How does artificial intelligence-powered precision farming affect food sustainability? This is the question we asked our panel of experts. "Precision farming" is a bit of a buzz phrase; it is often used, but rarely defined. Generally, it means the widespread adoption of new technologies to accurately monitor and control agricultural activity. But which technologies are adopted and which consequences result?
By 2050, the world's population is expected to reach 9.8 billion. With limited land, and intensive farming already causing irreversible environmental damage, how can we feed the world without exhausting its natural resources? In every direction farmers with their famous conical hats are pushing tiny rice seedlings deep into the mud. Rice farming is essential for Vietnam's food supply and economy, but such a booming industry comes with an environmental cost. Farmers are dependent on nitrogen-based fertilizers to boost yields.
In present times, farmers are leaning towards using modern technologies to maximize their production with minimal efforts and resources while also meet the demand of global hunger. While the agricultural revolution of the 1800s brought about grain elevators, chemical fertilizers, and the first gas-powered tractor and the 1960s saw the usage of satellites in farm planning, to feed the projected 9.6 billion human population of 2050, farmers and agricultural researchers need to think of new innovative solutions. Other challenges in agriculture include extreme weather conditions and rising climate change and environmental impact resulting from intensive farming practices. This is why the agriculture industry needs to embrace IoT (Internet of Things). Agricultural IoT applications make it possible for ranchers and farmers to collect meaningful data.
Agriculture is the backbone of the African economy and is a critical factor to accomplish sustainable development goals (SDGs) in Africa, most particularly poverty and hunger. At present, farming accounts for about 60 percent of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa and is also a driver of inclusive and sustainable growth. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the world population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050, and to feed that number of people, global food production will need to grow by 70 percent. In Africa, to have a population of about two billion people by then, farm productivity needs to be accelerated at a faster rate than the global average to avoid continued mass hunger. Technology has a vast untapped potential to revolutionize and improve the efficiency of agricultural production in the continent.
Environmental author Wendell Berry might shudder at this comparison, but farmers are like data scientists. To make decisions, they ferret out meaning from a sea of data. That data just happens to be related to environmental conditions like temperature, rainfall, salinity, nitrogen, pests, commodity prices, and other variables. What that data often shows is trouble: increasingly costly or scarce water supplies, new and more voracious pests, herbicide-resistant weeds, and extreme weather. All of this can result in lower farm yields and higher costs.