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Farmers in AfricaEstimates predict there will be over nine billion people on the planet by 2050. Of that increase in population, half will be born in Africa. In order to feed the world, food production must increase by 70% in that time. Farmers in Africa are looking for ways to adapt.

When investigating this problem of the future, it is interesting to note that nearly three-quarters of farm production happens on a small scale. There is roughly a small-scale farmer that produces a bulk of this food, and many of them are in need of assistance. The agrarian way of life is common, but not very prosperous across Africa. There is already an abundance of demand, but many African farmers are struggling to produce. Digital innovations are spreading and now helping farmers become more efficient. Here are three apps helping farmers in Africa boost their potential.

WeFarm

WeFarm is a networking app, comparable to LinkedIn or Facebook, but designed specifically for African farmers. A majority of their customer base is in Kenya and Uganda with over a million members in the two countries.

WeFarm helps to disseminate information among farmers. It gives a platform for farmers to connect and crowdsource solutions form their peers. By creating an ecosystem for these farmers to communicate and share best practices, farms will grow to be more efficient.

Many people living in more remote regions of Africa do not have adequate internet access. WeFarm can be used to communicate without internet access. The app facilitates communication across SMS which is much more prevalent than internet access in rural areas for some African countries, so more farmers can get plugged into the conversation.

CowTribe

CowTribe is an award-winning app and a boon for livestock farmers in Africa, particularly in Botswana where cattle account for 85% of agriculture.

This app helps owners take care of their animals’ health very effectively. The app monitors health record, reminds about due vaccinations, connect farmers with vaccinations, and can connect farmers with veterinary assistance. With CowTribe, every $1 spent on vaccination leads to $29 of revenue per year.

As of now, the app keeps track of 240,000 cows belonging to 29,000 different farmers. There are millions of farmers who can benefit from this app, and the membership rate is anticipated to grow 40% year over year.

Modisar

Modisar is another prize-winning app that has brought a new level of sophistication to its farmers in Botswana. The app requires a computer or laptop but can run without an internet connection, which is again very useful for remote, rural regions. Modisar is a platform that helps a farmer understand and better manage their farm. It maintains farm records, keeps track of inventory and livestock, and sends reminders for tasks that need completion. One of the greatest features Modisar offers is an expense and profit tracker. This allows farmers to see their financial history and can educate them on how to increase profits in the future.

Modisar also maintains a library of articles relating to best farming practices, so that farmers have other resources to troubleshoot and further educate themselves. The database also has a photo gallery of different diseases, that a farmer may consult when an unknown infection springs up in the crop. Modisar won the Orange Social Venture Prize in 2014 and has continued helping farmers since.

There is a menagerie of apps helping farmers in Africa with new ones releasing every year. There are seemingly many identical apps in the growing library of farm assistants, but many operate in different regions and have their own unique following. Agriculture, one of the oldest human endeavors, coupled with digital technology growing many small farmers in African countries.

– Brett Muni
Photo: Pxhere

Food Security and Innovation ProgramAs the world encounters one issue after another, food insecurity increases in countries with inadequate resources or less-than sufficient agriculture systems. With the pandemic at the helm and climate change an ongoing phenomenon, to survive these stressful times, innovative strategies are necessary. In this advanced society, new ways are necessary to process, distribute and reshape food production. Connections between food security and innovation seem far-fetched, but the United Arab Emirates/UAE’s food security and innovation program has found state-of-the-art techniques that relieve their people of this struggle.

Key Constraints Facing Food Security

The UAE aims to rank in the top 10 in the Global Food Security Index by 2021, and number one by 2051. In this arid region, however, traditional farming is next to impossible from limited water for irrigation and an unequal ratio between people and the UAE’s production. Due to these hardships, the country is reliant on its imports. For a food-dependent country, when disaster hits, food systems are unstable.

While there are several reasons for poor food production in the UAE, the scarcity of water contributes heavily. Most of the water in the country is recycle and reused, but this process can only occur for a given amount of time. Given that traditional agriculture utilizes a significant amount of water, UAE’s food security and innovation program is the answer. . To combat the issue of their unstable food system, the UAE has set up the FoodTech Challenge. This global competition seeks out innovative solutions for the country to address food production and distribution.

Vertical Farming: An Innovative Farming Technique

In response to the FoodTech Challenge, the company Smart Acres has provided a technique that utilizes vertical farming to support the UAE’s food security and innovation program. Vertical farming consists of vertically stacked plants, providing more produce per square area, resembling green walls as displayed in shopping centers. Smart Acres used South Korean vertical farming technology to decrease water usage and monitor temperature and nutrients. Regarding the UAE’s water issue, vertical farms save over 90% of the water in comparison to conventional farming methods. The constant flow of water across the plants provides the necessary nutrients for all the plants to grow. This high-tech design allows the company to produce clean crops without any chemicals and negligible interference.

