An "agricultural renaissance" of higher yields, lower costs and improved nutritional value of foodstuffs is possible for the agricultural economy of the Western Cape, if the agricultural sector, government and educational institutions work together to reap the benefits of smart technologies that emerge in the fourth industrial sector. Revolution (4IR).
This is according to research by Angus Bowmaker-Falconer, an employee at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).
His research shows that one of these benefits of the 4IR is the potential for smart water technology to dramatically reduce the use of agricultural water in the drought-affected province, while maintaining and even improving the production level. The Western Cape Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) commissioned the study.
"Agriculture and agri-processing are strategically important sectors for the Western Cape, because of their large absorption of unskilled labor and their economic contribution that accounts for more than 10% of the regional economy, more than half of exports, and 20 % of the South, agricultural production in Africa, "says Bowmaker-Falconer.
The "agri renaissance" scenario developed by the USB researchers sees agriculture embracing technology such as farm management software, precision agriculture and predictive data analysis, allowing producers to use robotics and drones to monitor crop health, soil quality and weather.
In this best-case scenario, agriculture will benefit from the innovations of the digital economy, such as blockchain technology to ensure the traceability of products; and concepts such as the sharing economy and crowdfunding to stimulate the development of commercially viable small-scale farmers and agri-entrepreneurs.
By using the smart and interconnected technologies of the new industrial era, agriculture in the Western Cape has the ability to reposition its brand.
However, Bowmaker-Falconer warns against the creation of a digital divide, in which only certain role players benefit from 4IR opportunities.
He expressed his concern about job losses, especially in semi- and unskilled labor, that technology enables the creation of new types of jobs and that education and training should be given priority in the government response to changes caused by the 4IR.
5 important elements
The researchers provide five key recommendations for an integrated and comprehensive response that will enable agriculture in the Western Cape to adapt, shape and exploit the potential of this disruption.
First, the WCDoA must align its vision and strategic initiatives to accelerate the growth of the agro-economic output with the desired end state of agricultural renaissance, says Bowmaker-Falconer, and working with educational institutions in the province. to develop digital skills and skills for the agricultural sector.
The second important recommendation is that agriculture is concerned with the increasing influence of consumers, who are better informed and the demand for products is changing as a result of concerns about food safety, quality and nutrition, fair trade and traceability of products by origin, and use of chemicals in production and processing.
The researchers recommend that producers turn to blockchain technology to enumerate their products and provide verifiable information for tracking the origin of food.
They found that an accelerated introduction of technology into agriculture, the third recommendation, requires a widespread program for communication and dissemination of information about new technologies and their impact by suppliers, producers, government and scientists.
The development of commercially viable farmers with small farmers is a key element in securing a sustainable future for agriculture in the Western Cape, and the focus of the fourth set of recommendations.
Bowmaker-Falconer said that the government should develop the conditions to support both newcomers and existing small farmers.
Small farmers must use concepts such as the sharing economy and crowdfunding to explore the pooling of resources and the creation of networks to increase their ability to produce on a commercially viable scale, he said.
Finally, he says, the 4IR offers the possibility to "reposition agriculture as a brand".
"The agricultural value chain offers a variety of exciting and interesting career opportunities to be explored, from food and animal science to marketing and management, economics and technology," he says.
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