Microsoft South Africa plans to invest up to R40-million to bolster the use of technology as an enabler to tackle the challenges facing South Africa’s agriculture sector.

The investment aims to drive sustainability in the agriculture sector for South Africa’s smallholder farmers, which have significant potential to drive growth and employment opportunities.

The critical sector, which also enables other sectors within the country to ultimately drive food security, faces numerous challenges that prevent it from becoming commercially viable, efficient and sustainable.

Forming an important part of the agricultural workforce in the country, over two-million of these farmers help reduce poverty for local communities and establish food systems for South Africa and the wider Southern African region.

“This makes it critical to invest in the sector to address the challenges they face . . . including a lack of infrastructure, access to competitive formal markets, production and business skills, funding and financial support to reinvest in their farming activities and compliance with food safety regulations and legislation,” says Microsoft South Africa MD Lillian Barnard.

The investment will enable the identification and appointment of established technology companies in South Africa to harness the power of technology to help improve the economic participation and contribution, efficiencies, viability and sustainability of the country’s smallholder farmers.

Microsoft, in partnership with the technology companies, will conceptualise, develop and roll out the various high-impact solutions required to address the challenges that the farmers face and make a meaningful economic impact.

The initiative also aims to help meet the broader goals of South Africa’s National Development Plan.

This includes creating job opportunities and facilitating skills development to attract more people, particularly youth and women, into key sectors such as agriculture.

A report by Research ICT Africa on ‘Paving the way towards digitalising agriculture in South Africa’ shows advanced technologies like the Internet of Things, remote sensing technologies and unmanned aerial vehicles can transform the agricultural sector and help to address South Africa’s food security challenges, create jobs and address historical inequalities by reducing costs, conserving resources, optimising inputs and maximising outputs, Barnard commented.

“Our investment is aimed at making a real difference in one of South Africa’s most vital sectors by harnessing the power of technology.”

High-impact technological solutions will improve efficiencies in smallholder farming, lower the cost of production, improve access to local and international markets, improve compliance with legislation and drive access to information, besides others.

“By investing in the agriculture sector and unlocking the potential of technology to act as an enabler for growth and skills development, we are showing our commitment to driving sustainability and creating opportunities in one of South Africa’s most critical, job-creating industries,” concluded Barnard.

Engineering News | Natasha Odendaal | August