Digital tools are starting to transforming agriculture. Much of this is centered on gathering data, and analyzing it, in order to make the necessary agronomic insights for precision farming. The idea of precision farming, as an essay published on the Forbes website explains, is a shift from the traditional concept of a farmer uniformly applying seeds, fertilizer and other inputs to a field; towards using data analytics to map the farming process with devices like soil sensors. Such devices can inform the farmer as how to and when to best plant seeds and fertilizer. By doing these tasks at a variable rate, according to soil characteristics then better crop yields can be obtained. Drones can also assist in the surveying of fields and the gathering of appropriate farming related metrics.
These are the types of ideas inspiring young farmers in Zambia. These younger people are eschewing the traditional path that graduates from rural areas take — to the cities — and they are instead seeking to improve their own communities. Farming is the most common occupation for rural Zambians and maize is the most common agricultural product.
One young farmer, Florence Simasiku, who is a 30-year-old cassava farmer of Kapongolo village in Mungwi, told the Zambia Daily Mail that “from the time I learnt better methods of farming, my yield has improved and I am making more money. This has created a sense of contentment and I no longer think of relocating.”
Better methods of farming include the use of sensors; data gathered about climate from satellites; and investment in infrastructure, to make the transport of goods in and out of rural areas easier. With sensors, automated systems can provide early warnings if there are deviations from normal growth or other factors. Such devices also help with crop management; devices can measure and analyze soil data, including key parameters like temperature, nutrients and vegetative health. Using this data, for instance, Zambian farmers can select the right fertilizer and optimally irrigate their farms.
The Internet too is helping to improve the way farmers communicate with each other and with other services. Vets, for example, can now be contacted more quickly to attend sick animals. A completely different technology is the use of solar powered drip irrigation kits that pump water from any source. An example of a device being sold in Africa is SunCulture:
Much of the drive to transform rural farming and to adopt new technologies has come from the Zambian government, according to another farmer, Gloria Hamweemba, who is 30 a young livestock farmer of Choma. Other innovations have come from young farmers themselves. For example, some farmers have come together to devise a social network for farmers with the intention of helping them market their products and obtain fair market pricing information, achieved easily via their mobile phones.