New research into the Fourth Industrial Revolution has revealed how the Western Cape's agricultural sector can harness water saving technology, drones, genetic development and robotics to develop the industry, contribute to food security and create new jobs in emerging fields.
The report - prepared by researchers at the Stellenbosch University School of Business - studied the potential impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution on farming in the Western Cape. This revolution refers to more than just the development and use of digital technologies, but how these interact across the digital and physical realms.
And while one of the major fears associated with this revolution is the loss of jobs, the research has found that there is potential to create new careers, and scope to train and up-skill people to work with technology.
Big data, artificial intelligence, precision farming, and automation will all become prominent technologies in the future which will contribute to optimisation, efficiency, quality, sustainability and resilience.
Increased mechanisation and adoption of technology could have an impact on jobs, however, the research found that this need not be a "zero sum" equation.
While the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to impact particularly low-skilled and unskilled jobs, technology creates new kinds of jobs, with the potential to retrain and reskill the labour force.
The researchers also found that farming as a career needs to be re-branded in order to attract young people, and future talent.
The research identifies three possible end- results emanating from the Fourth Industrial Revolution including:
The Best Case Scenario: technology and development is embraced in agriculture leading to an "agri-renaissance"
The baseline scenario, or the "agricultural cul-de-sac"
The worst case scenario, or the "agricultural valley of desolation"
The report groups its recommendations under five key themes:
- That the Agri-renaissance is embraced as the desired end state. It recommends that the department, together with tertiary institutions, work to develop curricula to include theory and skills relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
- Increased engagement with the rising influence of consumers. In the future, consumers will want to know more about the source, and nutritional value of their food. Consumers are increasingly concerned about ethical farming practices, and scope for the development of environmentally friendly packaging, as well as freshness indicators on packaging currently exists.
- Acceleration of technology adoption in agriculture. The report suggests making technology more available and affordable especially to small scale farmers through sharing schemes, financing and other opportunities to ensure that a "digital divide" does not develop.
- The important role of smallholder commercial farming development. The report recommends that the provincial government, together with financial institutions, develop financing schemes targeting smallholder farmers. It also recommends that the Department, working with the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform, should facilitate access to title deeds or other forms of collateral.
- Re-position the agricultural sector's brand for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in order to attract and retain talent and develop agricultural entrepreneurs.
Among the key trends identified by the researchers was the impact of climate change, particularly on water availability and management. The Western Cape is currently experiencing a drought that has severely impacted the agricultural sector. As a water-stressed region, the sustainability of this resource will be increasingly important in future. The development of smart water technologies now and into the future will impact food security as well as production prices.
Minister Winde said: "It's up to us to ensure that we're making the most of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, that we're not stuck in the first, second, or third revolution because it's important for food security across the region."
Minister Winde said key to ensuring an agricultural renaissance will be collaboration, and "connecting the dots" between various players and sectors to ensure that they are able to develop and grow together.
"We need to join the dots between Agriculture, health, education and the private sector. We are home to some amazing fintech developments and we should be harnessing those skills and ideas in agriculture."
Minister Winde said: "I'm pleased with the research finding that there is room to create new jobs and retrain people for future skills. We need to be asking ourselves how we are going to get Generation Z to get their boots muddy. Currently, the average age of an artisan in this province is 60. We need to change that so young people have the skills and the knowledge that will equip them to be the drone pilots, food technologists, coders, and developers that the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require."
The full report can be viewed online here.
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