Turning Innovative Ideas to Reality

By: Thandiwe Kubere

Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion Project proven beyond doubt to be helpful to small and emerging Basotho enterprises. The project, through skilled experts, provides a platform for learning and developing skills essential for running successful and sustainable businesses by equipping entrepreneurs with skills for financial management, marketing utilizing technology and enhancing businesses to their best abilities.

Amongst the ten enterprises incubated by Limkokwing Enterprises Acceleration Program (LEAP), through the Competitiveness and Financial Inclusion Project is SusTech PTY LTD.  SusTech PTY LTD is a Service and software development company specializing in AI-powered custom and generic software products.

The co-founder of SusTech PTY LTD, Jobo Mokoali, declared the enterprise’s mission is to connect, empower, transform, educate Innovators, and promote digital citizenship by consistently providing intelligent software solutions to help enterprises apply technology in solving real-life problems.

“In the face of extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, the role of plant diseases and pests in annual crop losses becomes more pronounced. Small and medium-sized farmlands face a significant threat due to lack of knowledge, hindering early-stage disease identification. This lack of awareness leads to devastating consequences, exacerbated by the challenges in rural areas to access expert knowledge and hire human experts at a considerable cost”, said Mokoali.

Recognizing the need for automatic, inexpensive, and effective solutions, Sustainable Tech Intelligence introduced the ‘Artificially Intelligent Automated Smart Farming App with Marketplace (AIASFA-MP)’. This innovative solution aims to assist crop farmers by providing knowledge and farm management procedures, also facilitating the sale of their products locally and nationwide.

Additionally, it extends its benefits to wholesalers, retail stores, and food service businesses by providing easy access to farm products. Furthermore, the project aims to support the logistics industry in packaging, branding, and transportation of farmers’ products. “Farmers utilizing the AIASFA-MP will gain access to features such as crop disease detection, crop recommendations based on soil quality, plant leaf age detection, weather and soil predictions, a farmer’s portal for information sharing, and a marketplace to sell their products”, he noted.

He further stated that logistics will benefit from accessing farmers’ harvest schedules, information about storage/preservation, and transportation of ordered products from the farm to the wholesaler. “Finally, wholesalers, retailers, and the food service industry will have access to farmers’ harvest schedules, invoicing tools, and high-rated products, along with information on farmers’ skills, products, and certifications”, he explained.

“We extend our gratitude to the CAFI project for their support during our incubation phase. This assistance has not only provided funding to address challenges, such as lack of machinery, but has also equipped us with entrepreneurial skills. Through this support, we have gained access to more farming experts, the market in general, and garnered interest from retailers and farmers who are willing to collaborate throughout the entire system development process.

“Looking ahead, we envision our system enabling the implementation of irrigation systems nationwide, leading to fully automated crop production. The incorporation of smart contracts will further strengthen the IT sector by digitizing agriculture and agro-processing through smart farming”, expressed Mokoali.

He declared one of the problems the enterprise encountered, as per research findings, was that the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector in Lesotho is characterized by retail and agricultural activity which, combined, compromise of just over 50% of MSMEs in Lesotho. “Around 30% of MSME work in the wholesale and retail sector involves selling goods or services in the same form (i.e. do not add value). For those in the agriculture sector (22%), a majority rear livestock (53%) with only 15% growing crops”, he stated.

He asserted another 10% and 9% of MSME owners work in accommodation and food services. A further 28% are involved in providing services (both general food and accommodation). A relatively small proportion (10%) reported that they are engaged in manufacturing. After extreme weather conditions and natural disasters, plant diseases and pests play a bigger role in the loss of crop annually.

Plant diseases pose a great threat on small and medium level farmlands because of a number of reasons. He declared one of the major reasons is lack of knowledge, this is because when farmers are unable to identify situations in early-stage disease, it makes great disasters. In rural areas there is lack of expert knowledge and farmers are unable to spend a lot of money to hire experts and purchase costly tests to identify plant diseases. “Early detections are effective, but require lots of resources and expertise. Therefore, automatic, inexpensive and effective methods are needed to address this problem.

On that note, Sustainable Tech Intelligence came up with a solution called “Artificially Intelligent Automated Smart Farming App with Market Place (AIASFA-MP)” to aid crop farmers with knowledge and farm management procedures so that they can sell their produce locally and across the country at ease. The solution is in modular structure, which means it comprises of different parts and functionalities that make up the whole solution.

This solution is made of modules of algorithms of Artificial Intelligence involving computer vision and natural language processing. “At the most basic description, the modules communicating together to form this solution are; Crop disease predictions for predicting which diseases are likely to catch the farmer’s crops based on agro climatic and regional factors. Another one is crop disease detection for detecting plant disease based on how the plant leaves look like.

Moreover, there is also Crop recommendation for advising on the most suitable plants a farmer can plant based on the quality of their soil, the nutrients available in the soil and weather conditions on that specific area of the farm. Other modules include Plant leaf age detection for detecting the age of a certain plant and estimate time left before harvesting. Weather and soil prediction to help farmers predict soil and weather condition of a chosen area based on climatic factors in Lesotho.

Additionally, it also provides Agricultural Information Access to create a repository for farmers to collaborate with artificial intelligence in providing useful information, “this module is like a game where humans can play against an artificial agent, training that agent in the background. There is also a farmer’s portal, where farmers can share information and updates, as well as new tactics of producing quality products in agriculture”, he acclaimed.

This module also implements a logistic and rating algorithm to determine the best products at the cheapest price, the best transport and allow sharing of the transportation by different products using relatively the same route. Finally, a farm management and monitoring system, which is only a proposed algorithm currently. This module will be implemented with the use of electronics composed with various sensors including solar panel(s) to monitor crops, weather, birds and soil condition. This module will also implement automated irrigation systems.

Sustainable Tech Intelligence has only build this algorithm with intentions to integrate with proposed hardware in the near future.