Founders Spotlight:Tumo Kgosiyame (Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer,Anton Tech)

When Tumo was growing up, he realized the problems of pests and diseases his farmer parents were having in their field— problems that still persist today for most Botswana farmers. From a hackathon, Tumo and his co-founder attempted to solve this problem and Anton Tech was born. In this interview, he tells us more about his passion for problem-solving using tech and more!

In your own words, tell us who Tumo Kgosiyame is

Tumo is a tech entrepreneur, agritech disruptor, "anything tech enthusiast" and software engineer with practical knowledge, skills and experience in building industry-standard software solutions across different industries. He is the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Anton Tech, a technology and engineering company disrupting the agriculture industry using 4IR driving technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Computer Vision, Robotics and Drone Technology. Tumo has won multiple competitive programming competitions and is an active member of developer communities in Gaborone like Facebook Developer Circles, Google Developers Group, and he is currently a Github Expert and Google Development Student Club Lead in an attempt to share knowledge and experience with other people willing to learn and incorporate technology in their day to day lives

Briefly take us through your journey to a career as a tech entrepreneur

My journey in tech and engineering started at an early age. I wrote my first line of code when I was 14 and that all came from the curiosity of wanting to know how stuff works, I went on to study Computer Systems Engineering in tertiary and that’s where I met other brilliant minds in business, engineering and tech including my cofounder Kesego Mokgosi. We have worked together in developing software solutions across different industries before Anton tech, so we understood each other’s working styles and habits. I had the chance of being the Lead of Google’s Developer Student Club and this exposed me to different Google experts whom I learnt a lot from, from developing a software solution to taking the solution to the customer. 

Please tell us more about your startup, Anton Tech

Anton Tech is an agritech startup leveraging the power of 4IR driving technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Deep Learning, Computer Vision, Robotics, Drone Technology, Satellite data. The company was started by me and Kesego Mokgosi, it started off as a hackathon project and after winning the hackathon we saw the potential the product had and we decided to continue with it, fully develop it and take it to the public. We have developed “Project Anton”, a deep learning model that detects pests and diseases in both crops and animals and gives you a near-instant response on the name of the disease, the appropriate interventions to apply and where to get any supplies you might need. All this works through Whatsapp messenger, so the same subscription that people use to access different social media platforms is the same subscription that gives you access to Project Anton. We also use drone technology of which the drones will be fully developed in house as we have the skills to do so. The drones will be used to detect pests on crops at a larger scale, for aerial mapping and also treatment spraying. The drones are fully autonomous. The solution works with satellite data for Geospatial mapping, hyperspectral image carbon content prediction and is, therefore, able to act as a transboundary disease alert system, suggest the nearest treatment, provide location-based weather reports and landcover mapping. There is also an analytics dashboard that collects verified data that researchers and even the government can use to make data-driven decisions. We are currently a team of 5. Kesego and I partnered with Tlamelo Makati who is the Research Lead, Manyepedza Busang who is the Business Analyst and Refilwe Tlhaselo who is the project manager.

What was the motivation for starting Anton Tech?

Growing up as kids, we saw what our parents were doing in the fields and the problems they were facing. Even today, farmers are still faced with perennial problems of pests and diseases which negatively impacts the productivity and profitability of their enterprises. To address this challenge, farmers rely on Agronomists and Veterinary Officers for expert knowledge and recommendations. However, they can spend days, weeks and sometimes even months waiting on these experts’ interventions. In their field call, an Agronomist spends hours scouting a single field hence they can be overwhelmed by requests for visits during pests or disease outbreaks. Additionally, farmers also have no visibility or knowledge of pharmaceuticals with the prescribed solution to their challenges. This inflates the turnaround time for appropriate farming interventions, which negatively affects their yield. Therefore, there is a challenge to reduce processing times while improving productivity and value chain efficiencies. We developed Project Anton in order to address all these problems in the most simple manner using mediums that millions of people are already using(Whatsapp Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Telegram). Both small and large scale farmers benefit from this technology and it is completely free to the farmers.

As an agritech startup specializing in relatively new concepts like Deep Learning & Machine Learning in a field like agriculture which is mostly occupied by senior citizens who are not well-versed in technology and its benefits, what challenges have you faced?

One of the biggest challenges we face is the lack of network connectivity in some remote areas, this in most cases contributes to occupants of those areas not having smart devices, this poses a challenge to us as we bring the technology through smart devices. In areas where connectivity is good, this is not much of a problem as farmers do not need intensive training on the technology as it uses the Whatsapp architecture they are already used to. The other challenge is that some senior citizens still believe that the traditional ways they’re used to work better for them, so it can be a bit of a challenge bringing technology to them and trying to get them to adopt the technology. One other thing is the lack of aggregated data for the government and researchers to use for data-driven decision making. Lack of this aggregated data makes it difficult to track pests and diseases including effects on yield. 

