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As South Africa enters its worst drought in over 20 years, the balance of power in the food security versus land reform debate has shifted fundamentally.  Speaking at the 2015 Grain SA Congress in early March, the  Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Senzeni Zokwana expressed concern over the impact of drought on food production for 2015 and 2016 stating  that  “the scale of the drought and its impact will change quite a few of our priorities”.

As of March 2015, the maize crop is likely to be 32% lower than last year and the sunflower crop 31% lower. An Emergency National Drought Task Team Meeting has been set up to discuss the drought conditions in the affected parts of the country and other drought risk management related matters within the sector, with feedback expected shortly.

The expected drop in the 2015 maize yield and the anticipated higher maize prizes, will have an additional impact on food security as maize is a basic input for the production of other food items e.g. red meat , chicken, eggs and milk, leading to associated price increases for basic food products. The power crisis has also contributed to (and will continue to contribute to) heightened food production costs via load shedding and raised energy costs, which will in turn have further additional impacts on South Africa’s food security.

The Regulation of Land Holdings Bill, which President Zuma spoke about in his State of the Nation Address and which Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti said would be passed into law by September 2015, has the potential to further negatively impact South Africa’s food security via its proposal to limit agricultural land holdings to 12 000 hectares. Farmers have been quick to point out that the 12 000 hectare limit would have a dire impact on certain types of farmers in certain locations i.e. a sheep farmer in the Karoo. Fortunately the agriculture minister has also been quick to re-iterate that nothing is cast in stone on this matter and that more debate is needed.

In addition, the ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe reiterated a number of times at a land reform imbizo held on 26 February 2015 that the ANC fully recognised the importance of food security and the role of commercial farmers in ensuring food security. He also made it clear that the ANC was not in favour of changes that would destroy the agricultural sector.

While land reform does need to be addressed, it is vital that it should not be carried out at the expense of food security. Land reform initiatives need to enhance food security for South Africans by developing effective support programmes for land redistribution beneficiaries, and by supporting joint ventures between successful farmers and new-entrants. Monitoring programmes too are vital for tracking the progress of land claims, the effectiveness of beneficiary support programmes, the provision of adequate supporting infrastructure, and ensuring that adequate crop reserves have been retained for times of drought.

The geospatial community – whether via surveying, GIS, remote sensing, and/or mapping  – has the skills to ensure that all of this gets done. The powers-that-be, the ultimate decision-makers, the ministers, the director-generals, need to be made aware of the super-powers that reside within the geospatial sector so that they can adequately fund and make effective inter-departmental,  co-ordinated use of these skills.

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While the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) in South Africa has taken off in recent years, it is actually illegal to fly or operate UAS or remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) in South Africa. Reiterating this point, the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) recently warned that it intends clamping down on the flying of UAS. The SACAA’s threat of a clampdown is pretty toothless however, as it is unable to detect UAS use via radar. No mention was made in the SACAA statement either of going after UAS distributors and service providers. Diluting the warning still further is the fact that to date, no-one has been prosecuted for flying UAS / RPAs in South Africa.

All is not lost though. Over the last few years South Africa has been working under the guidance of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to integrate UAS into the civil aviation sector. Part of this process involves the development of robust standards to regulate classes of UAS; certification and airworthiness requirements; command control and communication systems; licencing and training of remote pilots; accident detection and avoidance systems; as well as the allocation of a secure frequency spectrum to ensure protection from unintentional or unlawful interference. The ultimate aim of all this being to create a regulatory framework that supports the evolution of UAS whilst ensuring that they are operated in a safe, harmonised and seamless manner, as is the case with manned operations.

While the goals of this integration process are laudable, it is unfortunately a very lengthy process with the ICAO anticipating the publication of the minimum requirements with which member states must comply by the end of 2018, and full integration to take place by 2028. Clearly, it will be quite some time before a complete set of regulations can be put into place to regulate South Africa’s UAS sector. And where will the technological frontier be by then?

A major advantage of the ICAO and the SACAA taking this standards-based regulatory approach, however, is that once the framework is eventually adopted it will be possible to update UAS regulations by simply updating the standards, thereby avoiding the necessity of repeating the lengthy integration process currently underway.

