The Steinhoff Saga Management review - University of Stellenbosch Business School

January – June 2018

The future of the Western Cape’s agriculture in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • USB Faculty
  • JUN 2018
  • Tags Reports, Leadership
10 minutes to read

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This report, produced by the Western Cape’s Department of Agriculture (WCDoA) and the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), looks at how agriculture in this province can be transformed if the farming sector, government and education institutions work together to harvest the benefits of the smart technologies emerging in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). The outcomes will include higher yields, reduced costs, foods with a higher nutritional value and more sustainable farming, ultimately leading to food security. Examples of the use of smart technologies in agriculture include:

  • Smart farming: This is also known as satellite agriculture, location-specific crop management or precision farming. Precision farming uses, among others, geographic information systems, remote sensing technologies, where smart farming also incorporates robotics, the Internet of Things and big data. This allows for precision planting, irrigation and weeding, field monitoring, and data management and precision weeding.

… agriculture in this province can be transformed if the farming sector, government and education work together to harvest the benefits of the smart technologies

  • Sensor technology: Sensors are used to detect events or changes in the environment and send real-time information to other electronics, enabling producers to farm more effectively. Sensors are also used in transport technology, to improve farm security and for product traceability. It can be integrated into the entire value chain in farming, supply chain or post-harvest systems. Sensors are bound to become smarter, smaller, cheaper and more integrated into farming systems.
  • Artificial intelligence: Artificial intelligence or machine learning is a branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behaviour in Machine vision is the technology that, in machines, automates the capture of images and the analysis thereof. AI has many applications in smart and automated agriculture. Sensors around the farm give real-time updates to the AI system, which can be trained to send the correct response to that area. This can guide a farmer toward ‘perfect’ farming and when used at scale, would create tremendous efficiencies.

The outcomes will include higher yields, reduced costs, foods with a higher nutritional value and more sustainable farming, ultimately leading to food security

Agriculture and agri-processing are strategically important sectors for the Western Cape for their large absorption of unskilled labour and for their economic contribution accounting for more than 10% of the regional economy, more than half of its exports, and 20% of South Africa’s agricultural output.

By adopting the smart and interconnected technologies, agriculture in the Western Cape has the opportunity to reposition its brand: engaging consumers through new digital platforms, attracting new career entrants to high-tech employment opportunities, and becoming an attractive investment proposition for smart technology applications.

However, smart technology can also create a digital divide, where only certain role players benefit from 4IR opportunities. Hence, the agricultural sector and government need to work together to create an enabling environment for small-scale farmers to access technology, training and finance.

Technology will enable the creation of new types of jobs. Education and training – both for new entrants and new job types as well as upskilling and retraining of existing participants – would need to be prioritised in government’s response to changes brought about by the 4IR. Technology is a critical part of the 4IR, but aspects like energy and the environment, economics and policy, the consumer, and social change are also integral drivers of future change.

By adopting the smart technologies, agriculture in the Western Cape has the opportunity to reposition its brand

The researchers of the report provided five recommendations for an integrated response by the agricultural and public sectors, academia and civil society that will enable agriculture in the Western Cape to ‘adapt, shape and harness the potential of this disruption’:

  • Focus on growth in agri-economic outputs: The WCDoA should align its vision and strategic initiatives to accelerate growth in agri-economic outputs. Also, it should work with education institutions in the province to develop digital skills and capability for the agriculture sector.
  • Engage with consumers: Agriculture must engage with consumers, who are better informed and changing the demand for products as a result of their concerns about food safety, quality and nutrition, fair trade, the traceability of products to origin, and the use of chemicals in production and processing.

… smart technology can also create a digital divide, where only certain role players benefit from 4IR opportunities

  • Share information: The adoption of technology in agriculture will require a programme of communicating and disseminating information about new technologies and their impact, by suppliers, producers, government and scientists.
  • Support smallholder farmers: The development of commercially viable smallholder farmers will help to secure a sustainable future for agriculture in the Western Cape. Support to new entrants and existing smallholder farmers can include incubation and mentoring, education on technology and farming practices, business education, and access to finance.
  • Reposition agriculture as a brand: The 4IR can be used as an opportunity to ‘reposition agriculture as a brand’. The agricultural value chain offers exciting career opportunities to be explored, from food and animal science through to marketing and management, economics and technology. Young people must be made aware of the attraction of technology-enabled agriculture as a career.

… the gains of the 4IR in the Western Cape will be realised through leadership

The authors of the report believe the gains of the 4IR in the Western Cape will be realised through leadership.

 

Read the full report: The future of the Western Cape agricultural sector in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

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