Is Agritech the solution for Food Security?

Mansoor Sarwar, Technical Director at Sage Middle East discuss the evolution of technology in agriculture sector from primitive times to today where new age technologies like AI, IoT can play a big role

Mansoor Sarwar, Technical Director, Sage

From ploughing with oxen to the introduction of tractors, inventions and innovations have always played an integral role in agriculture. At present, as is the case with several other sectors, agriculture is undergoing transformation driven by technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), connected sensors and aerial drones that have given rise to a new segment – agritech. Agriculture is slowly embracing advanced technologies to develop sustainable approaches to farming and solve pressing global issues, such as feeding a surging population.

The United Nations expects the number of people in the world to reach 9.6 billion and the demand for food to climb by 70 per cent by 2050. Population growth, coupled with climate change, has shifted the long-term focus of agriculture to food security and sustainability.

Countries across the globe seek to produce food in abundance to cater to the needs of their nations and the world. For instance, the UAE aims to increase its food production by 60 per cent within the next three years, according to the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment. However, today’s food systems are falling short, and remain both unsustainable for the environment and unable to adequately nourish a major part of the global population. This state of affairs can be attributed to the complex challenges faced by farmers – whether it is lack of rain, skills shortage or financial issues.

In a bid to address these challenges, the agriculture sector is turning to technology to boost productivity, improve quality control, obtain accurate information and save costs. Farmers are being encouraged to adopt innovative solutions, such as IoT, drones, AI, cloud and mobility applications, to manage their farms more efficiently. These tools can bring enhancements in various operational areas, resulting in higher yields.

Farm management with IoT
Precision farming and soil monitoring are vital contributors to producing quality crops. Farmers can sample the soil for pH and nutrient levels to make informed decisions regarding strategic planting for better results. GPS-based soil sampling helps them figure out how, where and when to plant the crops, optimise the use of resources such as fertilisers, pesticides and water, and manage their land more effectively.

Weather conditions and factors such as temperature, sunlight and rainfall have a significant impact on crops and livestock. In bygone days, farmers had no choice but to make the most of the weather out there. With the emergence of weather forecasting technologies, such as weather stations, satellites and drones, things have changed. Farmers can tap into the data provided by these tools to achieve more reliable yields and maximise the efficiency of irrigation systems. Weather drones, for instance, can alert them about impending storms that could impact the growth of crops.

Managing agriculture data and costs
In addition to producing quality yields, farmers are also keen to reduce costs through using fewer resources, smarter planning and better data management. Since agriculture is a complex and niche area, traditional business management solutions (BMS) are not applicable here, as they do not meet the needs of farmers. Tailored, cloud-based BMS optimise operations and boost data visibility.

Let us examine a very basic example of how modern BMS enhance overall efficiency. It is a common practice for manufacturers to pay growers based on the quality of their crops. The growers often do not provide invoices, and therefore there is no record of the transaction. Such practices can be detrimental for any business. With a proper BMS in place, buyers can generate invoices on behalf of growers and manage advance payments as well as final settlement after delivery. Doing so will not only record the transaction, creating an inventory, but also eliminate any chance of human error while improving traceability and quality control. Cloud-based BMS are increasingly important in the effort to turn a profit while feeding the world’s population.

The agriculture sector, perhaps due to its complexity, has been slow in embracing technological transformation. However, considering the potential of agritech to offer solutions to the global issues revolving around food and population, it is high time farmers got onboard the technology bandwagon and leveraged tech solutions to build a better future for everyone.