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The AFRICA Awards selection process is overseen by an Independent Awards Selection Committee composed of globally recognised experts. (Image source: Afreximbank)

Event News

The African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) recently announced winners of the inaugural Afreximbank-FARA Research, Innovation and Competence in Agriculture (AFRICA) Awards in Nassau, Bahamas

These prestigious awards honour individuals, groups, or established organisations that have made outstanding contributions towards improving food and nutritional security, income generation, resilience and natural resource management in Africa through research, innovation, agripreneurship and policy advocacy in the food and agriculture domain.

The awards were presented on the margins of the 2024 Afreximbank Annual Meetings (AAM2024) and AfriCaribbean Trade and Investment Forum (ACTIF). The AFRICA Awards selection process is overseen by an Independent Awards Selection Committee composed of globally recognised experts and encompasses three categories which include, the Africa Research Excellence Award, the Innovation-based Entrepreneurship Award, and the Impactful and Evidence-based Policies Award.

Following a highly competitive selection process, the two laureates of the 2024 AFRICA Awards were announced:

1. Umezuruike Linus Opara: Recipient of the Africa Research Excellence Award in recognition of his contribution to developing and validating a novel integrated value-chain approach to post-harvest research and innovation, one crop at a time.

2. Professor Richard Mkandawire: Recipient of the Impactful and Evidence-based Policies Award for his foundational role in conceptualising Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) and catalysing its domestication in African countries at NEPAD

“Africa’s vulnerability to climate shocks exacerbate its food insecurity concerns and heighten the urgency of structural transformation of its agricultural sector," said president and chairman of Board of Directors, Afreximbank, professor Benedict Oramah. "It needs to boost efficiency and productivity, modernise its agriculture, and reclaim its rightful position as a net exporter of agricultural products I applaud the winners of the Inaugural AFRICA Awards for the demonstrable and innovative impact they are delivering for agriculture.”

Experts verify Infectious Bronchitis Virus in Ghana's poultry industry. (Image source: Adobe Stock)

Poultry

Scientists at the Veterinary Service Department and the CSIR – Animal Research Institute have confirmed IBV in Ghana’s poultry industry

The IBV impacts the respiratory, reproductive, and renal systems of chickens, leading to severe economic repercussions. Originating in the USA during the 1930s, IBV has since spread globally, including sub-Saharan Africa, with Ghana being notably affected. Despite the significant presence of IBV, vaccination against the virus in Ghana is not practiced, complicating efforts to control its spread.

Samples collected by scientists at the Veterinary Service Department and the CSIR – Animal Research Institute from farms across nine regions revealed the presence of IBV, a coronavirus causing significant economic losses. The virus leads to reduced poultry output, lower egg production, and a 5% mortality rate.

In a Channel One News interview during a stakeholders' workshop in Koforidua, Senior Research Scientists at the Animal Research Institute, Dr Matilda Ayim Akonnor and Dr Theophilus Odoom discussed their findings on IBV's prevalence, serotypes, and pathotypes in Ghana. They highlighted that IB (Infectious Bronchitis) is a major factor behind the closure of many poultry farms in the country.

Dr Akonnor stated, “Indeed, we have confirmed that the virus is present in all nine regions we visited. We have taken samples, analysed some, and confirmed the virus’s presence. We have also identified the serotype that is circulating around the country from outbreak investigations, and we hope to use this information to develop a vaccination schedule for the country’s poultry farmers.”

Staff of the CVL, Zimbabwe training in Namibia through a triangular project arrangement between Namibia and Zimbabwe. (Image source: B Jackson/CVL, Zimbabwe)

Processing & Storage

With the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Zimbabwe's Central Veterinary Laboratory (CVL) and Uganda’s Directorate of Government Analytical Laboratories (DGAL) have attained accreditation to the international standard for testing and calibration

Achieveing this accreditation demonstrates competence; increases confidence among clients; and enhances the prospect of attracting resources by providing paid services and therefore contributing to the sustainability of such laboratories.

In the face of limited resources, national testing and calibration laboratories such as CVL in Zimbabwe and DGAL in Uganda must explore mechanisms to attract funds to facilitate routine operations and ensure sustainable service-delivery. Both these laboratories are supported by the IAEA in cooperation with the FAO, to significantly stengthen their capabilities. 

