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Smart tech is the new tool for farmers in Africa

The continent’s third-most downloaded apps, according to Africa.com, is Esoko,

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How do you manage the trick of feeding school children better and at a lower cost?

How do you count the number of mangoes on your farm so that you get a fair price?

And what’s a clever-but-cheap way for a farmer to cut down his irrigation bill?

Agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa may have the image of relentless toil and low productivity, but experts say new tech is changing the picture.

Farmers, crop buyers and other sector professionals have started to harness smart gadgets and crunch numbers to improve productivity, reduce costs and smooth out wrinkles in the markets, they say.

‘Digital revolution’

“There’s a digital revolution unfolding in Africa,” says Pascal Bonnet, a deputy director of CIRAD, the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development.

“Around the continent, there are excellent researchers in information technology — digital agriculture is a real opportunity for qualified young Africans.”

The idea of directly linking farmers to consumers, cutting out wholesalers and stores is a familiar story in Europe and North America.

Awa Thiam, a 28-year-old telecoms engineer, is following suit in her native Senegal.

The company she founded, Lifantou, connects school canteens with farming cooperatives with the help of big data.

“There’s a huge need for this,” Thiam said, showcasing her work at an agri-tech conference in Dakar last month.

“Today, between 25 and 50 percent of the cost of school meals goes to intermediaries, but schools have limited budgets. If you shorten the supply chain, canteens can bring down the cost of meals and offer the children more varied menus.”

Her one-stop platform draws on a databank of crop production and schools to match potential demand with supply.

It group-purchases to lower the cost for schools and in a final flourish organises the transport of the goods, with operations monitored in real time.

Counting by mobile

A project called Pix Fruit, meanwhile, aims to help farmers who have until now estimated their mango crop by counting the fruit on a bunch of trees and then extrapolating for the whole plantation.

This rough-and-ready method has considerable room for error.

Emile Faye, a French researcher in digital agro-ecology who works for Pix Fruit, says the margin for mistakes could be as much as a factor of 10.

A purchaser, for instance, could pay the price for two tonnes of mangos while taking delivery of 20 tonnes from the farmer, although errors may go either way.

Pix Fruit’s alternative uses advanced modelling software to produce a more precise count of the crop.

Using a smartphone, the farmer takes photos of a selection of trees in his fields.

Fruit-recognition technology then calculates the likely overall harvest, drawing on a databank compiled with the help of drones that also includes information on climate, soil and administrative constraints.

That way, farmers learn the true worth of their crop, while wholesalers and price negotiators have a better take on the risk of glut or undersupply.

The system, jointly developed by CIRAD and the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research, could be extended to coffee, lychees and citrus fruits.

Market info

That the smart phone should play such a central role is no surprise.

The advent of the mobile helped Africa to leapfrog the cost of installing landlines, spurring innovative use, from ride-sharing to money transfer.

The pioneering work is now spreading into the rural world.

The continent’s third-most downloaded apps, according to Africa.com, is Esoko, which collects and shares crop prices, provides weather information and farming tips, and arranges payment via a mobile money system.

It operates in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Malawi, Madagascar, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

The Widim Pump, made by a Dakar firm called Nano Air, is a box controlled by SMS messages that a farmer sends to manage his irrigation system.

The savings are substantial, even for poor peasant families, says Oumar Basse, a 27-year-old engineer and the company’s co-founder.

“There’s no more need for the farmer to walk several kilometres (miles) every day or use up fuel or hire someone to monitor the pumps.

“He can switch on the water or turn off the supply using his mobile phone.”

With 12 employees after two years in operation, Nanoair has sold 250 Widim systems and received orders from Morocco and Zambia.

Basse has also founded another firm helping with handling deliveries and after-sales services.

Business

Huawei’s Android restriction: How it affects the African market

New versions of its smartphones outside China will lose access to popular Google applications and services

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Huawei's Android restriction: How it affects the African market

As the U.S/China trade war heats up, Huawei smartphone users were caught in one of its outcomes, following a recent announcement to suspend the company’s access to Google Android updates.

