A farmer’s fortunes bloom and wither with the seasons. It can be precarious work, and a bad year can leave fields barren and grain sheds empty – slim pickings on which to survive until the next harvest.
More than half of working Africans have jobs in agriculture, but poor infrastructure, inadequate tools and a lack of investment have left the continent’s mostly small-scale farms struggling to feed a growing population. Now, a wave of technological solutions is aiming to help.
Flying to the rescue
In Ghana, a company called Acquahmeyer rents out drones that help small-scale farmers check the health of crops and use pesticide only where it is needed, reducing pollution and health risks.
“Ghanaian vegetables were not making it to the EU countries because of pesticide residues on the fruit and vegetables,” says chief operations officer Kenneth A. Nelson.
With drones, farmers can identify pests and disease to determine exactly which crops need spraying, Nelson says. Thanks to the reduced use of chemicals (pesticide use dropped 50 percent in some cases), it’s easier for farmers to meet EU countries’ regulatory limits.
Acquahmeyer is now working with 8,000 farmers, who pay $5 to $10 per acre, about 6 times a year, to assess their crops and soil and apply pesticides. Each drone costs $5,000 to $15,000 to build and can spray 10,000 acres a year.
The company started in June 2018 with two drones and now has 10. It makes an annual profit of $15,000 to $30,000 per drone, after operations and administration costs. With more than 15 million hectares (37 million acres) of agricultural land in Ghana, demand for drones is only growing, says Nelson.
Acquahmeyer’s strategy of training locals to pilot and repair the aircraft is helping fuel interest in the company and its growth, says Nelson. “In every farming community we have ambassadors for our company who are pilots and we are creating jobs,” he says. “We want to make sure that technology and agriculture becomes an exciting job.”
In Uganda, urban development has been blamed for eating into agricultural land just as population growth is boosting demand for food.
More than 1.6 million people live in the capital, Kampala, where levels of malnutrition are rising, according to the United Nations. To combat the problem, some city dwellers are growing their own food and selling it.
Diana Nambatya Nsubuga, who has a Ph.D. in public health, opened Kwagala Farm with her husband in their half-acr