The objective of this series of articles is to highlight how Emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, Quantum Computing, Extended Reality, Block Chain, Big Data Analytics, e-Networks, Drones, Digital Twins and 5G networks can be leveraged to meet the Sustainable Development Goals-SDGs 2030, while impacting various domains. Another objective of this series of articles is to highlight how leveraging all these technologies can help create business opportunities in various domains, and enablement of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) adoption by these technologies. This time we talk about Smart Agriculture.
Challenge at hand: The SDG Goal 2 which says ‘Zero Hunger’, is focused on ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. It is about creating a world free of hunger by 2030.The ongoing Russia and Ukraine has a global crisis. It is threatening the implementation of many Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But, one major challenge that is staring us, the humanity in the face, is food shortages, and rising prices of food grains.
The global issue of hunger and food insecurity has shown an alarming increase since 2015, a trend exacerbated by a combination of factors including the pandemic, conflict, climate change, and deepening inequalities. By 2022, approximately 735 million people – or 9.2 percent of the world’s population – found themselves in a state of chronic hunger – a staggering rise compared to 2019. This data underscores the severity of the situation, revealing a growing crisis. In addition, an estimated 2.4 billion people faced moderate to severe food insecurity in 2022. This classification signifies their lack of access to sufficient nourishment. This number escalated by an alarming 391 million people compared to 2019. 2 billion people in the world do not have regular access to safe, nutritious and sufficient food. In 2022, 148 million children had stunted growth and 45 million children under the age of 5 were affected by wasting. It was projected that more than 600 million people worldwide will be facing hunger in 2030, highlighting the immense challenge of achieving the zero-hunger target. (www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/)
There are several reasons for this challenge, staring the whole humanity in the face, particularly the ones from the global south, which include:
- Disruption of supply chains due to the prolonged war.
- Acute shortage of water for agriculture in some parts of the world, supposedly due to climate change.
- Untimely rains destroying crops in some geographies of major exporters of food grains, like in India.
- There is another reason, discussing which is generally is a taboo-70 percent of world agriculture and 60-70 percent of precious fresh water for sustaining this is used for feeding animals in captivity, for the meat industry. These poor animals who are themselves victims, also pose a major challenge to the environment, particularly the depletion of the ozone layer.
The lofty targets
UN has several specific targets and indicators related to food and agriculture:
Target 2.1: By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular, the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round.
Target 2.2: By 2030, end all forms of malnutrition, including achieving, by 2025, the internationally agreed targets on stunting and wasting in children under 5 years of age, and address the nutritional needs of adolescent girls, pregnant and lactating women, and older persons.
Target 2.3: By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular, women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources, and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets, and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment.
Target 2.4: By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters, and that progressively improve land and soil quality.
Target 2.5: By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, farmed and domesticated animals, and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional, and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed.
Target 2.A: Increase investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development, and plant and livestock gene banks to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries, in particular, least developed countries.
Target 2.B: Correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets, including through the parallel elimination of all forms of agricultural export subsidies and all export measures with equivalent effect, in accordance with the mandate of the Doha Development Round.
Target 2.C Adopt measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivatives and facilitate timely access to market information, including on food reserves, in order to help limit extreme food price volatility.
The targets did seem to be reasonable till about 4 years back, before the pandemic, and also the Russia-Ukraine conflict. But now, the situation looks quite daunting. , is this battle with hunger lost? Not completely! Technologies can be, and are being leveraged to salvage as many targets as possible. Let us map the emerging technologies with the targets of SDG 2.
Precision agriculture uses technology such as Internet of things(IoT) devices, sensors and drones which can monitor soil conditions, weather, and crop health in real-time.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help increase the productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers by optimizing resource use, improving crop yields, and reducing input costs. It can also help optimize food distribution networks to ensure that safe, nutritious, and sufficient food reaches vulnerable populations efficiently and cost-effectively.AI algorithms can analyze vast amounts of agricultural data to provide insights and recommendations for better crop management, disease detection, and yield prediction.
Digital twins can provide real-time monitoring of crops, allowing farmers to optimize irrigation, fertilization, and pest control. This leads to increased crop yields, ensuring more people have access to sufficient food.
Big Data Analytics can analyze supply chain data to optimize food distribution networks, ensuring that safe, nutritious food reaches vulnerable populations efficiently. (Target 2.1).
