FarmSol partners with South African Breweries to support over 520 smallholder grain farmers across seven provinces in South Africa, of which 65 are female. Aron Kole, managing director of FarmSol, talks about obstacles to mechanisation and ways in which smallholder farmers can bridge these challenges.
To break out of the poverty trap and farm on a commercial scale, farmers need to adopt the latest technology. Mechanisation is not about the size of the equipment and having the biggest engine, but about technologies that allow farmers to be more precise, efficient, safe and that ultimately increase farm profitability.
Mechanisation is becoming increasingly important considering the rising demand for higher volumes of food to be produced within a limited timeframe and as efficiently as possible, driven by the growing population. Climate change is also resulting in higher production risks and shorter windows of opportunities to plant
The high cost of technology together with low returns on investments and poor access to finance, turns mechanisation into a far-fetched dream for most farmers. Technology, nevertheless, is a great enabler that in future will allow women and people with disabilities to do tasks that were previously considered too hard to do on their own.
The younger generation is more inclined to embrace and experiment with new technologies, as many of them have been exposed to advanced technologies, such as smartphones, global positioning and so forth, from an early age.
Smallholder farmers live from hand to mouth, with expanded social challenges putting limitations on their ability to reinvest profits back into farming operations, never mind buying farm based technology and mechanisation.
What are the other challenges?
Commercial farmers have up until now been the main target of well-established farm equipment and agritech businesses, with most solutions being designed around the needs of this market segment and adapted to the smallholder market.
Available technologies and machines, in effect, are often unsuited for smallholder production or South African conditions. The market presents a golden opportunity for companies that develop solutions tailored to the specific needs of this sector in terms of functions and affordability.
Not having access to the latest technology should not derail farmers.
Another obstacle is whether farmers are equipped with the necessary skills to make the best of technologies. Smallholder farmers fortunate enough to have access to the latest technologies, should be well versed in its use to unleash its full benefit and prevent unnecessary damages.
Drop and go is not good enough. Companies should invest more in making training more accessible – whether this is for new or second-hand equipment. The adoption of new technology should form part of a farmer’s bigger growth plans and the farm business objectives.
Not having access to the latest technology should not derail farmers. There are other proven traditional ways to gain access, through for example the pooling of resources to buy equipment and then sharing it between a group of farmers. Farmers can also rent it out – with or without service – to gain the maximum financial gain from the equipment.
There is also a gap for contractors, who do not farm, but plant or harvest produce on behalf of farmers.
There is also a gap for contractors, who do not farm, but plant or harvest produce on behalf of farmers. Once access is gained, farmers should continuously search for new information on available technology to maintain their competitive edge in the market.
How does FarmSol bridge these challenges?
South African Breweries invested in mechanisation that uses modern precision agricultural technologies. FarmSol uses the mechanisation to provide training and for soil preparation and planting purposes. This helps to give all our beneficiaries access to technology and ensure that crops are planted and harvested at the right time.
Crops are carefully monitored and with farmers in the same stage of production being grouped together, to reduce costs and ensure the equipment are used during the required time frames.
FarmSol has entered into a partnership with John Deere that will allow our beneficiaries to be exposed to their latest technology as well as gain first-hand experience of using these latest technologies, including training. We are looking for more partnership opportunities like this.