to fork”. As such, its role in a developing economy like Ghana’s in ensuring food security is of critical importance.

Emerging Agricultural Technology Trends

The world’s population is estimated to reach 9.8billion by 2050 according to a United Nation’s report. What this means is, we will have approximately 2billion extra mouths to feed in less than thirty years. Experts predict that the world will need 70% more protein to feed the future population than it currently holds. As such, in our bid to secure a sustainable future and ensure food security, agriculture cannot rely only on traditional farming methods.

AgriTech startups are springing up all over the world deploying IOT devices, drones, and other farm management systems to garner information resulting in the use of AI and Data Analysis to make data-driven decisions for farmers. Some evolving trends include the following:

  1. Precision Agriculture (PA)– a farm management concept which set out to “farm the soil” using a soil science base approach but has evolved into the use of large amounts of real-time data (collected via sensors placed on farm fields) to improve crop yield, reduce labor and increase efficiency and productivity. PA equips farmers with information and guidance on soil quality management i.e. which parts of their fields to apply fertilizers and pesticides, optimal planting times, moisture requirements, crop rotation, harvesting times, etc.
  2. Regenerative Agriculture (RA) – isthe regeneration of the soil to enhance food production. RA is an evolution of conventional agriculture that makes use of innovative technology-supported techniques to improve soil health and climate resilience, restore lost biodiversity and protect the land’s ecosystem. Its goal is to support global food systems to a large extent from the production of nutritious food, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance natural habitats and improve farmer livelihood. Under RA, farmers practice multi-crop farming (to prevent the stripping of nutrients from the soil), agroforestry and integration of livestock.
  3. Vertical Farming – referred to as the “saviour” in food cultivation by some, vertical (indoor) farming involves the growth of crops in vertically stacked layers/trays in a controlled environment. As opposed to the use of land and soil in traditional farming, crops are either grown in nutrient-dense water solution (hydroponics) or the roots of crops are suspended in the air and intermittently sprayed with water and nutrients (aeroponics). In this instance, factors like adverse weather conditions and lack of quality soil are eliminated. Vertical farming ensures consistent year-round crop growth.

Is Ghana ready for the agricultural revolution?

For decades, agriculture has been the backbone of Ghana’s economy providing a livelihood for a significant portion of the populace.  Agriculture is diverse, encompassing crop cultivation, livestock farming, fisheries, and agroforestry. Despite its significance to the GDP of the country, the sector faces many challenges mostly in outdated farming practices, limited to no access to modern technologies as well as the impact of climate change. Gladly, there is a current growing recognition of the need for a transformation in the sector to enhance productivity, ensure food security for the future and boost the overall economic development of the country.

Several indicators suggest that Ghana is on the brink of an agricultural transformation, albeit the road ahead is not without obstacles. The government has confirmed its commitment to agricultural development through initiatives like the Planting for Food and Jobs program which aims to increase food production, create jobs, and enhance farmer incomes. However, sustained efforts are required to address systemic administrative and monitoring issues plaguing such programs and ensure their long-term sustainability and success.

Agricultural transformation requires the adoption of modern technologies. While there is a growing interest in precision farming, agtech and other innovations, there is a need for increased investment in research and development as well as training programs to equip farmers with the necessary skills to harness these technologies effectively.

Inadequate infrastructure (i.e. transportation and storage facilities) remains a major barrier in this sector, more so to agricultural transformation in Ghana. Enhancing infrastructure is vital for reducing post-harvest losses, facilitating market access and promoting overall efficiency in the supply chain.

Lastly, climate change poses a threat to agriculture in Ghana, affecting crop yields and livestock productivity. Implementing climate-smart agricultural practices is vital to build resilience and mitigate the impact of changing weather patterns.

Ghana stands at a critical juncture in its agricultural journey, and the signs of readiness for the transformation are evident. However, addressing the challenges and ensuring a sustained commitment from all stakeholders, including the government, private sector and local communities is imperative.

Agricultural transformation holds the potential not only to enhance food security and economic growth but also improve the overall well-being of Ghana’s rural population. It is a collective responsibility to work towards a resilient, sustainable and modernized agricultural sector to propel the country to new heights on the global stage.

How can Ghana capitalize on these emerging agricultural trends?

Capacity Building and Education

To fully capitalize on emerging technology in agriculture, the importance of investment in capacity building and education programs cannot be over emphasized. Training farmers and other stakeholders in the industry on the use of new technologies will ensure that they can leverage these practices effectively.

Additionally, increasing farmer access to digital products like smart phones will encourage the adoption of agritech solutions. Currently, many farmers use feature phones (“yams”) while others have no access to phones at all. Access to these devices coupled with education and capacity building will fast track digital transformation in this sector.

AgTech Startups and Innovation Hubs

Encouraging the growth of agricultural technology startups and innovation hubs can drive the development and adoption of cutting-edge solutions. Ghana can foster a supportive ecosystem that facilitates collaboration between traditional agricultural practices and innovative technologies, promoting sustainable growth.

Drones and Satellite Imaging

Drones and satellite technology offer valuable insights for monitoring crop health, assessing field conditions and detecting potential issues. Ghanaian farmers can use these to survey large fields quickly, identify crop diseases and optimize irrigation and pesticide strategies.

As Ghana seeks to revolutionize its agricultural sector, embracing emerging agricultural technology trends is key to unlocking its full potential. The combination of precision farming, smart applications, blockchain, and other innovative solutions can contribute to increased productivity, sustainability, and overall economic growth.

By fostering a culture of innovation, investing in education, and promoting collaboration, Ghana can position itself at the forefront of the global agricultural technology landscape, ensuring a prosperous and resilient future for its farmers and the nation.

Queenly is the Vice-President, Agriculture & Soft Commodities – Stanbic Bank Ghana

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