Digital farming on the move in Zimbabwe with FarmBuzz
Anesu Mapisa and Emmanuel Marume, two university graduates from Zimbabwe, set up the company FarmBuzz to help farmers improve their yields using drones. Mapisa grew up on a farm, and says the idea came to him when he realised that his farming parents were struggling to produce enough because they couldn't work on large areas.
"I wanted to provide solutions for subsistence farmers, including my parents, so that they could improve their yields, allowing them to support the family and the farm," he tells the news site Techcabal.
At first, FarmBuzz was dedicated to advisory services, farm management, and seasonal budgeting. But soon enough, the duo realised that they needed an effective solution to help farmers suppress weeds. They took advantage of the farms where they were employed to test the possibility of using drones to identify weeds and destroy them with onboard pesticides.
In 2019, after long negotiations, FarmBuzz signed its first partnership with Alley Capital Group, a drone sales company in Zimbabwe. The two entrepreneurs thus enabled farmers with small areas, to maintain their fields, thanks to drones capable of covering 500 hectares.
According to the entrepreneur, farmers were using traditional methods such as backpack sprayers and boom sprayers to weed their fields. A practice that took days. Today, with drones, a hectare can be treated in 15 to 30 minutes. The involvement of drones therefore saves time, reduces personnel and also reduces expenses.
"Farm Buzz charges the equivalent of $21 per hectare, commercial farmers in Zimbabwe, who were using boom sprayers, which are essentially tractors, were paying about $75 per hectare," he says.
The two entrepreneurs say they faced several challenges, such as "lack of funding, lack of customers, and difficulty in convincing and educating some farmers about the effectiveness of drones. These problems are now solved and more and more farmers are asking for help. On their Facebook page, they say they work on fields owned by people based in the US.
Mapisa says that, thanks to drones, farmers can now monitor agricultural plots, see crop damage, detect areas affected by insects, and save money by reducing the amount of treatments used. He then explains that thanks to GPS, it is possible to program the route. Also, the drones are equipped with a spray tank that can be adjusted according to the types of products used.
In 2020, FarmBuzz won the BancABC StartUp of the Year award. "We have participated in many start-up challenges (...). So far, our biggest award has been from BancABC," Mapisa said.
Following their success in Zimbabwe, the two entrepreneurs plan to expand their customer portfolio to other African countries. The use of drones by African farmers is not new.
In Uganda, these tools are used to monitor cultivated areas, but also to evaluate potential production thanks to smart cameras. However, it is still open to debate whether drones alone can improve agricultural production on the continent.