Understanding that the UAS sector cannot be held in limbo until 2028, the SACAA is in the process of putting together an interim guidance document as a provisional solution to enable restricted operational approval on a case-by-case basis. The SACAA reports that significant progress has been made on this document, and its release is dependent on the ironing out of processes before it can be released for public consumption.

In a national safety seminar dealing with the Draft White Paper on Civil Aviation, Zakhele Thwala, the deputy director general of civil aviation at the Department of Transport, states that the current draft UAS Policy statements are under review and that the following matters, amongst others, have been identified for further attention: issues relating to security and privacy related matters; the liability and insurance implications of both non-commercial and commercial UAS operations; and the requirement for commercial operators to acquire licences and operating certificates in terms of the applicable air service licencing legislation.

While it may be immensely frustrating for South African users of UAS technology to be held up by regulatory bodies playing catch-up to technology, they can take comfort from knowing that UAS users and service providers across the world share their frustrations.

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As those of us working in the geospatial sector are aware, geomatics is key to planning, infrastructure development and service delivery in virtually every sector of the economy. With this being the case, it makes sense then that geospatial data, services and tools are essential for achieving the goals of the National Development Plan (NDP) or in case you are an NDP non-believer, good old national development planning.

While the NDP has many worthy goals, it is disconcerting to see that instead of focusing on the NDP objectives that have broad support across our society and pursuing those objectives vigourously, the entire NDP has become part of a political game that has more to do with election alliances than changing people’s lives on the ground. The events at Marikana, service delivery protests, the attacks on Somali shopkeepers, the turf battles between trade unions are all symptoms of a discontented society and a discontented people. And this is only going to get worse.

National development planning is needed as a matter of urgency. We need houses to be constructed, roads to be fixed, schools to have school books and food on people’s tables. Why wait for the turmoil and trouble of an African Spring, when we can take control of our destiny and work on making South Africa a better place for all?

To get our national development planning on track, South Africa urgently needs to get its spatial data infrastructure (SDI) up and running. SDIs justify their development costs by generating greater economic benefit for the countries that build them and the developed world has taken note of this. Countries in the developed world are making increasing use of SDIs while we here in South Africa seem to be getting nowhere despite the numerous SDI workshops and meetings that have been held over the last decade or so.

A call was recently issued for suitable candidates to be nominated to become part of South Africa’s Committee for Spatial Information (CSI). It is hoped that government departments are putting a great deal of thought into who should be on this committee. The CSI needs members who have both the ability and the authority to drive the development of South Africa’s spatial data infrastructure (SASDI).

Building an SDI is a complex process, and perhaps one of the areas where South Africa has failed is in acquiring buy-in from top level government leaders. While we urgently need an interoperable, accessible SDI containing updated geo-reference data from a variety of sources, we also desperately need the support of a selection of high profile public and private sector representatives who can help to spread the message that an SDI is essential for improving efficiency, increasing productivity, reducing risk and improving decision making processes for national development planning.

South Africa’s SDI initiative needs strong dynamic leaders who understand what an SDI is capable of doing for the country. It needs leadership that understands the necessity of promoting the concept of an SDI to all levels of government. It needs crusaders who can help to get South Africa on track with its national development planning.

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According to a recent survey, digital mapping services have emerged as one of the most powerful growth areas in information technology in South Africa. The survey of 111 corporate and 400 SME decision-makers was conducted by World Wide Worx with the backing of digital mapping provider MapIT.

The survey revealed that three-quarters of South African corporations allocate more than 2% of their IT budgets to mapping services and that last year, 78% of corporates spent more than R50 000 on mapping services with 22% spending over R500 000. A key point to emerge from the survey is the fact that 70% of corporates intend increasing their mapping budgets in 2013 indicating that mapping is being seen to have increased strategic value for corporations.

In contrast digital mapping services are seen as a luxury item by SMEs. Most SMEs are spending below R50 000 of their IT budget on mapping services and just over a third of SMEs allocate more than 2% of their IT budget to mapping services. There is not yet the same strategic value in mapping services for SMEs as there is for corporates; yet despite this, 66% of SMES intend increasing their digital mapping budgets in 2013.

As Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx points out, South Africa is currently experiencing tight economic conditions and if budgets are being increased for mapping services then they have to be of value. If mapping wasn’t working for companies, more budgets would be decreasing.

Both corporate and SME respondents indicated that the key benefits of digital mapping for their companies were enhanced security (fleet tracking), efficiency and productivity with increased competitiveness and cost effectiveness also being seen as important.

The survey also revealed that 47% of South African corporations operate outside South Africa while only 23% of SMEs operate beyond South Africa’s borders.  This implies that companies looking to target corporates with their digital mapping offerings need to be able to offer digital mapping services covering areas beyond South Africa. Traditional mapping services are not enough anymore. SMEs need mapping services with a national focus while corporates need mixed mapping services to meet their needs.

SMEs tend to lag corporations by 2 years when it comes to adopting new technologies, says Goldstuck. A typical SME has an IT budget of R1-million while the typical corporate budget is R30-million. Consequently SMEs need the business case to be very clear before they can adopt new technologies. They need obvious cost-effective solutions.

Location-based marketing, however, is one of those rare technologies where corporates and SMEs are on the same page says Goldstuck. Forty-one per cent of corporates used location based marketing in 2012 with 56% indicating plans to adopt its use in 2013. In contrast 35% of SMEs used location based marketing in 2012 with 54% indicating that they intended using it in 2013. These results clearly illustrate that the business case for location-based marketing services is strong, leading to an inevitable further demand for digital mapping services during 2013.

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Over the last decade or so private companies have been acquiring vast quantities of geospatial information, and as technology progresses the way in which this data is collected, stored and distributed changes too. Collaborative data collection, more commonly known as crowdsourcing, has also taken off with volunteers populating data portals such as OpenStreetMap.

Traditionalists question the quality of this crowdsourced data but where its strength lies, particularly in the mapping world, is in the ability of enthusiastic volunteers to provide specific details on areas that aren’t covered by commercial or public sector mapping organisations. Citizen cartography is taking off and while professional surveyors may be horrified at the thought of volunteers mapping the world, there is no getting away from the fact that it is already happening.

The commercial world has been quick to grasp the business opportunity with commercial mapping companies using crowdsourcing to assist in the creation of up-to-date, detailed, low cost maps. These businesses recognise the advantages that crowdsourcing has to offer in terms of providing rapid and detailed updates at very low cost. They are not about to reject data generated by their “non-expert” users when this data can be used to improve their product offerings at little cost. Business is business.

This leads to questions regarding the accuracy of crowdsourced data and how to manage it. Some navigation companies handle the matter by using mapping specialists to verify user-generated data before it is incorporated into official updates while other mapping companies handle the issue by assessing over time the credibility of users reporting data and by determining how many other users are in agreement with the user-generated data.

Previously users acquired their data from public sector sources such as our national mapping agency, Chief Directorate: National Geo-spatial Information. When acquiring data from such sources, users are generally assured of the quality of the data they are accessing – it is accurately collected by mapping specialists and is maintained and updated accordingly. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to data provided by collaborative and/or commercial data providers.

Google itself is upfront about not providing any guarantees as to the quality of its spatial data. Ed Parsons makes the point that people all over the world are using Google’s spatial data because it is good enough for their purposes. Why, he asks, should Google spend billions of dollars providing a high quality data product when the majority of its users don’t have exacting data quality requirements.

Moving data collection beyond the hands of the experts may lead to an inrease in suspect data but there is no getting around the fact that other people are interested in this data and have a use for it. Entrepreneurs are often able to see opportunities and applications inherent in “non-expert” mapping data that mapping specialists would turn their noses at. This does not mean to say that there is no need for quality data. Of course there is. Decision makers, policy makers and a variety of users across all our economic sectors require high-quality spatial data in order to do their work. But who says we have to have one or the other. Surely there is a place for both in this rapidly changing world of ours.

 

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The go-slow at the Surveyor-General Office in KwaZulu-Natal has finally come to an end and the long awaited and much needed restructuring is in the process of being implemented with surveyors being included in the process this time.

