Despite 589 million inhabitants living without electricity and 273 million people lacking access to clean water, Africa has the potential to become the Internet of Things’ flagship success. Due to Africa’s increasing cellular coverage and relative lack of development, African focused IoT devices have the potential to hugely increase opportunities, economies and lives across the continent.
The African cellular boom
Where the ‘Western World’ has enjoyed fixed line connectivity for decades, Africa has been unable to keep pace and has swapped focus to mobile networks. This has resulted in countries like Kenya enjoying mobile penetration rate of over 70% and the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa growing its mobile market by 44% annually since 2000. This has led the population to use their mobile phones instead of fixed institutions; mobile phone wallets are used instead of bank accounts by 11.5% of African adults. The GSMA has correctly noted about the growth in cellular networks, ‘In Africa sometimes you can leapfrog and go to the latest in innovation and technology’.
As two in five Africans are unable to obtain sufficient food and the continent has the potential to grow its farming area and efficiency enormously, agriculture is a prime example of IoT’s potential to assist in solving humanitarian problems and help developing the continent. The main problems facing the African agricultural market, from crop destruction from extreme weather through to a lack of investment and insurance can all be improved with new connected weather stations.
IBM estimates that 90% of all African crop losses are weather related, and predictive weather management would reduce this by 20%. In the UK the Met Office has rural weather stations around 40 km apart, unfortunately Africa has no comparable coverage as most stations surround major cities. The cost of installing and reading dumb rural stations would be unsustainable. Connecting the stations to make them smart reduces the need to visit the sites, can help predict maintenance and importantly reduces the reoccurring costs.
Connected weather stations can provide the reassurance needed for; the farmers, their insurers and creditors to invest in producing food. Through a reduction in risk, connected weather stations have the potential to alleviate some of the chronic and cyclical poverty experienced by smallholders, which has been caused by a lack of investment. Adrian Mukhebi, Chairman of the Kenya Agricultural Commodities Exchange agrees that technology has a major role in improving the business opportunities for farmers saying, ‘Before, farmers were being exploited by middlemen, now with information via mobiles farmers can in some cases increase 25-35% of their profits’.
Africa has an opportunity to jump past the deployment of dumb sensors, to having all sensing monitoring and recording devices remotely controlled over the cellular networks. When coupled with the immense difference that new devices can make to the developing region it seems natural for IoT device developers to be focusing on Africa.