Cutting-edge technology is raising life security in Africa to new levels

Agriculture and healthcare see benefits from innovations

Real-time data can enhance crop yields, soil quality analysis, tracking of livestock, farm security management, sustainable pest control and reduction of post-harvest wastage.
Real-time data can enhance crop yields, soil quality analysis, tracking of livestock, farm security management, sustainable pest control and reduction of post-harvest wastage.
Image: Gallo images

In Africa, the internet of things (IoT) plays an increasingly important role in sectors like agriculture and healthcare. Traditionally the provider of voice, data connectivity and mobile payments solutions, the telecommunication sector is now using technology to build an entire ecosystem around the individual consumer.

Ultra-modern technologies and applications that leverage our hyper-connected lives are being piloted as commerce, the full range of financial services, social media and entertainment are conducted and consumed on one platform.

In the developed world, this enables Smart cities, homes, manufacturing and a range of other connected industries and services. In developing Africa, it’s enhancing livelihood security and access to basic healthcare services.

Agriculture in Africa is being affected by climate change and water shortages, yet there is a growing population in need of sustainable food security and greater financial inclusion.

The World Bank and African Development Bank report that there are 650m mobile users in Africa, surpassing the number in the US and Europe. This draws upon the fact that many African countries have extremely high cellphone penetration – a key condition in driving digital inclusion across the continent. Although the cost of data can still be high, the agency adds that some African countries have more access to a mobile phone than to clean water, a bank account or electricity.

These high levels of connectivity and cellphone penetration means that farmers can benefit from real-time data. This can materially enhance crop yields, soil quality analysis, resource management, tracking of livestock, farm security management, sustainable pest control and reduction of post-harvest wastage.

To leverage the power of the IoT, MTN, present in 19 African countries, has partnered with Aotoso Technology in a proof-of-concept process to provide connected collars for cattle in the Sudanese cattle market .

Using SIM cards on the collar, farmers can, using their cellphones, get vital information about the cattle, which they can use to inform feeding and breeding strategies as well as prevention of cattle theft, even in rural areas.

Orange, present in 16 countries in Africa, has co-developed Wazihub, an IoT innovation project that helps mainly informal sector farmers with monitoring their livestock and crops for better disease detection and irrigation strategies.

Vodacom, present in seven countries in Africa, has MyFarmWeb which collects data from multiple IoT sensors across the farm; the data is then collated centrally on an App and can be used to make crucial decisions.

Rooted 77 Farms in eastern Free State in SA use MyFarmWeb and its precision farming technology to gather data in farming corn, soybeans, and sugar beans. This is done by placing sensors across the farming lands measuring soil quality, weather forecasts and yield data.

These solutions have been rolled out over 3,600 farming operations in Africa. Similarly in Kenya the founders of AgriTech innovator UjuziKilimo, have combined the IoT to enhance their farming operations by using fast, informed and data-driven decisions.

You can use sensors to measure the pH levels of soil as well as soil nutrient levels. This allows farmers to plant the right crops in the right soil and ultimately produce higher quality produce. The ability to use technology to improve decision-making for small-scale farmers was critical.

Another area where the IoT can have profound impacts in Africa, is healthcare. Covid-19 accelerated digitalisation across all industries, none more so than healthcare.

Vodacom’s technology subsidiary IoT.nxt developed a thermal camera to help businesses track and manage the spread of Covid-19. Another Vodacom company called Mezzanine, developed mVacciNation solution – an electronic health record solution that supports vaccination coverage – SA’s national department of health uses mVacciNation to support its Covid-19 vaccination programme. Mezzanine, through IoT, also helps actively track movements and stock levels of PPE and other vital healthcare materials.

In SA, regulations were relaxed for virtual consultations and also now allow virtual medicine prescriptions. Discovery reported a 1,000% increase in online consultations last year.

Hospital Group, Netcare, notes a trend of participatory health and care where patients are increasingly shifting towards wellbeing, wellness, convenience and integrated personalised healthcare. IoT, which serves as an important enabler of this trend, will become part of the fabric of society.

Nana is head of telecommunications, media and technology at Absa Corporate and Investment Banking 

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