THROUGH the fourth industrial revolution’s converging technologies, Namibia has the opportunity to become an early adopter, accelerating its agro-processing development.
With agriculture contributing only around 5 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and 25 to 40 percent of Namibians dependent on subsistence agriculture and herding, some of the most recent advancements transforming this sphere may help improve crop yields, quality and reduce water consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Statistically, only two percent of Namibia’s land receives sufficient rainfall to grow crops. All inland rivers are ephemeral, meaning they only flow following heavy rain, so irrigation is only possible in the valleys of the rivers that form the Namibian borders, namely at the Orange, Kunene, and Okavango rivers.
Essentially, the fourth industrial revolution popularly known as Industry 4.0 means changes through the value chain and the agro-processing chain by improving processes, increasing productivity and reducing costs.
On the continent, such “futuristic” solutions are already being used. For instance in Nigeria scientists created a pest-resistant black-eyed pea, and in Ghana, the Esoko app helps farmers identify markets in which their products will receive the best prices.
However and arguably so, one of the local challenges for agriculture and agro-processing is the potential negative impact the increasing adoption of technology will have on jobs in the sector.
In light of this, it is important to note that the relative share of small and medium agro-processing to total employment numbers is higher than their share of total income in the industry. Accordingly, small and medium-sized processing enterprises have great potential to generate sustainable jobs, while using technology to increase income.
With very little doubt, there are many barriers to entering the mainstream economy for small and medium-sized agro-processing operators, including lack of startup-appropriate agro-processing technologies, reaching economies of scale, high post-harvest losses and tough competition.
In Namibia, many activities within agro-processing are dominated by large companies that are vertically integrated along the entire value chain. For instance, in the poultry industry, players have grown activities within one sector of the chain into others – by using their original outputs like production feeds; they’ve entered the broiler and other areas. A small operator would have to wait a number of production cycles before he or she could become profitable while competing with established players.
Ultimately, as the fourth industrial revolution gains traction, available technologies will become simpler and cheaper, creating opportunities for smaller operators to take their place in the agro-processing chain.
In all this we realise that technology has played a big role in developing the agricultural industry around the world. Today it is possible to grow crops in a desert by use of agricultural biotechnology. With this technology, plants have been engineered to survive in drought conditions. Through genetic engineering scientists have managed to introduce traits into existing genes with a goal of making crops resistant to droughts and pests.
For these reasons, it is time the responsible authorities realised that increased use of technology that begins in the fields presents opportunities to transform the agro-processing industry, increasing its already-high importance in the local economy.
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015