Digital farmhand can transform agriculture

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi ,

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Samoa Farmers Association chair, Afamasaga Toleafoa.

Samoa Farmers Association chair, Afamasaga Toleafoa. (Photo: Misiona Simo/Samoa Observer)

The development of a digital farmhand by the Australian Centre for Field Robotics has the potential to transform agriculture and attract more young people to seek careers in the sector. 

A demonstration of the robotic farmhand piqued the interest of several farmers yesterday, who attended a field trial by a group of engineers from the University of Sydney in Australia. 

The Samoa Farmers Association chair, Afamasaga Toleafoa, told the Samoa Observer that Samoa can produce this technology and the benefits are boundless in terms of boosting the productivity of farmers and attracting young smart people to the sector. 

“If you look at the economy and where the rewarding jobs are, it’s not in farming. This technology will be able to take away not only the ‘hard slog’ of farming, but also the stigma attached to agriculture: unrewarding, low status and poor pay and this puts people off.

“Instead with this, you will be able to concentrate on the science of agriculture and that’s sexier for the young people. You need to make it attractive for young people by using science and technology as well as make it more rewarding emotionally and economically,” he said. 

For many of the farmers who were present, the possibility of replacing labour costs was one of the main attractions of the digital farmhand. Afamasaga said the new technology being put on trial can increase production and due to it being science-based, it will attract younger Samoans. 

The Samoa Farmers Association chair said: “Getting good labour is very difficult and a lot of young people don’t want to do the hard laborious work and I don’t blame them.

We can replace that with better technology and get some productivity and get them to work elsewhere such as the processing side of agriculture like making quality products, post-harvest handling.

Our productivity is not big enough to have a production surplus but with this type of technology you can increase your production, processing is the next step and its science based and that’s where young people want to work, they don’t want to go do back breaking work for low income.

I mean I don’t blame them; I ran away from this kind of work too when I was young.”

According to Afamasaga, another exciting capability that they will be taking from the digital farmhand is its ability to assist with plant doctor services, which would enable the use of robot technology to digitally send samples to a plant pathologist overseas.

 Coconut oil farmer, Edwin Tamasese says he was very excited about the farmhand robot and doesn’t see any reason to fear a loss of jobs as field workers, but rather explains that this is an opportunity to upskill workers.

“We can create new high skilled jobs with that machine right there because they’re are talking about customising the machine to different elements according to what the farmer needs, so you’re actually looking at high skill levels of employment, which is where the youth want to be,” he said.

© Samoa Observer 2016

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