The farming industry has a substantial position in the continent’s economy, contributing to about 35% of the gross domestic product. Additionally, it provides a source of livelihood for more than half of the continent’s population, which is a much higher share than in any other developing country.
No matter how important agriculture is in the continent’s economy, the development of this industry in Africa remains at a low level on the world stage. It means that farming here has the lowest level of productivity. Small landowners dominate, and their products are mainly for their own consumption. The added value per employee in the industry is about a quarter of the global average.
The lack of crop and livestock production integration maintains low-productivity systems across much of the continent. Traditionally, sedentary growers live separately from their nomadic pastoral neighbors, which means that in large areas of the continent, farmers cannot use animals for draft power or obtain manure for fertilizer. In many areas, mixed farming is also hampered by pests, including the tsetse fly.
The average use of farming machinery on the continent is the lowest globally. It has increased very little since the 1960s. In connection with this fact, one can note the enormous potential for promoting economic development in Africa through agribusiness development. However, this requires increasing industry productivity.
The Role of Satellite Technologies
Applying cutting-edge technology in agricultural systems provides critical data sets at the touch of a button. Despite all the threats associated with climate change, pests, and other factors, access to data remains limited. Local farmers often rely on previous generations and fellow growers’ guidance for information on growing various crops.
African farmers need quick access to information and tools to tackle challenges and seize new opportunities. Thanks to the data revolution driven by new technologies, including agricultural satellite images, smallholder farmers (60% of the continent’s population) will have easy access to vital data on crop health and solutions to improve their farming practices.
Farmers can now use a combination of satellite-derived remote sensing biophysical parameters, historical data, and machine learning techniques to monitor crop growing conditions and make better decisions to improve productivity.
Agriculture satellite imagery can provide a wide range of information, including harvest expectations, and trend analysis of geophysical and biophysical parameters such as land surface temperature, precipitation, and vegetation indices. These factors are crucial to crop growth and provide much more valuable information for decision-makers to make effective forecasts regarding food production.
Satellite imagery for agriculture is a reliable way to get extensive coverage and accessible data. Without these two points, it’s hardly possible to forecast and protect farms from uncertain weather conditions accurately. Natural weather conditions affecting crop growth, tillage, or even the expected harvest are common for most African farmers.
However, the effects of climate change are already being felt, and different regions now experience varying rainfall patterns, leading to yield losses. These losses can result in new attacks of pests and diseases in areas that have never been encountered.
Despite these challenges, farm satellite imagery helps to mitigate the risks connected to erratic weather conditions that can lead to reduced crop yields on the continent and unstable food security situations.
AI & Farming in Africa
Artificial intelligence can help transform the agricultural sector in Africa, which is especially important due to the pressures of climate change. It is a powerful tool that can help to increase crop yields, improve market access, and reduce food waste.
AI technologies can also be used to make informed resource management decisions and gain a deeper understanding of the land. It means that AI-based analytics of satellite imagery in agriculture can help to detect changes in soil conditions, plant development, and water availability. This information is precious for making effective decisions about where and when to plant crops and how to manage available resources.
AI has the potential to reduce food waste significantly. By analyzing sensor data, AI-powered systems can accurately determine the ideal time for harvesting, selling, or processing food. It is a good chance for farmers to increase their profits and minimize the amount of produce they waste.
Artificial intelligence can assist producers in accessing markets and boosting their income by matching them with buyers and providing them with pricing information and other valuable resources. It can enable farmers to make more informed crop decisions, leading to increased profits and more sustainable agriculture.
AI has many benefits, but to take full advantage of them, governments and organizations on the continent need to invest in technology development. It requires financial and technical resources. It is also only possible to do with understanding the needs of growers.
Climate Change and Satellite Technologies in Africa
Climate change presents a significant challenge to the development of agriculture in regions across the globe. In Africa, this challenge is particularly pressing as it threatens the well-being of millions of rural poor in areas such as food security, nutrition, and sustainable governance. With effective agricultural adaptation strategies in place, the continent will be protected from the far-reaching impacts of climate change.
Hydrometeorological hazards, namely floods and droughts triggered by climate change, have the most severe and destructive impact on the industry. Many African countries routinely respond to floods and droughts after the damage was done. However, the response action in this situation is expensive, and slow, and fosters a culture of dependency.
Using satellite imagery for agriculture shifts the focus from response to planning and pre-preparing response solutions. In this way, consequences can be eliminated faster and more efficiently. Data from orbit also allows monitoring of various indicators, including soil moisture, rainfall, and vegetation health. The information collected for an extended period can be used to predict crop yields and pasture conditions.
Thanks to technological development, farmers can also get their hands on social protection and insurance mechanisms that are activated at an early stage depending on the observed condition of their crops. Monitoring and tracking agricultural production from space using pictures of farming fields, predicting crop yields, and responding to natural disasters on time could have a massive impact on improving food security in African countries.