The announcement would see Google products like Google Play, Gmail and Google Maps become unavailable on new Huawei products, while older phones would lose access to new versions of Android.

Huawei in a statement had responded by saying

“We have made substantial contributions to the development and growth of Android around the world. As one of Android’s key global partners, we have worked closely with their open-source platform to develop an ecosystem that has benefitted both users and the industry. Huawei will continue to provide security updates and after-sales services to all existing Huawei and Honor smartphone and tablet products covering those that have been sold or still in stock globally. We will continue to build a safe and sustainable software ecosystem, in order to provide the best experience for all users globally”.

The U.S government appears to have paid attention, as Huawei got some breathing space with a 90 -day scale back on the restrictions when the Bureau of Industry and Security of the U.S Department of Commerce announced that it would issue a ‘Temporary General Licence” ( TGL) amending the current order that bans American companies from supplying technologies to Huawei.

In an ensuing update, Google says it was complying with an executive order issued by the U.S government and was reviewing the “implications”, later adding that Google Play, through which Google allows users to download apps and the security features of its antivirus software, Google Play Protect will continue on existing Huawei devices.

New versions of its smartphones outside China will lose access to popular applications and services including Google Play, Google Maps, and the Gmail app.

Concerns for Africa?

So how does this all affect Huawei’s Africa market? Huawei has grown its reach in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia where it pitches cheaper products compared to Apple.

It is currently testing the new generation Internet connectivity known as 5G, which could run future tech products such as self-driven cars and traffic control solutions.

No African country has raised an issue with Huawei being a threat to national security. A spokesman for South Africa’s department of Trade and Industry, Sidwell Medupe, says that the South African government does not intend to alter its behaviour towards Huawei.

Huawei has been growing at a fast rate globally over the last year. In the first quarter of 2019 it shipped 59.9 million smartphones, according to analysis firm, IDC– selling an average of more than 660,000 phones every day.

This represents year-on-year growth of more than 50%, and gave the company a real chance of overtaking Samsung as the world’s biggest cellphone company.

Huawei South Africa could not release local sales figures, but if its South Africa market share tracks its global position, it would have sold 2.5 million smartphones locally in 2018.

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Facebook clamps down on fake accounts

Among the countries victim to these spam accounts include Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola

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Facebook Clamps Down on Fake Accounts

Facebook has geared up to shut down all fake accounts and root out all the bots and election influencers. The goal of this exercise is to stop misinformation and root out fake news. In a statement today, the social media giant disclosed that it has removed hundreds of Facebook and Instagram accounts, and Facebook Pages and Groups, involved in “coordinated inauthentic behavior,”

The said accounts Facebook opined, were used to share content, including election-related news and criticism of targeted politicians, and “artificially increase engagement” while presenting themselves as locals and local news organizations. The X-marked accounts spent around the region of $800,000 and had garnered 2.8 million followers since April, 2012.  

Among the countries victim to these spam accounts include Nigeria, Senegal, and Angola. And upon investigation, it was discovered that accounts originated from Israel, with activity focused on audiences across African nations.

Israeli actors seem to have a penchant for being involved in a fake news-related scandal in African politics. Reports in 2018 showed data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica was hired for $2.8 million to orchestrate a fake news campaign in Nigeria against President Muhammadu Buhari, the leading opposition candidate at the time.

Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional news media or online social media. One too many times, it has formed the catalyst for decisions affecting millions. Today, Facebook plays its part to bring it to an end.

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Business

Microsoft to invest $100million in Kenya, Nigeria tech development hubs

They will customize local applications and seek solutions to local problems for the African continent.

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microsoft invest in Africa

Microsoft Corporation says it will invest  $100 million in technology development centres across Nigeria and Kenya over a 5-year period.

The firm will be hiring more than 100 engineers from these countries. They will customize local applications and seek solutions to local problems for the African continent.

Other global tech giants, like Alphabet Incorporated owners of Google and YouTube and Facebook, owners of Instagram and WhatsApp, have been increasing their investments on the continent.

Microsoft on its part, says it has six other development hubs located across the world. The new Africa development hub will also support the company’s known businesses like Office, Azure and Windows.

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