BRCK is “Making Ed-Tech Work in Isiolo” – Education, Energy, and the Digital Divide in Africa

As a follow up to our post on Education, Energy, and the Digital Divide in Africa, visit BRCK’s blog to learn how our portfolio company is making education technology work with its last-mile Internet connectivity solution in rural Kenya.

rural schools in Kenya

photo courtesy of BRCK

“What does it take to launch an e-learning initiative in remote schools in Kenya?  Last week I packed my bags and drove four hours northwest of Nairobi to Isiolo to find out.  BRCK was invited on this exploratory trip as a potential technology partner by eLimu, an ed-tech company based in Nairobi that is bringing innovative curriculum to schools.” READ MORE

Updates on UAV use in Agriculture: Weekly Review 7/14-7/18

The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as a farming tool has been an increasingly popular topic in the agriculture technology space. The collection of articles below outline the benefits UAV use can offer the agriculture sector as well as the roadblocks in the way of widespread commercial use.

Good Morning! I’m Here to Scout Your Crop by Elton Robinson on Delta Farm Press

UAVs in agriculture are still a work in progress yet they offer farmers benefits to see their land from new perspectives without scouting the fields themselves. The technology can save time, increase efficiency, and help farmers acquire the necessary data to make smarter crop management decisions.

A report from the National Research Council recently stressed caution for the UAV industry stating: “While civil aviation is on the threshold of potentially revolutionary changes with the emergence of increasingly autonomous unmanned aircraft, these new systems pose serious questions about how they will be safely and efficiently integrated into the existing civil aviation structure.” For now, the FAA requires that UAVs fly below 450 feet and always be within the owner’s line of sight but they are in the process of developing new rules and regulations for their use.

The prices of UAVs vary from $3,000 to $60,000. The UAVs on the low-end of the price range are small, battery-powered drones with flight times of 10 to 20 minutes: useful for plot work but not practical for large fields. GPS-equipped drones, on the other hand, are significantly more expensive but can be used for professional mapping and surveying. According to Randy Price, LSU Ag Center engineer, “in 15 minutes, it could do the work of one person working 8 hours.” These UAVs are catching on in crop consulting, helping consultants to cover areas more quickly and pinpoint problems more efficiently.

Farmers with UAVs share experiences by Kathy Huting on Farm Industry News

The Precision Aerial Ag Show in Decatur, Illinois was the first event of its kind, focusing solely on UAV use in agriculture. The conference featured speakers who own and use UAVs on their own farms. All of the farmers made it clear that they are abiding by AMA regulations, using the systems as hobbyists while awaiting FAA ruling on commercial use in agriculture.

A poll created by Huting gauged readers’ interest in using UAVs for farming: 39% of the voters expressed interest in purchasing one for their own farms while 27% voted that although interested in the technology, they are hesitant about the benefits offered. Their hesitation is that UAV use may only be beneficial for detecting problems, adding little value when crops are doing well. Growers who have invested in purchasing and learning to fly UAVs countered that the costs can be justified when you think on a per acre basis. Furthermore, as future demand grows, the technology will likely become cheaper. For now, many farmers are waiting on the FAA to rule on commercial use. Once this happens, UAV companies are likely to merge and offer scouting as a service which farmers can rent.

FAA Drone Rules are Needed by Chris Lusvardi on Government Technology

UAV operators can currently face up to $10,000 in fines for violating FAA guidelines. The FAA is relying on a 1981 advisory note that states drones can’t be flown more than 400 feet in the air to enforce this regulation. The regulation implies that landowners don’t have jurisdiction over their land, a contradiction to the 1946 Supreme Court ruling that gave ground property rights to landowners, with an exception for navigable air space in the public domain at a minimum safe altitude.

“The drone technology is ready to take off, particularly in agriculture, but the future remains shaky until the FAA defines the rules as it is mandated by Congress to do by 2015,” stated New York attorney Brendan Schulman. Drone use won’t only benefit farmers. Schulman expects the UAV industry to have a significant economic impact as well. In its first three years, the industry has generated $13.6 billion. Between 2015 and 2025 it is estimated to generate $82.6 billion and more than 103,000 jobs.

 

Weekly Review July 7-11: AgTech Solutions to the Issue of Global Food Security

Given our focus on agriculture technology, we are always happy to see new innovations making a global impact. Below are recent articles highlighting how developments in agriculture technology can be used to address global food security.

From the Entrepreneurs’ Garage to the Dinner Table by Jonathan Ortmans on Entrepreneurship.org

Global food demand is expected to increase 70% by 2050, accompanied by an equally significant rise in food prices according to a study found in “AgTech: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Growth.” Innovations in agriculture have allowed worldwide food production to triple over the past 50 years, yet the sector still sees less investment compared to others such as renewable energy. Today’s challenge of increasing food production to prevent a global food crisis while avoiding negative impact on the environment presents an opportunity for technological innovation in the agriculture sector.

Global food security is in the hands of more than just policy makers. Government funding alone will not provide the innovations needed to solve the global food crisis. According to Ortmans, “Entrepreneurial innovation must be driven by entrepreneurs and investors to achieve the critical, multi-pronged goals we face.” Governments can however play a role in enabling the sector’s success by removing unnecessary roadblocks in policies and working in conjunction with the private sector.

Entrepreneurs, investors and the US government are seeking to create an international AgTech community, creating competitions and platforms for innovators to present their agricultural technologies to potential investors. This movement is bringing entrepreneurship “right back to our dinner tables.”

SVG Partners joins forces with Forbes to launch ag-tech accelerator by John Kennedy on Siliconrepublic.com

The Silicon Valley-based venture-capital firm, SVG Partners, recently launched the Thrive Accelerator with Forbes. The program, based in Salinas, California, was created to support innovators in the AgTech sector. Ten startups will be accepted into the accelerator and will have access to support from the top companies in the region as well as access to investment. SVG Venture partner John Stanton agrees that applying technology to agriculture is key to meeting future food demands, commenting, “We are seeking the best, most innovative companies that are transforming agriculture through technology.”

Report: AgTech Could Cut Food Prices Nearly in Half by 2050 by Cori Capik on AgFunderNews

A recent report by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) addresses a solution to global, regional and local food security. Because the future of climate change is uncertain, as are the best agriculture practices, the report focuses on increasing productivity in the globe’s largest staple crops-corn, rice and wheat. It suggests that the three areas of investment that will prove most effective are: crop productivity research, resource-conserving practices, and increased irrigation.

According to the report: “The reality is that no single agricultural technology or farming practice will provide sufficient food for the world in 2050.” Each crop reacts differently to farming technology and new practices. With increased research, experts can find the best practices for each crop, and the study suggests that by adopting these suggested practices, prices could be reduced by as much as 49% for corn, 43% for rice and 45% for wheat while better irrigation practices alone could lead to enhanced yields of 67%, 22% and 21% for the respective crops.

Plant biotech startup speeds propagation by Kate Whilhite by WSU News

Washington State University researchers-turned-entrepreneurs developed a method to grow trees three times faster while simultaneously conserving water and reducing the need for pesticides. The new growing method allows founder Amit Dhingra and his partners to produce 250,000 plants from a single plant in just one year (traditional techniques produce about 10 plants in the same amount of time). This means decreased risk and increased return for growers purchasing plants for their farm. That’s not all the new method offers. “For every tree produced with this method we save 80 gallons of clean water,” Dingha commented. The plants also require no pesticides or insecticides.