The CVL is now capable of regularly testing foods such as chicken for chemical hazards and can provide end-users with more reliable analytical test results, creating greater consumer confidence. Additionally, personnels from CVL were recently trained and provided with equipment in a regional AFRA food safety project also involving Namibia and Zimbabwe, giving them even greater capability. 

“We are glad to have a local accredited food safety laboratory that supports the testing of our food products to ensure confidence among our clients about their safety and save us from the burden of testing abroad”, said Moses Nyanzunda, veterinarian at a major national chicken producing company in Zimbabwe that is a beneficiary of this capability.

Expected battery cycles required per machine lifetime. (Image source: IDTechEx)

Machinery & Equipment

IDTechEx’s new report, ‘Battery Markets in Construction, Agriculture and Mining Machines 2024-2034’, showed that CAM machines require a diverse range of battery solutions to cater to their individual needs

It has taken around 15 years to convince car owners that battery power is a viable alternative to their fossil fuel comfort blanket. In the construction, agriculture, and mining (CAM) industries, electrification is an even steeper uphill battle. In these industries, if a machine runs out of battery, the operators will soon start losing money. Moreover, these industries have a broad spectrum of machines, each with unique use cases. In case of agriculture machines such as tractors, electrification presents some unique challenges.

Energy consumption

The first challenge is that the use case of tractors is incredibly energy-intensive. For the most part, the purpose of a tractor is to drag machinery through a field. Sometimes, this work is low intensity, such as mowing grass in large fields. Here, the mower attachment isn’t too heavy and creates little resistance with the ground. On the other hand, plowing a field creates lots of resistance and, therefore, uses lots of energy. Additionally, if a field has soft mud, the tractor will lose energy due to the tires slipping. When we compare a tractor and an excavator for example, although both machines have hard and similar workloads, the excavator is at its peak load only momentarily as it breaks through the ground while a tractor works at a constant near-peak capacity. From a battery standpoint, this means that the tractor needs substantially more storage to give the same run time.

Chassis size

While large construction machines have large chassis to incorporate the battery, tractor chassis are a little more compact. Additionally, large excavators can handle the weight of the battery, with many already having concrete ballasts for balance. Excessive weight however, could be an issue for tractors, especially when operating in wet mud. Tractors are also more sensitive to the location of the weight, preferring an even weight distribution across the wheels for the best stability in the mud. So, not only do tractors need more battery power per hour than other similarly sized CAM machines, but they also have tighter constraints on where that battery can go.

Uptime

Construction and mining machines tend to be in almost constant use, but many tractors have very seasonal work. They could sit dormant for large portions of the year, but come harvesting time on a large farm, they could be running 24/7 for days at a time. High uptime in peak season means that the battery needs to be capable of rapid charging to minimise downtime. This is typically tough on batteries, as regular fast charging can degrade their cycle life. However, on the positive side, sporadic usage means fewer cycles are needed over a vehicle’s lifetime. Many tractors have life expectancies of around 2,000-5,000 hours, whereas large excavators might operate more than 10,000 hours over their life span. A shorter life expectancy, with fewer cycles required, opens up battery options to more cutting-edge and emerging technologies.

Battery technologies

Today’s dominant battery technologies are Nickel Manganese Cobalt (NMC) and Lithium Iron Phosphate (LFP), used almost ubiquitously throughout the automotive industry. NMC offers good energy density but typically recharges slower compared to LFP. LFP has compromised energy density but is cheaper and can be recharged more quickly. Both have plenty of cycle life for agricultural applications, but IDTechEx suggests that other emerging options with higher energy density could offer a better fit.

Solid-state batteries (SSBs) and silicon anode batteries are two emerging technologies that might work well in tractors. Both offer improvements in energy density when compared to NMC and LFP, making it easier to put more kWh of battery capacity onto the tractor. Both offer good to high recharging performance, minimising downtime. Finally, both offer the equivalent or higher safety than LFP and NMC. Unfortunately, both technologies are also very new, still in the early stages of commercialisation, and therefore are very expensive. Solid-state batteries and silicon anode batteries make a good fit for agricultural machines from an engineering perspective, but unfortunately, they don’t quite make the business case, for now.

IDTechEx’s report considers a total of 15 machine types across construction, agriculture, and mining, evaluating the needs of each and matching them up against ten existing and emerging battery technologies. The report forecasts that SSB and silicon anode will have a small market share of battery demand for agricultural vehicles once they are more mature, but demand will still be dominated by NMC and LFP, even in 2034.

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