Agriculture is fundamental to global well-being, as it is responsible for the basic need, food, while affecting the other two essential human needs, water and air. The vision of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is a world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture contribute to improving the standard of living for all, especially the poorest, economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way. way.
We have come a long way in reducing hunger and poverty and improving food security and nutrition in recent decades. Productivity gains and technological advances have contributed to more efficient use of resources and improved food security, but these advances are unevenly distributed.
However, according to the UN Hunger Report, significant concerns remain as 829 million people still suffer from hunger. Furthermore, global food security could be in jeopardy due to increasing pressures on natural resources and climate change, which threaten the sustainability of food systems.
Agriculture is in crisis
Agriculture is in crisis today due to complex interdependent challenges to ensure food security. The significant challenges are:
- The uneven demographic expansion of the population.
- The threats posed by climate change on agricultural productivity.
- The intensification of natural disasters and extreme weather.
- Outbreaks of transboundary pests and diseases.
- The changing demand pattern in the global food system.
- The financial sustainability of environmentally sensitive agriculture for producers.
The key to addressing these challenges is a holistic approach to creating a demand-driven, technology-enabled agricultural ecosystem.
Agricultural economics, a case for realignment
The decline in the share of agriculture in total output and employment is occurring globally at different rates, posing unique challenges across regions. Although agricultural investments and technological innovations are boosting productivity, yield growth has slowed to rates that are too low to sustain rising global demand. Although food losses and waste represent a significant proportion of agricultural production, reducing them would reduce the need to increase production.
The need is to change farming patterns and map crops to the geographies in which they are best suited to farm using digital technology. At the same time, digital technology should be implemented for better post-farm logistics planning to reduce food waste.
Productivity or livelihoods, an ongoing debate
High productivity food systems are capital intensive, vertically integrated and concentrated in few hands (read corporations and large farms). Rather, low-productivity food systems form the broader base today (read small and medium farmers). Capital is essential for vital agricultural activities that affect production, such as the provision of quality inputs, access to modern technology, application of efficient agricultural practices, farm-based logistics and food distribution. Furthermore, the increased risk associated with farming makes it unsustainable for those with fragmented land and a lack of capital.
The livelihood of small and marginal farming households is declining, and they increasingly seek employment opportunities outside of agriculture for which they are not trained. One of the possible ways to address this problem is to increase investment in digital infrastructure in the public-private partnership mode and make small-scale agriculture more profitable by reducing the cost of operations, mitigating risk and strengthening linkages. market through technological intervention.
Environmental Sustainability, a Necessity
The increased impact of climate change on all aspects of life is visible to everyone. Agriculture depends on fresh water, as 70% of the world’s fresh water is used in agriculture. Poor irrigation and water management techniques lead to the loss of more than 40% of the water used in agriculture. Rising incomes and changes in diet imply a greater demand for water-intensive foods.
Currently, 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with high water scarcity or scarcity, of which 1.2 billion live in areas with very high water constraints. Without immediate action, these people and many more will be affected, as fresh water is vital for basic human activities.
The need of the moment is to move from resource-intensive, high-input farming systems to sustainable food and agricultural production. Innovative digital technologies can enable the precise use of resources, including water, protecting and enhancing the natural resource base while increasing productivity.
Demand and consumption, an eminent change
The world population will grow to almost 9.7 billion in 2050 and about 10.9 billion in 2100, boosting agricultural demand (in a scenario of modest economic growth). In addition, income growth would accelerate a dietary transition towards increased consumption of more nutritious foods with more protein and vitamins, such as fruits and vegetables relative to grains, requiring proportional changes in production and increasing pressure on resources. natural.
There is also a visible trend of people looking for more sustainably grown foods with high nutrient density and a shift to natural. This aspect makes it necessary to transform value chains in agriculture to make them more efficient and reliable. Digital technology that enables economic traceability and transparency will make not only trade safe, but also food.
Digital technologies for the present and future of agriculture
Digital technology can be instrumental in solving long-standing challenges in agriculture. There are several use cases of digital technologies in agriculture. Some of the most important are the Internet of Things (IoT), precision agriculture with autonomous aerial and ground vehicles (Drones), Big Data Analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI&ML) and Blockchain.
IoT brings many advantages to the table due to its ability to innovate the landscape of current farming methods. IoT sensors capable of providing farmers with information on crop conditions, rainfall, pest infestation, and soil nutrition are invaluable to production and offer accurate data valuable to improving farming techniques over time.
Precision agriculture and automation effectively reduce human efforts and resources used on farms. Drones are impactful as they help farmers execute tasks like spraying fertilizers or pesticides, taking pictures of plant growth in real time, etc. Data collected by drones and satellites can be useful for analysis and for transmitting real-time information to farmers at a farm level without going to the farm.
Big Data Analytics platforms greatly help farmers to make better decisions about the activities they carry out during cultivation. Data collected at ground level in real time can be used and analyzed to provide farmers with information on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it in the form of recommendations.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies, such as deep learning, computer vision, and artificial neural networks, are used to detect pest infestations, crop stress, and nutrient deficiencies, to name a few, for real-time intervention. .
Transparency and traceability, enabling technologies like Blockchain can ensure that both the agricultural input value chain and the agricultural product value chain can be efficient, free from corruption and easy to regulate.
The world today needs the adoption of digital technology in agriculture faster than ever, not only to feed the inhabitants of this planet but to save the planet itself.
The opinions expressed above are those of the author.
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