Intervention of digital technology, key to addressing food security

Agriculture is fundamental to global well-being as it is responsible for the basic necessity, food, while impacting the other two basic human needs, water and air. The vision of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is of a world free from hunger and malnutrition, where food and agriculture help raise living standards everyone, especially the poorest, in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable way. way.

We have made great progress in reducing hunger and poverty and improving food security and nutrition over the past decades. Productivity gains and technological advances have contributed to more efficient use of resources and improved food safety, but these advances are unevenly distributed.

However, according to the UN Hunger Report, significant concerns persist as 829 million people still suffer from hunger. In addition, global food security could be threatened due to increasing pressures on natural resources and climate change, both of which threaten the sustainability of food systems.

Agriculture is in crisis

Agriculture today is in crisis due to the complex and interrelated challenges to ensuring food security. Important 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 events.
  • Upsurges of transboundary pests and diseases.
  • The evolution of demand in the global food system.
  • The financial viability of environmentally friendly agriculture for producers.

The key to addressing these challenges is a holistic approach to creating a demand-driven, technology-driven agricultural ecosystem.

The agricultural economy, an argument in favor of a realignment

The decline in agriculture’s share of total output and employment is occurring globally at different rates, posing unique challenges in different regions. Although agricultural investments and technological innovations are boosting productivity, yield growth has slowed to rates too low to sustain the surge in global demand. While food loss and waste take up a significant share of agricultural production, reducing it would reduce the need to increase production.

The need is to change cultivation patterns and map crops with the geographical areas they are best suited to grow using digital technology. At the same time, digital must be deployed for better post-operation logistics planning to reduce food waste.

Productivity or livelihoods, an ongoing debate

High productivity food systems are capital intensive, vertically integrated and concentrated in fewer hands (read corporations and large farmers). In contrast, low productivity food systems form the current broader base (read small and medium farmers). Capital is at the heart of vital agricultural activities that impact production, such as the supply of quality inputs, access to modern technology, the application of efficient farming practices, on-farm logistics and food distribution. . Moreover, the increased risk associated with farming makes it unsustainable for those with fragmented land holdings and a lack of capital.

The livelihoods of small and marginal farming households are shrinking and they are increasingly seeking employment opportunities outside of agriculture for which they are unqualified. One of the possible ways to solve this problem is to increase investments in digital infrastructure in public-private partnership mode and to make small-scale farming more profitable by reducing the cost of operations, mitigating risks and strengthening business linkages through technological intervention.

Environmental sustainability, a necessity

The increasing impact of climate change on all aspects of life is visible to all. Agriculture depends on fresh water since 70% of the world’s fresh water is used in agriculture. Poor irrigation techniques and water management result in the loss of more than 40% of the water used in agriculture. Rising incomes and dietary changes mean greater demand for water-intensive foods.

Today, 3.2 billion people live in agricultural areas with severe water scarcity or scarcity, including 1.2 billion in areas with very high water stress. Without immediate action, these people and many more will be affected because fresh water is vital for basic human activities.

The need of the hour is to shift from high-input, resource-intensive agricultural systems to sustainable food and agricultural production. Innovative digital technologies can enable precise use of resources, including water, by protecting and enhancing the natural resource base while increasing productivity.

Demand and consumption, an eminent turning point

The world population will reach nearly 9.7 billion by 2050 and nearly 10.9 billion by 2100, which will stimulate agricultural demand (in a scenario of modest economic growth). Furthermore, income growth would accelerate a dietary transition towards higher consumption of more nutritious foods with more protein and vitamins such as fruits and vegetables compared to cereals, which would require commensurate changes in production and increase the pressure on natural resources.

There is also a visible trend of people seeking 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 cost-effective traceability and transparency will not only make trade safe, but also food.

Digital technologies for the present and the future of agriculture

Digital technology can be key to solving long-standing challenges in agriculture. There are different use cases of digital technologies in agriculture. Some of the most prominent are the Internet of Things (IoT), precision agriculture using autonomous air and ground vehicles (drones), big data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI&ML), and blockchain.

The IoT brings many benefits 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 infestations and soil nutrition are invaluable to production and offer valuable accurate data to improve farming techniques over time.

Precision farming and automation effectively reduce human efforts and resources used on farms. Drones are making an impact as they help farmers perform tasks such as spraying fertilizer or pesticides, taking real-time images of plant growth, and more. 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 help farmers immensely in making better decisions regarding the activities they perform during cultivation. Data collected in real time at ground level 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.

AI & ML technologies such as deep learning, computer vision and artificial neural networks are used to detect pest infestations, crop stress and nutritional deficiencies, to name a few , for real-time intervention.

Transparency and traceability, enabling technologies such as Blockchain can ensure that the agricultural input value chain and agricultural produce value chain can be made efficient, free from corruption and easy to regulate.

Today’s world needs the adoption of digital technology in agriculture faster than ever, not only to feed the people of this planet, but to save the planet itself.



The opinions expressed above are those of the author.


Norma A. Roth