It is a great pity that NEHAWU had to resort to industrial action in order to ensure that surveying personnel working in the KZN:SG offices received their due. Particularly in light of an affirmative action policy put in place by the office back in 1998 which goes beyond so many of today’s cosmetic attempts at BEE. This programme provided assistance at the most basic level by helping employees without a matric to obtain this qualification via adult basic education and training initiatives.  The policy didn’t stop there either. The next step involved assisting matriculants without other qualifications to study the Survey Officers course. Those doing well were then provided with an opportunity to go to technikon and then on to university.

This four step programme is a genuine affirmative action programme which needs to be replicated across the country.  However, instead of making this programme a model to be implemented across the country at other government departments, it was stymied by government itself.  As part of a policy change to move away from automatic rank progression the then Department of Land Affairs decided to freeze all posts at the level to which they were filled before the policy change. Consequently from 2003 to 2008 beneficiaries of this affirmative action programme were unable to benefit from their own skills development.

To gain much needed promotion opportunities SG:KZN employees had to move to other SG Offices. Making matters worse, a much anticipated restructuring implementation process approved in 2008 omitted Surveyors, Survey Technicians and Survey Officers from this process. The exclusion of these groups from the implementation process dragged on until 2009 when NEHAWU instituted industrial action of behalf of its members in the SG:KZN offices.

The matter was resolved in April 2010 but only after R4-billion rands worth of property projects were delayed for over four months and approximately 11 000 people were unable to work while waiting for projects to be approved. Never mind the goodwill that was lost by state employees towards the hand that feeds them.

The Surveyor-General Offices are responsible for land administration in South Africa and the cadastral information generated by these offices plays a vital role in governance and planning.  Property rights are determined by our land management system and from the application of these rights spring the wheels of commercial endeavours and their resulting benefits. However despite playing a fundamental role in our economy, land administration has a tendency to be taken for granted with the spotlight falling more readily on land reform issues.

As the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform switches its focus to “vibrant, sustainable and equitable rural communities”, it would be well advised to remember that land administration plays a crucial part in the smooth running of our economy and the surveyors providing this service need to be supported in their endeavours.

 

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Prior to this year’s shake-up, companies like TomTom, Garmin and Magellan were content to buy their mapping data from major mapping suppliers Tele Atlas or Navteq, which are responsible for creating and constantly updating accurate street maps. Then came the unanticipated popularity of personal navigation devices, which turned this comfortable set-up on its head.

First off the mark back in March 2007 was integrated mailstream management solutions provider, Pitney Bowes, with the announcement of their intention to acquire MapInfo, a global provider of location intelligence solutions, for R2,7billion.

Next up in July 2007 was TomTom, Europe’s leading producer of personal navigation devices with an offer to purchase Tele Atlas, its mapping data supplier, for R18 billion. The race heated up on 1 October 2007 when Nokia took out the remaining international map content supplier, Navteq for R53 billion. (On a side note, Navteq supplies mapping data to major players like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.)

When announcing the deal, Navteq president and CEO, Judson Green expressed his excitement at the thought of what could be achieved by combining Navteq’s location experience with the resources of Nokia, which has a customer base of more than 900 million people. The mind boggles at the possibilities here.

Garmin’s top management must have gone green at the gills on hearing the news – they obtain most of their mapping data from Navteq. Making matters worse, their main rival TomTom was in the process of acquiring the only other major map content supplier, Tele Atlas.

Moving quickly Garmin leapt into the race on 31 October 2007 with a rival cash offer for Tele Atlas. Not taking a chance on losing out, TomTom signaled their intention to increase their offer on 7 November. To TomTom’s relief I am sure, Tele Atlas indicated their willingness to accept TomTom’s revised offer the very next day.

Recently we have seen some action on South African territory with Tele Atlas acquiring a 76% stake in Pretoria-based Georigin, which specialises in map data from West, East and Southern Africa covering a population of 500 million people. Georigin in turn has a 49% interest in local company MapIT, which owns the rights to a map database of South Africa and Nigeria. Almost simultaneously Australian-based AAMHatch announced the acquisition of local company AOC Geomatics which provides survey and mapping services to South Africa and the rest of Africa.

This surge of interest in map content producers is good news for users of map data. We can expect more regular map updates as well as the introduction of a range of innovative mobile location-based services for both business and personal use. In the meantime though keep your eyes and ears open for Google and Microsoft’s reactions to all this market manoeuvering.

 

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