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Use electronics to your advantage

November 2023


In the world we live in today, computers have become indispensable tools that offer numerous benefits with the mere touch of a button, even for people without formal education. 

In this article, the aim is to highlight how computers can be applied efficiently by those in the agricultural sector to improve not only their lives, but ultimately their farming businesses.

Wi-Fi is like a magical invisible bridge that connects your computer or phone to the internet. It is a wireless network that allows you to access the internet without having to plug in any cables.

To use Wi-Fi, you will need a router at your home – or wherever you need internet access. To obtain Wi-Fi, consult a service provider that can supply signals in remote areas or use data via your smartphone. Once you are connected, you can hook up with other producers, friends or family and explore a world of information.

Although there are many places where you can get free Wi-Fi, such as restaurants or shopping malls, there is a security risk involved. Dean Hattingh, web developer at The Computer Shop in Klerksdorp, warns that a free network is ‘open’. This means that hackers have access to the information on your smartphone, tablet or computer. Try to refrain from using free Wi-Fi networks but if you must, avoid logging into sensitive accounts or conducting financial transactions.

It is essential to keep track of your finances, especially when running a farming enterprise. Computers make this task much simpler with digital bookkeeping. Instead of jotting down numbers and amounts on paper, you can use bookkeeping programmes to keep track of your income and expenses, your cattle, their food consumption and the rainfall. It automatically calculates totals, shows graphs and provides insights on where your money is going. It is almost like having a digital accountant to help you manage your money better.

According to Rocky Ridman, senior technician at The Computer Shop, there are various bookkeeping programmes available for small enterprises. Currently, the most popular one is Zero. Other good bookkeeping programmes are Pastel, Quick Books and Zoho. One must buy a license for these programmes, as they are not available free of charge on the internet.

Both digital and electronic signatures are used to authenticate digital documents and transactions, but they have distinct differences in terms of their underlying technology, legal recognition and level 
of security.

  • A digital signature is an electronic ‘signature’, which is used to identify the sender of the message or the person who has signed the document. It offers a higher level of security, is more regulated and has stronger legal recognition than electronic signatures. 

    Digital signatures cannot be forged and automatically indicate the time when the document was ‘signed’ to ensure that it is authentic. It can also help to confirm that data has not been changed from the time when the document was ‘signed’. This technology is used more often by big institutions.
  • Electronic signatures, on the other hand, is a broader term that embraces various methods of indicating consent or agreement to a digital document. It can range from a scanned image of a handwritten signature to clicking an ‘I Agree’ button or using biometric data, such as a fingerprint. 

    You can set up an electronic signature with your handwritten signature by using Adobe Reader. Go to the ‘sign yourself’ option or scan in your handwritten signature.

Online applications (apps) are like mini computer programmes that you can use directly from the internet without installing anything onto your computer. Apps cover a wide range of tasks from communication (like sending messages or making video calls) to productivity (creating documents or presentations) and recordkeeping. All you need is an internet connection and a web browser to access these handy tools.

Here are some suggestions of apps that can be useful in an agricultural environment:

  • Agri Assistant is an all-round information source for farmers throughout Southern Africa about agricultural news, farming organisations, technical manuals and reference materials.
  • Farmboek is a platform that can be scaled to the size of any type of computer or smartphone. It is currently being used by commercial producers and small-scale farmers. The information on it is sourced from plant pathologists, entomologists and feed specialists, among others. It offers planting, pest control and fertilising advice for various crops, as well as information on livestock health and fodder.
  • Farmers Weekly SA provides news, information and articles related to agriculture in South Africa. It covers a wide range of topics relevant to local farmers.
  • Farmzee provides farmers with access to weather forecasts, crop advice and market prices specific to this country. It also offers a platform for producers to share experiences and knowledge.
  • Khula! is a supply chain solution for emerging farmers, connecting them directly to the formal marketplace. It creates ‘one big virtual farm’, consisting of multiple emerging farms to crowdsourcing, and delivers on bulk orders from supermarkets, restaurant chains and for home delivery.
  • Nuru helps farmers to identify diseases on potatoes and cassava.
  • Rain 4 Africa is aimed at assisting small-scale farmers in their decision-making. The objective is to use weather and agricultural data to provide timely services to small-scale farmers.
  • Tractorpal is based on the old notebook or binder your grandpa used to keep all his notes and helps you to keep track of your vehicle and implement maintenance.
  • Vetapp connects farmers in Southern Africa with veterinary advice and support livestock health issues.

Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) is an online educational platform that offers courses on a wide range of subjects to many students around the world. It is designed to be open to anyone with an internet connection and is often offered free or at a significantly lower cost compared to traditional in-person courses.

MOOC has gained substantial attention and popularity over recent years due to its potential to even up education and make learning opportunities accessible to global audiences. It is used for both personal enrichment and professional development, and it continues to evolve with advancements in online learning technologies.

Popular MOOC platforms include Coursera, edX Udacity and FutureLearn. Courses on the following topics are available on these platforms:

  • Sustainable agriculture and soil management.
  • Crop and livestock management.
  • Agribusiness and marketing.
  • Climate resilience and adaptation.
  • Pro-harvest handling and food security.
  • Community engagement and farmer cooperatives.

Both Ridman and Hattingh advise that a tablet will be the best buy for novice computer users. It will cost between R5 000 and R15 000.Some can even be linked to an external keyboard to facilitate easy operating.

Once you have mastered the basic steps in using a computer to improve your farming, the next step may be a drone, as these ‘flying robots’ are becoming increasingly accessible to the average citizen.

According to Hattingh, a good DGI drone that can be used to advance farming costs about R15 000. It is important to make sure that the drone is compatible to agricultural apps before investing in one of these little wonders.

Publication: November 2023

Section: Pula/Imvula