African agriculture is faced with several challenges, among which include low productivity levels, uncertain weather conditions and problems with soil fertility. The level of crop yield depends on these factors. Raising the level of agricultural output is vital if hunger concerns are to be answered and profitability is to be raised to higher levels. The rise of precision agriculture in the continent might just be the solution to raising crop yield from the same level of input, such as land, seeds, water and fertilizers.
Precision agriculture refers to the use of modern technology to optimize the farming process, thereby ensuring a higher level of agricultural productivity from the same amount of seeds, same crop levels, and the same piece of land. The concept is centered on making better farming decisions by providing a better knowledge of soil conditions so as to raise crop yield and reduce waste. It provides farmers with invaluable information to ensure a high level of yield is arrived at, as well as when the weather and soil conditions are less than ideal for planting. These have the combined effect of better decision-making, ensuring the tendency to rely on uncertain weather conditions or make guesses about soil fertility are eliminated. Conclusively, precision farming, just like the word “precise,” simply points to accuracy in farming. The spread of this farming technique is spreading across Africa, with Zenvus playing a key role.
The process works through the electronic sensors placed in the soil of farmland to collect data on key attributes vital for planting such as humidity, pH, moisture, nutrient level and temperature. The data obtained from different farms are then scrutinized collectively according to location by the Zenvus team and then sent to the SmartFarm application on the farmers’ devices. Information relayed to the farmers is invaluable in making planting decisions, such as what to plant, when to plant and in what quantity, and what amount of fertilizer to use.
Furthermore, Zenvus Yield is another implementation made available. It allows farmers to take photos of their crops by means of a hyper-spectral imaging camera to monitor the crop for timely detection of potential pest and disease attacks. Photos are sent to the Zenvus team, who in turn respond through the SmartFarm application.
With these ingenious applications of technology to farming, Zenvus seems set to soar and dominate the African landscape for the near future.
However, even much more appealing about this awesome initiative is its multifaceted usage. Farming has linkages with other sectors, such as the food market, capital market and banking, insurance; and Zenvus incorporates these other services as part of its portfolio. In a continent like Africa, farmers are widely besieged with information asymmetries, incomplete and often inaccurate information about prices, difficulties in seeking out funds, problems in convincing prospective investors about profitability of their farms, slow and inefficient supply chains to consumers, issues with procuring insurance, and management difficulties. Interestingly, Zenvus is equipped with other features and services such as zCapital, zManager, zMarkets, zInsure, zPrices and zCrowdfund.
Empowering farmers through electronics and analytics
The mission of Zenvus is to eliminate extreme poverty in the emerging world especially Africa by improving crop yield and overall farming productivity.
- zCapital: acts as an online capital market, bringing farmers, lenders and investors together. Farmers upload business plans of opportunities on their farms on the platform, which can be viewed by prospective investors. For easy access to lenders, farms are classified by size, location and amount. Tracking inventory and supplies, noting events, sales, expenses and other management activities might be tedious for some farmers.
- zManager: performs the function of a diary and organizer, easing the management process for farmers. To speed up the rate of transactions, zMarkets does the job of creating an online agricultural output market for interaction of farmers and buyers. This has the effect of eliminating middlemen, thus reducing the rate of getting farm produce to consumers, thereby quickening the rate of transactions, and optimizing the supply chain.
- zInsure: provides a platform for farmers and insurance companies to interact.
- zPrices: is very useful in keeping touch with prices of agricultural products across several cities and markets. This helps in managing risks and preparing for eventualities.
- Lastly, zCrowdfund recognizes the fact that raising capital might be difficult, and as such, provides the option of raising capital from individuals, with a reward of promise from the farmer.
The services are available to use for free to farmers who have the Zenvus SmartFarm application installed in their devices. Nevertheless, Zenvus takes responsibility for bringing farmers in contact with buyers, investors, lenders and insurance companies. Transactions are carried out outside the platform. Only the use of zCrowdfund attracts charges in the form of a little percentage of all raised capital along with Zenvus handling payments.
Zenvus has spread to other African countries such as Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana. About 500,000 units have been supplied to Nigerian farmers, with more expected in the future.
A major challenge with Zenvus technology is the cost implication for smallholder farmers and as the technology costs between €175 and €525. Hopefully, partnership with the state governments is certain to bring about more procurement for Nigerian farmers in the near future by easing the price burden.
A similar initiative to Zenvus, UjuziKilimo, is already in use in Kenya, although it deals with irrigation concerns. Precision farming is here to stay, and more ideas to optimize farming by reducing waste and increasing yield are sure to be developed in future.
Alawode, O. & Reeve, S. (2019). Precision Agriculture. Available at https://spore.cta.int/en/innovation/all/article/nigerian-smallholders-farm-smart-with-soil-data-sid018de76a2-0945-428c-8b1c-9740ca852353
Do4Africa (2018). Project Description. Available at https://www.do4africa.org/en/projects/smart-economy/8206/zenvus-2/
Ekekwe, N. (2017). How Digital Technology is Changing Farming in Africa. Available at https://hbr.org/2017/05/how-digital-technology-is-changing-farming-in-africa
Zenvus (2016). The Zenvus Advantage │Data-Driven Farming. Available at https://www.zenvus.com