How have you been trying to overcome those challenges?

We are catering for senior citizens too by delivering our technology in the most simple manner. Most senior citizens are already using social media nowadays, if they’re not on social media there is a high chance that their children are on social media, and since we don’t require them to register/create accounts, even their children can use the technology through Whatsapp for disease detection and getting feedback. We will be having training workshops across the country so as to train farmers and everyone else involved in the agriculture value chain on how the technology we bring can help them.

On the other hand, what have been some of the upsides of being a trailblazer and early adopter of incorporating such technologies into a traditionally non-technological field?

The best part about this has to be being able to solve most of our day to day problems using advanced technologies in the most simple manner, being able to solve problems that affect us first hand and as for years the country's economy has relied on agriculture, being able to lend a helping hand and bring everyone involved in the agriculture value chain together brings joy to us and by this, we continue bringing more innovative products to the space.

In Botswana, agricultural activities take place in mostly remote and rural areas and your products are very high tech. How have you managed to ensure these factors are not a hindrance to the overall effectiveness of Anton Tech’s work?

We are delivering advanced technology in the most simple manner. The technology works through WhatsApp, so the same way you send a picture to someone via Whatsapp is the same way you will be using the technology. Take a picture, send and you get a near-instant response. We do not collect any personal data, we do not require farmers to register or create accounts first so that enables them to even use their kids’ smartphones to do the detection on their crops and get feedback, the technology works through all the network providers so we are not excluding anyone, farmers from small to large scale can use this technology and improve productivity and their yield. 

The rate of adoption of technologies such as Deep Learning & Machine Learning, which form a core part of Anton Tech, seems to be low and slow in Botswana. What has been your experience in terms of the adoption of your product offering in agriculture?

Batswana have welcomed the technology with open hands, we have had farmers from across the country calling us in an attempt to incorporate the technology into their daily processes. Even though the adoption of technology as a whole is very low in the country, we are trying to use different mediums to get work out there and let farmers know about the technology and what good the technology can bring to their daily lives.

What do you think the country stands to gain by being fast in adopting such technologies like the ones offered by Anton Tech?

The country stands to gain a lot from the adoption of technologies like the ones we are offering at Anton Tech. For example, physical field inspections delay productivity as farmers have to wait a long time for inspections and even more time to get inspection results. Anton Tech addresses this by incorporating the technology to already existing platforms like Whatsapp that a lot of people already use so farmers do not have to wait for agronomists to come to their fields to do the inspection; they can just do the inspection themselves especially now during a global crisis of Covid-19, production can still be quicker.

What do you think can be done to speed up the rate of adoption of such technologies in Botswana?

Availing infrastructure where especially the youth can go there and learn different technologies. They say “data is the new oil”. If the youth have the necessary resources to learn the different technologies and get up to date with the latest trends in technology I believe they can in turn use those skills to improve and grow the country’s economy.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers regarding what Anton Tech is up to,project-wise, currently and in the near future?

Anton Tech will be embarking on field testing and training farmers and experts across the country on how the technology works and how it can help them. Project Anton has been featured on other news outlets outside the country, going as far as the United States, so one other thing we are doing is expanding across borders, starting with Sub Saharan Africa then expanding across the continent. One other thing is that we have the skills and expertise to manufacture the drones and robots we use, so that’s one of the departments that we will be growing in AntonTech.

From an academic perspective, what is some of the advice you can give to young people who are interested in studying nascent fields like DL, ML, AI, etc?

Everything in today’s era revolves around technology. There is a piece of technology in almost every single thing you use every day. Studying fields like Artificial Intelligence is not for specific people. Anyone can learn these technologies so I would like to encourage young people out there to learn about technology so as to gain knowledge on how they can incorporate tech in their lives and how it can help them. Technology is there from health care to finance and even agriculture as Anton Tech has already started incorporating it in agriculture

What advice can you give to business founders i.e. aspiring disruptors like yourself, who are looking to also incorporate a technology product into a traditionally non-tech field like agriculture?

Technology when put to good use can make our lives and our business processes easier, so I would like to encourage even founders in non-technical fields to learn by maybe taking short courses in computer literacy and expanding from there.

Lastly, please share with our readers your contact details in case they want to get in touch with you


LinkedIn: Tumo Kgosiyame

Twitter: @tumo505

NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

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