East African Agri-businesses: How farmers can boost their global competitiveness through tech

East African food and agricultural businesses can elevate their productivity and profitability by adopting modern business management solutions that enable them to streamline business processes and get better visibility into business performance.

However, they need to adopt solutions that are tailored to the needs of their niche in the agriculture market, whether that is coffee, cattle or citrus.

That’s according to Nikki Summers, Regional Director for Sage in East Africa, who was a speaker at the Smart Agri Congress Africa in Nairobi, Kenya, this week.

“With rising demand for food for the world’s growing population, East Africa is strongly positioned to turn agriculture into a major driver of economic growth,” says Summers. “Farmers and food processing businesses need to invest in technology to make their organisations globally competitive to seize this opportunity.”

Summers says that agriculture has a range of specialised requirements-some of which vary between different types of farming-and traditional enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems don’t address the unique business processes found in the industry. For example, in sectors such as grain farming, the purchaser won’t settle on a final price before product is delivered and graded for quality.

“In agri-businesses, it is common for growers and producers to get paid based on the grade or quality of their products,” says Braam Koekemoer, Regional Manager: Africa at Aritmos, an independent software vendor developing specialist agriculture functionality for the Sage Enterprise Management system. “These growers usually don’t provide companies with purchase invoices. With the right software, it is simple for buyers to generate invoices on behalf of producers, and to manage advance payments and final settlement after delivery.”

Many systems cannot accommodate sales quality documents or the need to invoice only after delivery, without manual workarounds that introduce the possibility of human error into the business process. In addition, many farming operations have complex costs to calculate, such as feed, livestock, equipment purchase and maintenance costs, transport and more.

Without a solution tailored to their business, farmers will struggle to get an accurate view of costs and profits, especially if they manage multiple farming sites or crops. “In today’s competitive environment, a farmer needs to be able to accurately calculate the cost per cow, for example,” says Summers.

“And he or she also needs to be able to tightly manage stock such as fertiliser to ensure that there isn’t waste or shrinkage. Business management solutions offer agribusinesses control over their supply chain, integrating all processes from planting to harvesting, packaging to marketing and sales management, while providing visibility, traceability and adherence to quality controls.”

Adds Koekemoer: “With rising competition and growing global opportunity, this is a challenging and exciting environment for African agri-businesses.  With the right technology in place, they can improve productivity, efficiency and quality to compete with the best in the world. They can also prepare themselves to integrate the next wave of digital technologies reshaping the world of agriculture-from drones and the Internet of Things to precision farming.”