In the history of the World, revolutions in varied forms and types have occurred and continue to take place till date. For example, there was the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age; then, there came the Industrial Revolution and more recently the Information Age. There is yet another revolution emerging – the Big Data revolution. Every revolution brings with it new opportunities. This article is sought to explore some of the new prospects the emerging data revolution promises to bring to Ghana and Africa to the larger extent. These new potentials are not particularly new within the African continent and Ghana for that matter, however their application is currently limited or non-existent in some cases.
To begin with, we will look at what Big Data is. Before any formal definition is given, let’s try to understand Big Data from every day examples. Recently I performed an online search for a laptop bag on Tonaton, OLX and Jumia. Subsequently, almost every website I visited, there was a Google AdSense advert lurking conspicuously at the side. This was Big Data at work: Google probably took note of my IP address and determined that I was connecting from Ghana; then as I made clicks, entered search strings and selected results, all the bits and pieces of information were gleaned, persisted in a huge data vault and analyzed in real time. The outcome from that analysis then informed Google the kind of ads to display for me. One may ask, what makes this Big Data? It is the huge number of online users worldwide and the fact that data generated by each user is recorded and stored for immediate or later use.
Big Data is the term for collection of data sets so large and complex that it becomes difficult to process using on-hand database system tools or traditional data processing applications (www.edureka.co/big-data-and-hadoop). According to this source, five (5) V’s are currently used to explain the concept of Big Data: Volume, Variety, Velocity, Value and Veracity. In terms of Volume, the Digital Universe from beginning of 2010 to the end of 2020 is estimated to grow 50-fold. Big Data connotes enormous volumes of data.
The data comes in different forms and formats, e.g. images, video, log files, email, etc, and this defines the Variety attribute of Big Data. Velocity describes the rate at which data is generated. Today, data is being generated at such an alarming rate.
Through data analytics, useful sense is made out of data, creating the Value attribute of Big Data. Data Veracity ensures that the inconsistencies and missing links in the data are resolved so data can be processed to produce the needed value.
In Ghana, our agriculture is largely rain fed. In the three northern regions for example, farming is limited to about seven months in a year, during which there is rainfall. What is worse more is the fact that the rainfall pattern is very irregular and highly unpredictable. As a result, farmers find it difficult to determine when to sow seeds and start the farming season. With precision agriculture, made possible through Big Data, this could be a thing of the past, because sufficient data is available to inform farmers exactly when to plant crop. By recording rainfall patterns, the weather and other climatic conditions over time, and using Big Data tools to analyze the data, accurate predictions can be made about when farming activities should begin.
Another problem that Big Data could solve is the lack of monitoring mechanisms to determine when to apply fertilizers to crops for example. By looking at crops, the average farmer may not be able to tell when to apply fertilizer and other farming implements. However, through the use of Radio Frequency Identifiers (RFID) in smart farming, crops can be monitored and the data analyzed by experts in real time, so that feedback is given to instruct farmers as to what to do at any given point in time. Similarly, monitoring can be extended to pest and soil conditions, giving researchers real time access to data to study and provide timely feedback to farmers.
In recent times, there have been reports and allegations in the mainstream media of premix fuel being diverted and smuggling of subsidized agricultural inputs such as fertilizers in Ghana. Deployment of GPS based tracking integrated with Big Data technologies can effectively curb if not eliminate completely this problem.
Animal farming, poultry and their respective value chain industries also have the potentials to improve greatly with the introduction of Big Data techniques. RFIDs attached to cattle in free range farming for example can prevent theft and the straying away of animals. Moreover, RFIDs can be attached to animals or implanted in animal bodies to implement applications such as health control, fattening management and milking management.
These are only a few areas of application of Big Data to agriculture. Other potential areas of application include food storage, farmer to market linkages, farmer to funding linkages, etc.
Part 2 of this article will address application of Big Data technologies in Healthcare, City Planning/Traffic Control and Business Intelligence.
The author is a Member of the Institute of ICT Professionals, Ghana)
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