African farmers face a myriad of challenges — inadequate financing, education and input distribution — which greatly affect the agricultural output on the continent. However startups are providing market driven yet innovative solutions to these problems, and South Africa’s Aerobotics is an example. The startup, launched in 2014, is carving a niche in the fast-growing industry.
Aerobotics is providing farmers with predictive insights to maximize output; as a bid to combat the effects of climate change. Climate change has altered the regular planting and harvesting seasons, thus the world is further under immense pressure to provide enough food for our fast-growing population.
With its mission to provide customers with intelligent tools to feed the world, Aerobotics’ has developed an end-to-end solution providing the agriculture industry with data-driven insights, infield mapping and other tools to protect and maximise yields. Its data is widely used for the certainty it brings to farming and food security, as the global agricultural industry stretches to meet a teeming food demand.
The company combines satellite imagery, high-resolution drone imagery, and machine learning algorithms to provide predictive insights to tree crop farmers thus helping growers with early-stage detection of on-farm problems, monitoring crop health and ultimately, optimising yields.
Co-founded by James Paterson, who grew up on a South African citrus farm and saw firsthand the challenges faced by growers, together with Benji Meltzer they applied their combined background in aeronautics and machine learning to provide growers with accurate statistics on their trees and fruits and allow them to use management zones to plan planting.
To access the power of Aerobotics’ technology, customers first sign up on Aerobotics’ Aeroview web-app. They then download a mobile app called Aeroview Field to inspect threats on the ground.
On the platform, the Tree Insights product helps growers manage crop performance by quantifying underperforming plants and zones for early stage preventive action. It also has features that help growers manage and maximise inventories by providing metrics on the number of trees and missing trees, thus giving full visibility on their programmes to aid replanting interventions.
The team further created a feature for crop insurers in America by providing reliable inspection data, reducing the cost of inspection and increasing turnaround time of claim payment. Through these innovations, the company supports climate-smart agriculture and helps reduce water usage and farm inputs by improving the overall yield per hectare.
Aerobotics has processed 100 million trees and more than 1 million citrus fruit and hopes to finalise two provisional patents for estimating tree age, and another for predicting the yield of tree crops. The company has already been able to achieve promising accuracy ratios thus revolutionszing the agriculture industry as we know it.
It now operates across hundreds of farms in 11 countries throughout the world, including Australia and the United States, and has cornered 40% and 20% of South Africa’s macadamia nut and citrus markets respectively.
“We’re committed to providing intelligent tools to optimise automation, minimise inputs and maximise production. We look forward to further co-developing our products with the agricultural industry leaders,” said Paterson, the CEO in a statement.
In line with its plan on co-developing products with the agricultural industry leaders, Aerobotics developed a partnership with Wageningen University and Research, a specialist Dutch institute on food and climate research, to deepen domain expertise in the science and technology of agriculture that benefits farmers and feeds the world.
Aerobotics recently raised $17 million USD in a Series B round led by Naspers – 1.4 billion rand (~$100 million) fund for tech startups in South Africa. – with significant participation from Platform Investment Partners, FMO: Entrepreneurial Development Bank and Cathay AfricInvest Innovation, to scale artificial intelligence for agriculture globally.
About the author
Emmanuel Maduka has over 4 years experience in agricultural communication, he is an active advocate for youth engagement in agriculture and plays leading roles on this through his activities in agri-media and food processing. He is the Founder of Agrostrides Magazine and Co-founder LifePro Food Mills.