Meet the man with the coolest job in SA agriculture

Boyzie Gabuza spearheads the Sernick Group's drone research, focusing on cattle detection, weight management, cattle movement, pasture management and minimising livestock theft. Picture: Supplied

23-year-old Ziphezinhle Gabuza, better known as Boyzee, from Ladysmith, Kwazulu-Natal spent the past week teaching an artificial intelligence to count cattle on a farm in the Free State.

Gabuza is currently spearheading the Sernick Group’s drone research team that is working on developing applications to use the unmanned aircraft for cattle detection, weight and pasture management. They also hope to innovate drone use in rural security to prevent stock theft.

Early last year, a crop-spraying drone took its first legal flight in South Africa. The momentous event was a breakthrough for innovation in South African agriculture and kicked open the door for greater agricultural optimization.

The application of a remotely piloted aircraft system (RPAS), or drone, for commercial use in agriculture, was officially approved by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) in October 2019. This year Sernick started their own remote aircraft research and development in cattle management.

Boyzie Gabuza with some of the drone equipment he uses as part of the Sernick Group research and development programme.

Gabuza found his way to the Sernick project and the cutting edge of agriculture technology via Vryheid Landbou High School. After matriculating he joined the Future Farmers Foundation. His successful completion of the programme secured him a position at a large commercial farm in Australia, where he gained valuable experience in stock management.

On his return to South Africa, he attended the RPAS Training Academy in Johannesburg and received his remote pilot license. He now works as the drone operator for the Sernick Group. He has applied his experience as a cattleman and his drone training to the task of identifying the five key areas for the application of drone technology in cattle management.

“What I am doing now is more research and innovation. When I went to Australia as a stock man, I ended becoming the leader in a cattle station and was exposed to a bit of technology. So, when I came back to South Africa and was exposed to the livestock industry I thought I should combine the two and maybe make a difference in making livestock management more effective and more purpose worthy,” he says.

Remote monitoring of cattle and pasture can save farmers precious time and money while optimising human and natural resources. And the aerial view a drone offers gives a new perspective that is not always visible at eye-level.

Cattle monitoring specifically focusses on the health of the animals, determining weight and movement. While the pasture management function determines the health of the available pasture and water availability. When combined, a farmer can use this data to make informed decisions about moving a herd to the most appropriate pasture, says Carel Serfontein, CEO of the Sernick Group.

The drone’s bird’s eye view and remote monitoring can further be used for security. Drones can be used to safely and securely spot trespassers and irregular activity in real-time. According to the National Stock Theft Prevention Forum (NSTPF), livestock to the value of R1.24 billion were stolen in South Africa during the 2018/2019 year.

‘I am a person who likes challenges and doing things people don’t like and doing things that can’t be done.’

As drone pilot for the project, Gabuza works closely with the software team to develop software. “This week we trained artificial intelligence machines to count cattle. So now we are busy with the demo where we are teaching it to detect humans out in the field, because we want to do surveillance,” says Gabuza.

“We are working on a plan where we teach the drone to detect someone coming in at night into our territory and send out a trigger once it identifies the perpetrator. We are also training it to be able to detect human movement around the area. So, for now the technology is there, but maybe 15% of people in the world have it, which is mostly in first world countries. We are kind of privileged to have a software team up to the task,” he says.

Gabuza tells Food For Mzansi that having one of the coolest jobs in agriculture as a 23-year-old black man feels like a rollercoaster ride.

“It is just like a rollercoaster ride of just learning and enjoying the challenges that come with each day. I am a person who likes challenges and doing things people don’t like and doing things that can’t be done.

“So, it’s just like a fun challenge for now and I hope to make a name for myself in the livestock industry. That’s the lifelong goal,” he says.

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