Food labeling and traceability: Augmented Reality (AR) applications can provide real-time information about food products, including their nutritional content, allergen information, and source. This empowers consumers, including vulnerable populations, to make informed food choices.
Blockchain can help to enhance food traceability, allowing consumers to verify the origin, quality, and safety of their food. This helps ensure that food is safe and nutritious, particularly for vulnerable populations. (Target 2.1).
Food Recovery and Redistribution Apps: Mobile apps and platforms can help reduce food waste by connecting surplus food from restaurants, retailers, and households with organizations that can distribute it to those in need. We already have one such model in our own Mumbai. It is called Roti Bank. (https://rotibankfoundation.org/) (Target 2.1).
Nutritional Monitoring, Assessment and Education:
IoT devices can track nutritional data, including the quality and quantity of food consumed. This information can be used to address malnutrition by ensuring better access to nutrient- rich foods.
AI and Big Data Analytics can analyze nutritional data and health records to identify and address malnutrition, stunting, and wasting in vulnerable populations. It can also provide personalized dietary recommendations.
Digital twins can integrate data on soil conditions, crop health, and nutrient levels to provide insights into the nutritional content of food. This can help address malnutrition by ensuring better access to nutrient-rich crops.
Drones can be used to assess and map nutritional needs in remote or underserved areas. They can deliver nutrient-rich foods and supplements to vulnerable populations.
VR simulations can be used to educate individuals, especially vulnerable groups, about proper nutrition and dietary choices. Virtual experiences can showcase the importance of diverse diets and balanced nutrition. (Target 2.2).
Resource Optimization: IoT supports precision agriculture, enabling small-scale food producers to optimize resource use, including land, water, and inputs. This results in increased productivity and income.
Digital twins enable small-scale food producers to optimize resource use, including land, water, and inputs, leading to increased productivity and income.
Drones provide valuable data on soil conditions, pest infestations, and crop health, helping farmers improve productivity.
Big Data Analytics can optimize resource allocation and provide insights into sustainable farming practices, benefiting small-scale food producers and improving their incomes AI- powered models can predict crop yields, helping farmers plan for production and market demand more effectively. (Target 2.3).
Training for Farmers: Virtual Reality (VR) can offer immersive training experiences for small- scale food producers, enabling them to learn about modern agricultural practices, land management, and value addition opportunities. (Target 2.3).
Secure Land Rights: Blockchain can help establish and secure land ownership records, ensuring that small-scale food producers, including women and indigenous peoples, have secure access to land and property rights. (Target 2.3).
Sustainable Farming: Blockchain can record and verify the adoption of sustainable farming practices, including crop rotation, organic farming, and reduced pesticide use. This encourages the implementation of resilient agricultural practices and improves land and soil quality.
Digital twins support the implementation of sustainable farming practices by monitoring soil quality, water usage, and crop rotation. They also help in planning for climate-resilient agriculture.
AR applications can provide real-time information to farmers about soil health, weather conditions, and sustainable farming practices. This supports the implementation of climate- resilient and eco-friendly agriculture.
Drones can assist in monitoring the impact of climate change on agriculture. They provide data for adapting farming practices to changing weather patterns and extreme events.
IoT sensors can provide real-time data on weather conditions and soil moisture levels. This information helps farmers adapt to climate change and implement sustainable farming practices.
AI can support the development of climate-resilient agricultural practices by analyzing weather data and providing early warnings for extreme weather events.
Big Data Analytics can analyze climate and environmental data to help farmers implement climate-resilient agricultural practices and minimize the impact of extreme weather events. Satellite technology can monitor crop conditions, weather patterns, and natural disasters, providing valuable insights into potential disruptions to food markets, besides helping in strengthening capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and progressively improve land and soil quality. (Target 2.4).
Biodiversity Preservation: Blockchain can be used to track and manage genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge. It can ensure equitable sharing of benefits and protect biodiversity.
Big Data Analytics can help monitor and manage help analyzing genetic data and supporting conservation efforts in seed banks, and genetic resource utilization.
IoT can assist by tracking genetic data in crops and livestock. This supports the management of seed banks and genetic resource utilization.
AI can assist in monitoring and preserving the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, and farmed animals by analyzing genetic data and supporting conservation efforts.
