Innovative UK agri-tech support farming in Africa

Innovative UK agri-tech support farming in Africa
Credit: Shutterstock.com/ Nolanberg11

An innovative digital farming system is helping to increase yields across thousands of hectares of farmland in southern Africa while also creating new jobs locally and in the UK.

AgSpace Agriculture’s new GRID system gives farmers access to the most advanced agricultural satellite mapping and analysis available, backed by independent agronomic advice.

The information helps producers to make better management decisions and allows them to offer evidence of their crops’ performance to financial providers to gain access to credit and insurance.

GRID was developed under a two-year European Space Agency-backed project involving AgSpace, Agri-EPI Centre and Rhiza. It is the first tool on the market specifically allowing farmers and financial providers to track crop performance.

There has been rapid uptake of the product following its launch earlier this year. It is now operational in nine African countries, and involves financial providers including Standard Bank. Further expansion is predicted to create up to 775 jobs between the UK and Africa by 2024.

“Some 80% of the African workforce makes a living from agriculture but many are crippled by a lack of access to financial products to develop their businesses. Price fluctuations for inputs and products, along with crop failure, due to pests, diseases, temperature or variable rainfall, hold the entire agricultural ecosystem back,” said AgSpace Director, Vince Gillingham.

“It is very difficult for credit providers to measure risk in the face of such variables without good data from farmers. GRID offers a precision data-driven opportunity for overcoming this barrier, giving providers the evidence and confidence they need to support farmers in increasing yields, growing their farms and ultimately contributing to wider economic development.”

GRID uses high resolution satellite data to monitor crop performance while providing local weather data for every farm on an hourly basis. It provides soil mapping and soil health monitoring, supports fertiliser planning for increased efficiency and higher yields and calculates yield predictions.

Farmers access agronomy advice by smart phone to improve production while financial providers use the same satellite data to monitor crop performance and build a clear picture of each farm, whatever its size and however remote.

Francesco Feliciani, Head of the Commercial Applications Section of ESA, said: “We are convinced that GRID is a game changer in supporting farmers and associated financial services to understand the performance of farming businesses virtually everywhere in the world. This is key especially in times challenged by extreme weather events.

“We have directly witnessed how the GRID service is used by farming companies in Africa, and we are fascinated by its capability to turn complex datasets and analytics into easy to understand information through a very intuitive and appealing user interface.”