AI can’t take the farmer out of farming


Agriculture in Africa is being transformed by Artificial Intelligence (AI), but there is still one element it cannot replace.

Despite dramatic technological advances in the sector in recent decades, the role of the farmer remains indispensable. This was a message delivered, surprisingly, at a recent conference in Europe, by a world leader in the field – from Eswatini.

You really can’t take the farmer out of farming.So much depends on the farmer’s intuition. Farming is incredibly scientific, with various measurements and readings. However, even with the best data, natural elements can change outcomes drastically.

– Rob Coombe, Group IT manager of Royal Eswatini Sugar (RES)

Enhancing productivity & efficiency

The sugarcane producer uses drones and satellite imagery to enhance productivity and efficiency with SAP software. SAP’s S/4HANA system is a leading tool for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) in enterprises, and is used by 85 of the 100 largest companies in the world.

The reality is that, with business AI embedded in your business, the opportunities are endless. The biggest opportunity at present is improving the bottom line.

– Scott Russel, Chief Revenue Officer at SAP 

For instance, the sugarcane producer has reduced the cost of IT by 15%. They are spending more with SAP, but less overall. Coombe has been at RES for more than 12 years, but has worked with SAP systems since 1991. In that time, he said, the way technology is implemented has changed.

Creating a digital twin of operations

The two big things are always people and data. People are immune to change, so getting the change in people’s mind is key. And getting your data sorted is equally important. When your data is not right, it doesn’t matter what the system is, you get a lot of rubbish out of it.

RES applies AI and Machine Learning (ML) to 15 years of satellite imagery to create a digital twin of its operations, in collaboration with SAP systems. This helps them predict the yield and manage cash flow and budgeting more accurately. By integrating this data with SAP Intelligent Agriculture and S4/HANA, RES can monitor crop health in real-time and make necessary adjustments. They don’t have to wait until harvest to see that there is a problem; they can see it on a day-to-day basis.

Historical climate data and forward-looking weather data, combined with ML models can be used to predict future conditions, aiding in better planning and simulation.

Drones can be deployed for a range of agricultural tasks, enhancing both efficiency and precision. Instead of getting the guys in there, a drone can be sent out, and do an analysis with AI. Scouting – going out to look for pests and diseases – will now become an electronic thing, so you get quicker responses.

Generative AI with the SAP digital assistant, Joule, can be used to handle routine tasks like managing debtors, creditors, and reconciliations. Joule can work at 2 o’clock in the morning, and the analysis can be read upon waking up. You can simply ask it about outstanding creditors, without needing to know specific program numbers.

Arthur Goldstuck | CEO | World Wide Worx  | @art2gee | mail me |



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here