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Saving Namibia’s livestock industry – Part 8: Farming in the age of smart phones

Steve Carver illustrated the crucial role of cellular phones and an industrybased platform to transform the agricultural sector in Namibia.

As we live in a time of innovative and exciting electronic and technological development, the increase in business being conducted by means of today’s variety of mobile phones is not surprising. In this regard, Steve Carver presented an interesting and enlightening presentation at the Rangeland Forum in 2018.

The following is a summary of Steve Carver’s presentation: “Mobile phone technologies are presenting farmers with unprecedented opportunities to run their operations more productively and increase their income. It is radically changing the face of the world.” – Steve Carver, founder and chairman of Win:Win Earth pointed out the benefits of using technology for farm management and linking stakeholders in the industry to the farmer.

He explained that an industry platform would give farmers access to 35 years of satellite-based records for weather conditions and temperatures. It would also assist with crop and input choices, decrease risks, increase yields and revenues, and provide access to communications, technical advice, and crop insurance.

“Precision farming, the way we farm, the inclusivity of farmers and the inclusivity of women in farming is happening through mobile phones. It is one of the most important things in creating prosperity for residents of Africa.”

Grassland management

“The management of grasslands to ensure the regeneration of highquality grass for cattle to feed off can be achieved through Google Internet of Things.”

Steve explained that the ongoing movement of cattle and the management and timing of when to move them away from certain grazing areas is critical for the sustainability and productivity of grasslands. To this end, an App on mobile phones will give farmers information such as the location and stress levels of the animals. This data can then be downloaded onto a computer, for which a platform is created to enable farmers to manage their rangeland from anywhere.

Micro-jobbing

Steve stressed the importance of mobile phones in micro-jobbing, microlearning, and micro-financing. With the concept of micro-jobbing, people in remote areas can use a dynamic mobile platform that allows them to complete tasks. They are then rewarded for their efforts through a verification system. Win:Win Earth, for example, designed an App for 6 500 small-scale producers of chilli plants for the Tabasco product.

Through mobile phone photographs, producers are able to show evidence of the work they have done. Money is then transferred to them via their phones from the manufacturers. “This system also ensures traceability of the product. Today’s consumer wants authenticity, fairness, and trust. They also want to know that producers benefit from their purchases. It is not only about the product anymore; it is the stories about the product that are becoming valuable.”

The illustration above demonstrates how the simple task management and reward incentive platform works.

Earn and learn

“We discovered that education is more important than money for the young herders in northern Namibia. They want better jobs and better lives.”

According to Steve, the majority of the herders come from Zambia. They are also the lowest income earners in the country because of their illegal immigrant status. These workers can learn and, at the same time, earn money through incentive programmes. Additionally, their observations could be valuable for conservationists. They can, for example, report on snares and elephant and predator movements to create an animal warning system, as well as provide information on cattle. In this way, they can play a dual role in assisting with conservation as well as herding cattle.

Eye in the sky

Another powerful tool that can be used, especially in conservation, is the American military intelligence tool, Eye in the Sky, which picks up data from mobile phones. For example, if a mobile phone owner goes off a road for more than five minutes, alarms will go off, alerting conservationists of possible poaching activity.

Another way to use mobile phone information and social media in conser vation is by pulling together a series of photographs, taken by different people, of the same animal. Tracking animals becomes unnecessary because they can be geo-located on a map. In this way, information of an animal can be pooled and used.

Harvest Plus

After trials and projects which looked at using technology to increase yields and revenues of small-scale farmers, mitigate risk, improve food security, and achieve sustainable farming communities, were conducted in Mozambique and Malawi with approximately 30 000 farmers, Win:Win Earth developed a model called Harvest Plus.

This model is a web-based IT system and knowledge management platform that combines the critical aspects of the smallholder agri-business model and provides a dynamic, knowledgerich environment and system for all stakeholders and partners to interact in. The system includes technical data on soils, weather conditions, evapotranspiration, training, grower details, financial modelling, crop insurance, markets and pricing, communications, strategic analysis and reporting, and corporate social responsibility.

The system receives and combines live and updated satellite information, as well as data from leading international and research institutions, to allow for ‘real time’ analysis, scenario planning, forecasting and decision making, pre-planting and planting, and decision making support during the growing season. Feedback loops and data management through simple practical steps make it a powerful and dynamic business tool.

In addition, Harvest Plus provides farmers with a platform to address, manage, monitor, and report on major areas and challenges. This platform is important for farmers as it can assist them with achieving food security, increasing productivity and incomes, mitigating risk at multiple levels, managing social and environmental projects, and ensuring successful and sustainable farming.

By using Harvest Plus, farmers can correct input package selection and plan timely planting, which can result in significant maize yield increases of up to 50%.

“An advantage of Harvest Plus is that it picks up conditions that are not detectable with the naked eye through technology. For instance, it was found that marijuana plants have different chemical compositions at different altitudes,” Steve explained.

Steve concluded his presentation with the following wish: “We hope that our products will contribute to improved food security, economic growth, increased incomes and rural resilience, thereby positively impacting on the lives of millions of Africans.”

The conclusion: If done correctly, improved rangeland management can make the livestock industry more resilient, more profitable for the farmer, healthy for the consumer, good for the Namibian economy, and good for the planet.

*The National Rangeland Management Policy (NRMP) was approved in 2012. In 2014, the NRMPS Project was commissioned in support of this policy under the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF), to address the declining natural resource base in Namibia.

Extract from Reviving Namibia’s Livestock Industry, Regenerative livestock production trends, Key profit drivers, Case studies and recommendations, NRMP Best practice strategy document (revised edition from 2012 NRMPS), Based on Namibia Rangeland Management Policy (NRMP): A 2019 Edition.

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