Although the farm has not been implemented yet, this form of food production is expected to produce 12 cycles of crops annually; the farm will expand from Abu Dhabi to the rest of the country gradually. By using vertical farming, this technique expects to produce approximately 8,000 kilograms of lettuce and other leafy greens per cycle. In addition to the increased number of crops, the variety is also expected to increase and include items, such as strawberries, arugula, potatoes, etc.

Aquaculture Farming: Decreasing the Dependence of Imports

On average, the UAE consumes 220,000 tons of fish annually. However, imported food is 90% of the UAE’s diet, suggesting that advancements in the country’s aquaculture would be beneficial. To aid the seafood industry in the UAE, the Sheikh Khalifa Marine Research Center has taken the responsibility to use advanced technology to harvest marine organisms. The center utilizes photo-bioreactors to generate food for juvenile fish.

In addition to manufacturing primary live food for marine organisms, UAE’s food security and innovation program also include water recycling technologies, where water is cycled through fish tanks to reduce water consumption. To make aquaculture a more efficient and sustainable system in the country, the center is establishing a disease diagnostic laboratory, which will reduce the number of disease-related deaths associated with marine life.

While many countries face tumultuous times currently, UAE’s food security and innovation program seems to be a ticket out of poverty. Through the FoodTech Challenge, the country has found multiple viable options to strengthen its food system. With water scarcity, a large problem regarding food production, both vertical and aquaculture farming, has found a way to recycle the limited water and attend to other problems the UAE faces, such as dependence on imports from other countries. The challenge is open to the entire country, increasing the country’s opportunity in establishing a sustainable system. Through these systems, the UAE’s food security and innovation program is well on its way to stabilizing its food security and achieving its goal as a titleholder in the Global Food Security Index.

Aditi Prasad
Photo: Flickr

Vertical Farms
As developing countries slowly modernize, a whole new set of challenges await them. One of those challenges is increased urbanization.

Urbanization is a symptom of modernity that is usually accompanied by a decrease in overall poverty.

As countries implement 21st century medical care and sanitation systems, populations have increased in well-being and life span, which can result in overpopulated cities. As cities become more and more populated, resources will become more scarce. This is especially true for food availability.

Luckily, a new brand of farming is coming to fruition that will help address the problems associated with increased urban populations; it’s called vertical farming.

Vertical farming removes the farms from traditional fields and places them in warehouses several stories high. This allows producers to place farms directly in the cities and away from the drought and disease that normally threatens reliable crop yields. Utilizing hydroponic water systems and LED lighting, the farms provide the ideal environment for plant growth. The LED lights further allow the farmers to dial in the specific spectrum of light ideal to that plant. Fluorescent lights were initially used but proved to be too inefficient.

As LED lights have become more cost effective, they have created the ideal environment for vertical farms. Farmers are even able to program the light to change throughout the day, mimicking the movement and intensity of the actual sun.

The efficiency of LED lights is not where it could be, however. Many farms currently use lights that operate at about 28% efficiency though engineers are developing LEDs that operate at 68% efficiency.

For example, in the Netherlands, engineers at Phillips have successfully created an LED that operates at 150% efficiency.

The beauty of vertical farms is their ability to be greener, more cost efficient and sustainable. Imagine a world where India has vast swaths of its cities dedicated to vertical farming; the amount of relief that could provide to impoverished individuals is staggering.

An example of vertical farming’s potential can be found in Scranton Pennsylvania. Soon, it will have the world’s largest vertical farm composed of a single story building with racks consisting of six levels. The farm will be able to house 17 million plants.

When one considers the challenges urbanization will bring to developing nations, vertical farming presents itself as a panacea.

The U.N. predicts that by the year 2050, there will be 6.25 billion people living in cities. As such, food production will have to increase 70% globally to sustain 2.3 billion people.

The U.N. also predicts that reliance on traditional, “resource-intensive” agricultural products will continue to grow, consisting mainly of livestock and dairy products.

Vertical farms present an opportunity for the world community to truly address hunger. With billions of people expected to occupy world cities in the coming decades, the demand for food will only increase. Vertical farms growing food locally, in a sustainable environment has a chance to provide food for millions who otherwise would go hungry.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: BBC, New Scientist, World Bank
Photo: Amazon