During the Zambia Entrepreneurship Summit held yesterday, there was a discussion on how to make technology work for agriculture, and the discussants were Lukonga Lindunda (Executive Director of BongoHive, Mrs Kabembe and Dr Chileshe (from the Department of Computer Science and the Department of Agricultural Engineering Department respectively, both at the University of Zambia) Emmanuel Mbewe (CEO of Spry Consulting) and Eric Lwao (ZICTA).
Here were some of the highlights, questions from the audience and responses from the panel.
Eric Lwao – ZICTA
Mobile subscriptions are about 11.5 out of 16 million people in Zambia, and apart from ensuring that infrastructure is spread through country, ZICTA also ensures universal access to services by people, even in the agricultural sector understanding that the modern farmer needs to get information in the shortest time possible.
Dr Chileshe – UNZA
He said in animal farming one application of ICT is in tracking sensors on animals to detect illnesses, and in irrigation can be used to set timers for when water can be released. One of critical things that agricultural sector in Zambia needs with regards to applications of ICT is manpower, including graduates from higher learning institutions. The mentality that ‘agriculture is dirty’ needs to end and skills training in agricultural engineering and ICT must be increased.
Emmanuel Mbewe – Spry
Tablets have been distributed through Ministry of Agriculture with an application that enables geo-specialists to collect geolocation data and map Zambia e.g. soil types and weather patterns. There is a need to mitigate rural area myths on when to take agricultural action, for example one can’t plant on land until the first rainfall, and show them modern tech data on their regions that enable them to have produce in various weather types. So far the beneficiaries of this agricultural geolocation data include the Zambian government, insurance companies and farmers themselves.
Mrs Kabemba – UNZA
ICT in agricultural is not limited to advanced technology, even the use of cellphones to make business calls, watching TV or listening to radio agricultural shows for research count as uses of ICT. As the UNZA Computer Department, in their 4th year students are required to develop different apps that can be applied even in agriculture e.g. greenhouse room temperature sensors that can alert farmer via mobile phone if the temperature rises or drops from the normal.
Lukonga Lindunda – BongoHive
A real issue in Zambia is the lack of financial access in agriculture, which typically needs a lot of money regardless. We need more angel investors supporting small ideas. Even when someone gets trained in agricultural engineering for example, they don’t get to fully understand the context of where they are actually supposed to work and thus their expectations aren’t met. There also needs to be a close link between graduates and app makers and farmers themselves.
Questions from audience
- Question to ZICTA: What are you doing to support technology that monitors climate change effects on Zambia?
A: Under mandate we don’t specifically look at climate change, but aid meteorology department with free broadband spectrum to get data on various geo-factors that can help with conclusive findings on climate change.
Question to ZICTA: As we strive for connectivity in agriculture, what are you doing to regulate price of data bundles in Zambia from MNOs?
A: We carried out an independent survey with Price Waterhouse Cooper to assess pricing and prices were found to be cost-based on the part of MNOs as Zambia is landlocked and it’s thus costly to set up infrastructure that mainly connects to fibre optic sea cables in other countries. The data prices are well within acceptable price range but users can take advantage of lowly-priced packaged bundle deals from mobile operators.
- Question to ZICTA – Does ZICTA think about and integrate persons with disabilities in supporting new technology?
A: Not much has been done, but disabled persons have to voice out and express suggestions on what they need and thus help them compete in agricultural sector using new technologies
- Question to ZICTA – Are MNOs dictating their prices, as well as stealing mobile data from subscribers by charging data consumption from main account without warning, and what are you doing about it?
A: In the regulating space are many players e.g. the Consumer and Competitions Commission (CCPC), who can give rules for telecom services and products. Subscribers must use these avenues available to them.
- Question to UNZA – Can’t you create distant short courses for farmers in far areas to train them on relevant ICT skills?
A: We need to get more specialists that can be sent to hold workshops with farmers even in far-flung areas to educate them on the use of new or older relevant technology. Limited staff in the education system is a problem. Making the courses is not a problem at all.