Exploring and Learning – part of being an agri-preneur

A new dawn has come for me as a young agronomist in Botswana and MBA student when the IUPAC Next Generation Programme called out to young agripreneurs in 2019 to come forward with good ideas on sustainable crop protection. Being that the timing was right, I struck while the iron was hot to put forward my idea to address one of the major challenges facing farmers in Pandamatenga (a region in Botswana) – namely infestation of Quelea birds, which are having a serious effect on the yields of the crops that farmers rely heavily upon so reducing their incomes and crippling Botswana’s food security.

My idea is to have solar charged drones used as a means to control the Quelea birds that are so damaging to Pandamatenga farms. The solar aspect is based on the fact that Botswana experiences lots of sunshine and this would increase the flight time of the drone. In addition, as youth engagement in agriculture in Botswana is quite low, I see one of the benefits of using this technology is to enable young people who are tech-savvy to engage more in crop protection, soil fertility detection, and disease management.

Being one of the five selected IUPAC Next Generation Champions has brought me opportunities to realize my idea and begin its journey to reality.  I’ve pitched my idea to seasoned professionals for feedback. I’ve been given the chance to join a Doctoral Business Summer School in order to learn the fundamentals of plunging into my own business plan and learn more about financial management. And finally I’ve received a 5,000 euro grant to bring my ideas to life. This has been a mind blowing experience as it stretched me out of my comfort zone and gave me key skills to be both a scientist and an entrepreneur. 

Since receiving my grant, my idea has morphed into a new shape and form. A very tangible and concrete step is to develop, plan and stage an initiative I’m calling ‘THE 4IR FARMERS MEET-UP 1.0’. This is a platform that will bring together key players from the Agro-Drone tech space to come and share knowledge, transfer skills and build strategic partnerships with local agricultural businesses in Botswana keen on hosting drones for crop protection services to farmers. This will be the meeting point for everyone in the field.

My idea is that the platform is not limited to drones only, hence the 4IR aspect. I have realized we need software and applications that support drone functionality and to create opportunities for young graduates from the local area to come showcase agricultural apps they have been working on. The platform aims to bring in local research institutions that specialize in drones and 4IR to come and support with opportunities for training and capacity building.

So far I’m still in the exploring and planning phase. I’m learning that it is important to persevere and that there is no limit to ambition for a young person enthusiastic about crop protection, and that any mistakes should be viewed as lessons. The major challenge to date has been in finding drone manufacturers or companies willing to come to Botswana and showcase their products and expertise. Maybe if you are reading this blog you can help me to reach out to them.

Antonette Ncube

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