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Opinions of Saturday, 28 March 2020

Columnist: Fred Kukubor

Coronavirus – A changing world and a changing approach to agriculture


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For decades, digital innovation has grown exponentially and become a bigger part of human lives and businesses across all sectors. This has changed how the world interacts and conducts businesses, even how we socialize. There is no doubt that digital innovation has the potential of massively impacting on agriculture. It will revamp the traditional means of agriculture making it a more viable business for the youth to fit in the declining workforce of the old with a knack for digital.

COVID 19 – reminder for digital connectivity

Did anyone think of how a global pandemic could totally confine the world into a digital theatre in just a week? The recent pandemic, COVID-19 has raised a lot of eye brows in the global economy. Indeed the days and times of technology have dawned on us much faster than we anticipated. Over the years, quite a number of health epidemics have plagued our world - SARS, Ebola, etc. and now Coronavirus. What does the current COVID -19 mean to agriculture? The following implications are envisaged;

1. Severe food shortage & hunger: There could be potential severe food shortages in the system as there would be limited farm hands to work on farms. This ultimately could lead to massive hunger, food insecurity and poverty impacting negatively on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

2. Agribusinesses/SMEs shutdown: Small and Medium Enterprises are likely to fold up due to the epidemic as human capital needed for business continuity will be limited or scarce.


3. Loss of Agricultural jobs/Skilled Labour: Most agribusinesses, especially commercial farms that thrive on sales of their produce could be forced to lay off workers if return on investment is poor. This would go a long way to affect many lives and livelihoods.

4. Logistics and supply: Worldwide many other governments are now introducing measures such as border closures and restrictions on the movement of people, which have an impact on transport, carriers and trade. Long term supply of agricultural raw materials to processing companies and multinationals could be affected and this will negatively impact businesses.

5. New farming ideas will be lost due to poor enabling environment to thrive.

Precision Agriculture - way to go:

Precision agriculture, in recent times, has been proposed as the way to go to advance agricultural sustainability. However, it has taken us lots of time to embrace this new approach – there has been quite a number of applications and software that have been proposed years back for industries to invest in.

However, it did not receive the needed attention and investment. Today, we are facing the repercussions of our actions to deeply drive the technology inclusion. In these trying times, access to food is extremely important.

There is a potential food crisis if private companies, producers and government do not act swiftly. Experts in the health sector have warned for the world to brace up for even more daring health crisis in the future. This calls for a pragmatic solution in preparedness for any other outbreak rather than an ad-hoc response to pandemics. The COVID-19 indeed is a wake-up call to prepare for health crisis and at the same time creating access to food.

To meet the growing demand for food, there will be the need to quickly modify our production systems. These include:

- Increased mechanization in our production systems to reduce human interface -Though this has implications on human labour, it is a far safer approach in times like this and ultimately will ensure efficiency and effectiveness.

- Increased use of farm technology – drones, farm apps, satellite monitoring of crop performance etc.

- Improved logistics and supply chain system – Need to revisit the block chain technology. Blockchain technology also offers a platform, in the industry, for securing production data, measurement values or properties in a register, in an unalterable fashion; contracts or agreements that have been agreed to, which can then be saved. It allows transactions between companies without intermediaries.

- Electronic cash system – Physical handling of cash promotes corruption in most business operations. Money also acts as a good vector for transmission of contagious diseases, eg. COVID-19. Cashless operations has been proposed way back and it is almost the norm in developed countries.

However, downstream here in Africa, it is taking a snail pace. We need to increase sensitization and awareness creation, particularly in rural areas, to promote electronic payment system. Grain Discovery, AgriDigital and GrainChain are successful examples of block chain technology in agriculture.

- Modify agribusiness training approaches and development – It’s about time agribusinesses and other institutions transition from face-to-face to online training such as the use of webinars, podcast, instructional videos, and producing audiovisual training content. Indeed, digital distance learning cannot entirely replace face-to-face training.

However, methodologies and technologies are now available to achieve a highly satisfactory quality of training, as seen for several years in such initiatives by many universities around the world.

A new world view

Clearly, the COVID-19 crisis will change our world view and approaches to businesses. It has drawn us much closer to the digital space, ready or not! We should expect an upsurge in online marketing, training and production systems.

There will be automated agricultural operations where large scale producers are likely to work from the comfort of their home just by the click of a button! Robotics would have much more space and relevancy in agricultural systems. Skilled labour in computer programming will be the order of the day and highly fetched for by agribusinesses.

Indeed companies, especially, multinationals that depend on agricultural raw materials cannot help but to alter their supply chain and align with block chain systems. It is now time to put actions in place to accelerate digital innovation in agriculture to secure the future of livelihoods and help businesses to thrive globally.

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