IoT: An opportunity in Africa for businesses

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Image: Courtesy of Flickr.com

Just imagine what our airspaces worldwide will be by 2022, they could be filled with flying mini robots, as the number of commercial drones taking to the skies reaches an estimated 620,000. Driven by huge usage in the US and China, the commercial market for drones is expected to hit US$15 billion globally in the next four years.

Some African Countries are already using this technology of drones with Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya and Rwanda all set to begin the use of drones this year in different ways like blood deliveries to blood transfusion centres, transfer HIV tests to and from rural parts of the country, to monitor illegal maritime activity.

image:Huffington

Kenya has always been the best country in Africa to adapt to current trending developments, the country’s tech entrepreneurs have been developing drone technology to carry out agricultural surveys and assist in e-commerce. In the near future, we will see e-commerce companies in Kenya leverage on the ability of drones to deliver goods for their customers.

Drone technology has for a long time been used by governments and military for activities such as manning military grounds and spying. In recent years, however, there has been a dramatic rise in the number of commercial use cases for drones.

Image: Medium.com

So far in Zimbabwe, the technology has been increasingly used for aerial photography in film and journalism. Drone usage is facing criticism due to unregulated usage in many African countries, including Kenya. It has also raised new privacy concerns.

Many African countries have already embarked on their IoT journey: intelligent traffic lights in Kenya, Nairobi are helping to ease traffic congestion, load-limiting smart meters are helping to combat outages in South Africa, while drone technology is being used as part of conservation efforts in national parks. Eventually, IoT is becoming an opportunity that businesses in Africa cannot afford to ignore.

In their survey Rémi Carlier and Le Monde Afrique highlighted that drone technology can be a special method to improve agriculture worldwide. “Drones can also support agriculture in Africa, with the use of a special sensor to capture vast amounts of data to a higher degree of accuracy than satellites, allowing farmers to detect weeds and diseased crops, gauge post-disaster damage, and estimate how much fertiliser they need to use. Drone use is on the rise among crop farmers in Europe and the United States. French market-leader Airinov already works with around 8,000 farmers in France, but the technology has yet to take hold in sub-Saharan Africa”, they noted.

Last year France’s top agricultural drone manufacturer Airinov vowed to train seven African entrepreneurs as part of a trial to export the technology to the continent saying that there is “huge potential” for agricultural drones in Africa.

Some farmers from Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo will travel to Airinov in Paris for a week training this February. “Once they’ve got to grips with our technology, they’ll be able to go back home and use it in a way that suits their needs,” explains Hamza Rkha Chaham, Airinov’s Head of International Affairs. “Our drones will be used to map fields or pinpoint problems with crops. We want to give farmers more flexibility to invest,” added Chaham.

Airinov has built a successful business in Europe by focusing on reducing fertiliser use for environmental and cost-saving reasons. However, Chaham warned that this model is largely unsuited to sub-Saharan Africa which has some of the world’s lowest fertiliser usage rates and where land-related data is often inaccurate or non-existent.

Image: Drone-over-corn-NCR-SARE-Stevens

 The drone technology could cut labour and costs spent in collecting data for maize breeding by at least ten percent, preliminary findings of the project have shone. With increased demand for better seeds to adapt to changing the climate, breeders have turned to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) also known as drones for a precise gathering of data from the field to enable more efficient maize breeding in most of Southern Africa. This also made Seed-Co( developers and marketers for certified crop seeds, mainly hybrid maize seed) to come up with a special maize seed bread to counter climate change.

The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Southern Africa have adopted UAVs to collect data as a critical part of the successful breeding programme. Mainassara Abdou Zaman-Allah, a maize physiologist at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Southern Africa regional office in Zimbabwe, says using UAVs has facilitated instant data gathering, adding that with the UAVs it is possible to collect data from 1,000 plots in ten minutes or less while it may take eight hours to do so manually.

“In the preliminary analysis that we made, we realised that with the UAV technology, we would spend 10 percent or less on labour and cost respectively,” said Zaman-Allah.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Zaman-Allah confirmed that preliminary analysis shows that greater savings could result if sensors with higher resolution are used.

The use of drones will be a major boost for the industry in Zimbabwe, as it curbs losses incurred from the damage of property in transit and cut time spent in traffic. However, drone delivery is unlikely to be a cost-effective method in some areas such as delivery of pizzas, medicines etc.

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