Is AI good or bad for agric?

Less manpower will be needed on farms in the future, and there are already concerned about what the future holds for the ordinary farm worker.

WITH each passing day, an agricultural worker is being replaced by machines.

Less manpower will be needed on farms in the future, and there are already concerned about what the future holds for the ordinary farm worker.

Angela Moyo, a 19 year old scientist, holds the view that Artificial Intelligence (AI) can replace the agricultural workforce beyond human capacity by 95%.

Not to offend, from my own perspective, about 55% of farmers in Zimbabwe are lazy.

They do not find the need to read from great minds, who have detailed information.

"Zimbabwe is struggling due to the IKIA (I Know It All) pandemic. Farmers should try to equip themselves more in artificial intelligence," Moyo said.

“If you go on the internet and research the possibility of Zimbabwe remaining as an over-sufficient economy in 20 years’ time, you will receive the latest version of this country's future. If you revert to farmers, and ask a similar question they may find the need to research from the same AI and still find the objectives of not having much knowledge, thus making excuses one after another."

While Moyo's assertions can not go unchallenged, it is important that farmers take note of the impending fourth industrial revolution as it is going to have a bearing on their operations.

It is important that farm workers go for ICT training, instead of sending them to the usual piggery rearing training programmes or irrigation equipment training modules.

Going forward, daily farm reports must now be computerised so that the data is easily processed for the benefit of the farmer.

Tichapera Dondo, a farmer from Gutu, however, believes that while technology is bringing about changes, the agriculture sector will suffer the least.

"I wish to express a different view from Moyo when it comes to AI, we need to remember that it is not human, rather it is a tool. We need to start viewing AI as a tool, just like a spanner, a tractor, a sprayer,” Dondo said.

“Tools do not replace humans — they enhance human output and efficiency. Tools do not adjust to different scenarios that well, until humans train them to do so.

“The other issue is that as a tool, AI may replace many farm workers, but not many managers. Management is about planning, leading, organising, and controlling.

“These functions are difficult to replace in their entirety using a machine. What AI, and indeed, many other technological and biotechnological revolutions are doing is this: they make work easier. “Email and mobile phones replaced the letter, but not all functions of courier service companies were replaced because you can not send a parcel via email. Each tech tool has limitations, but its use requires certain reconfigurations," he added.

While the debate rages on, farmers are relying more on drip irrigation systems that actually apply chemicals on the crop. This means there are no more workers running around with a knapsack in the field.

The greatest advantage of this is that, the fertiliser and chemicals are adequately mixed, and evenly applied.

AI will definitely eliminate human error, the best time to embrace it is now.

Gwabanayi is a practising journalist and a farmer in his own right. — 0772 865 703 or [email protected]


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