Local farmers leverage digital solutions to strengthen food security

*Poor internet access remains a stumbling block

A wholly citizen owned farm in Serinane in the Kweneng area is pioneering digital technologies to address food production in a series of paid for webinars on how to grow a range of vegetables.

Since digital solutions were incorporated at the farm in June this year, a total of 65 people have been trained online.

The farm director, Onkemetse Neo Seate- a Business graduate from the University of Botswana, explained in an interview that they grow a variety of vegetables in addition to breeding goats and cattle.

The farm started operations in 2014, with the objective “to transform farming to be more appealing to the society especially young people”, among others. 

Living up to its founding objectives, the farm has since inception hosted conventional workshops annually to equip farmers and those aspiring to venture into the sector with the dos and don’ts of the game. However, due the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, this years’ edition could not happen physically- hence Senela Farm migrated farming to the digital space.

Seate who studied Potato Technologies at Hubei Vocational College of Bio Technology in Wuhan, China- told African Agriculture that the realisation that COVID-19 threatens food production and security motivated them to explore digital agriculture.  She explains that this notion refers to the use of new and advanced technologies, integrated into one system, to enable farmers and other stakeholders within the agriculture value chain to improve food production.

At the moment, Senela Farm, some 39 kilometres west of Molepolole- is training online users on potato production.  The potato experts says everyone could be a potato farmer as the vegetable can be grown on limited spaces using sacks, containers and tyres.

“This is mostly ideal for backyards, urban and small places. Next week we will be conducting online training on commercial potato production. Since we started in June 2020 we have trained 65 people online. The aim is to continue to cover many topics that affect farmers,” says Seate.

Following potato production training which ends last week of July, Senela Farms will offer mushroom production.

“We will then offer free webinars for those willing to start up in the horticulture industry,” explained Seate.

As digital agriculture is still a new technology here, Seate says their online horticulture trainings have taken off on a low note as “most farmers in remote areas do not have access to the Internet and where it is available, some cannot data or network is poor”.

Moreover costs are high and details of the long-term benefits are rarely unavailable.

“That means to secure its widespread adoption will require collaboration and consensus across the value chain on how to overcome these challenges,” she further says.

Besides online courses, the farm uses digital agriculture for farm management specifically a software that tracks sales and expenses. Furthermore, they take advantage of shared online resources such as Google Drive to interact with stakeholders as well as utilising social media platforms to lure more customers to their services.

Despite the unfolding challenges, Seate is a strong proponent of digital agriculture as the future of the industry, and much needed antidote to food insecurity.

“It has the potential to make agriculture more productive, more consistent and to use time and resources more efficiently. This brings critical advantages for farmers and wider social benefits around the world. It also enables organisations to share information across traditional industry boundaries to open up new and disruptive technologies,” she concludes.