Beaven Dhliwayo Features Writer
The area available for agriculture in the country is continuing to decrease.
If Zimbabwe wants to expand or maintain its current food output, there is need to increase productivity.
This, on the other hand, has to be maintained without imposing additional burden on the environment.
This calls for the country to adopt smart farming, just like what is happening in other countries.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), the agricultural sector is going to face enormous challenges in order to feed the 9,6 billion people that it predicts are going to inhabit the planet by 2050.
Zimbabwe must increase its food production to sustain its citizens, and this has to be achieved despite the limited availability of arable land, the increasing need of fresh water, and other less predictable factors such as the impact of climate change.
The above factors, according to a recent United Nations report, among other things, are contributing to changes in the life cycle of plants and animals.
Farmbuzz Agriculture Solutions chief executive officer Anesu Mapisa told The Herald that Zimbabwe needed to embrace the smart agriculture concept to produce high quantities that can sustain future populations.
“These new technologies will ensure quality agricultural products needed for export market and to feed the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.
“Smart farming is a management concept focused on providing the agricultural industry with the infrastructure to leverage advanced technology — including big data, the cloud and the Internet of things (IoT) — for tracking, monitoring, automating and analysing operations.”
Also known as precision agriculture, smart farming is software-managed and sensor-monitored.
According to IoT Agenda, an online blogging site, smart farming is growing in importance due to the combination of the expanding global population, the increasing demand for higher crop yield, the need to use natural resources efficiently, the rising use and sophistication of information and communication technology and the increasing need for climate-smart agriculture.
Going forward, Mapisa said Government should target young aspiring farmers and those in local tertiary institutions.
“Zimbabwe tertiary institutions should also start to expose students to these new technologies in the agriculture sector. The incubation hubs which are being established now should include these technologies.
“Smart farming should start at university and college farms. We need students that are innovative, and that is how as a country we can be able to sustain ourselves.”
This is the way to go as it will make farming look cool to youths.
Young people should learn that there is another way to farming, unlike the traditional methods where one has to endure long hours of manual labour.
For example, they should have an appreciation that they can now use their smart phones to do a number of farm duties, such as controlling irrigation systems, soil testing and also finding markets to sell their produce.
Instead of carrying 20-litre knapsacks, they can use spraying drones which they can control in the comfort of their farm homes.
Although other countries like India, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana and Bolivia have embraced smart farming successfully, the adoption of technologies for sustainable farming systems in Zimbabwe is still a challenge for farmers, extension services, agri-businesses and policymakers.
For instance, mobile technology is increasingly being used to improve smallholder farming across Kenya as it holds considerable potential to improve operations, reduce weather-related and post-harvest losses, and offers an efficient and transparent means to distribute millions of tonnes of state-subsidised equipment and supplies.
The debate is already on, and as a nation there is need to be aggressive and employ a wide range of evolving technologies and farm structures.
This is vital for the country to meet a variety of changing and heterogeneous demands from consumers and the public for food, fibre and other goods and services provided by agriculture.
In the near future, demand for agricultural produce is inevitable and it’s high time the country adopts technologies that will help to increase production.
The world over, farmers are adopting new technologies as a cost-cutting measure. In advanced countries, greater knowledge is driving consumers to demand low-cost food of higher quality produced through organic methods.
Organic methods will help the country to increase variety of crops, consistently all year round.
At the same time, just like in other countries, consumers in Zimbabwe will also start demanding that their food be produced using techniques that conserve natural resources, limit environmental pressures and pay greater attention to rural viability and animal welfare.
To achieve this, Government intervention is needed urgently from facilitation to a mandatory role that includes, but is not limited to direct funding for research, payments for dissemination and adoption, legal restrictions, information and advice.
Agricultural policies and the level of support remain key to what technologies are to be adopted in the country. There is also need for collaboration with the private sector and other development partners to boost the country’s research efforts, farmer education and training.
There is a shift from the traditional ways of farming where the focus of research was to increase production and profits, but now due to climate change, prominence is on achieving the same in a more sustainable way.
This literally means changing the traditional farming practices and adopting new technologies. Historically, research was often directed at solving technical problems, but now it is more aligned to what technologies can be adopted to address current and future demands by society in a more sustainable way.
Smart farming and IoT-driven agriculture are the future and Zimbabwe should not be left behind.