Digital twins can assist in monitoring the genetic makeup of seeds, plants, and animals. They support the management of seed banks and genetic resource utilization.
Extended Reality (XR) can be used to create immersive experiences that raise awareness about the importance of preserving genetic diversity in seeds, plants, and animals.
Drones can survey and monitor biodiversity in agricultural landscapes, helping to protect genetic diversity and wild species associated with agriculture. (Target 2.5).
Agricultural R&D: IoT data collection and analysis can support agricultural research efforts, enabling the development of technology and practices to enhance agricultural productive capacity in developing countries.
AI can accelerate agricultural R&D by analyzing vast datasets, conducting virtual experiments, and predicting the outcomes of different interventions.
Digital twins facilitate in simulating and analyzing different farming scenarios. They support capacity-building efforts in developing countries.
VR can facilitate collaborative R&D efforts by allowing experts from different parts of the world to collaborate virtually on agricultural projects, improving agricultural productivity in developing countries.
Drones support agricultural research by providing data for crop trials and experiments. They also enable the efficient dissemination of research findings to farmers in remote areas.
Big Data Analytics accelerates analysis of vast datasets and predicting the outcomes of different interventions, leading to enhanced agricultural productive capacity. (Target 2.A).
Agricultural Financing: Blockchain based smart contracts can facilitate transparent and efficient financing for rural infrastructure development, agricultural research, and technology adoption in developing countries. (Target 2.A).
Market Access and Transparency: IoT and drones provides real-time data on crop yields, market conditions, and transportation logistics. This helps farmers make informed decisions about when and where to sell their products, contributing to market access and transparency.
XR applications can provide virtual access to global agricultural markets and trade information, helping to reduce trade restrictions and market distortions.
AI, Big Data Analytics and digital twins provides real-time and accurate market information, reducing trade restrictions and market distortions in agricultural markets.
Blockchain can provide transparent and tamper-proof records of agricultural trade transactions, reducing the potential for trade restrictions and distortions in agricultural markets. (Target 2.B).
Market Regulation: Digital twins can contribute to regulating food commodity markets by providing comprehensive data on market dynamics, including food reserves and pricing information.
AI and Big Data Analytics can assist in monitoring and regulating food commodity markets by analyzing trading data and providing real-time market information to limit extreme price volatility.
Mixed Reality (MR) applications can provide traders and policymakers with real-time market data, including information on food reserves and pricing, contributing to market stability and reducing price volatility.
Blockchain can ensure proper functioning of food commodity markets and their derivatives and facilitate real-time access to market information, including food reserves and pricing data, ensuring transparency and helping to limit food price volatility. (Target 2.C).
Enablement of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance)
Emerging technologies can be and are being leveraged towards SDGs 2030, which in turn can meet the Economic, Environmental and Social & Cultural objectives in various domains, including the Smart Agriculture.
There are a lot of business opportunities in various applications. Organisations involved in these smart agriculture projects, have reasons to focus on the ESG (Environment, Social & Governance) aspects as well, thus having a positive impact on the society on the whole.
It is important to note that while these emerging technologies offer immense potential, their deployment should be guided by ethical considerations, inclusive governance, and ensuring equitable access to their benefits to avoid exacerbating existing inequalities or creating new ones.
Whatever technologies we deploy can solve problems in the short run, but we need to address the core issue of sustainability for a long term solution. Organic farming which has been at the core of Indian agriculture system before the western model of chemicals and fertilizers was thrust on us by the colonizers, needs to be incentivised for the farmers to revert back to it.
UN has declared 2023 as the year of millets. Millets have been traditionally grown in those parts of India where there is an acute shortage of water, as these crops need less water, and the end product is nutritious. This too can be a solution to the food crisis facing the humanity.
As has been mentioned earlier, 70 percent of world agriculture and almost 70 percent of precious water for this agriculture is used for feeding animals in captivity, for the meat industry. Now even this meat is going out of reach of the poor people, and there is a talk about ‘synthetic meat’. Implications for the human health, of such a move will get revealed, may be decades later. So, while the humanity is faced with a crisis of food shortages, and rising food prices, we are busy feeding these poor animals, who will not exist tomorrow in any case. As Indians who believe in Vasudaiva Kutumbkam, we need to ponder over this duplicity as well. It is here that Indian ethos can show the way forward.