March 13, 2023
Just like the ongoing discussion surrounding ChatGPT and the growth of artificial intelligence, the future of agritech has been a trending topic within the agricultural sector, albeit for quite a long time.
In the last two decades, agritech has revolutionized how we grow and produce food. With precision technologies, we can increase crop yields yet minimize the use of land and various farm supplies. In today's farm fields, sensors are used to determine the use of agricultural chemicals and understand soil health and weather forecasts. Robotics has become advanced enough that farmers have even begun using them to plant and harvest crops and milk cows. To meet the growing demand for food and produce crops all year round, many Asian countries have turned to greenhouse farming.
Although there have been barriers to the adoption of agritech by smallholder farmers in developing countries, we've seen an onward trend in the use of mobile devices to share useful information about the use of farm inputs and seeds, the proper farming techniques, as well as local market trends.
With the growing world population, the unprecedented rate of food wastage and loss, and the negative impact of climate on agriculture and food supply, it's more important than ever to find ways to improve the efficiency and sustainability of agriculture.
Needless to say that the future of agri-tech must center on sustainability. We need to leverage the latest technologies to enhance traditional farming methods and create a more efficient, productive, and environmentally friendly food system.
In this article, we will examine the major challenges facing agriculture today and the future, evaluating the role of agritech as a possible solution.
As the global population grows and natural resources become scarce, the agriculture industry faces mounting pressure to meet the food demands of the future. To rise to this challenge, the industry must address four critical developments: demographic changes, resource scarcity, climate change, and food waste.
In this section and the following one, we will explore these developments, examining how they impact agriculture and the innovative solutions being developed to address these pressing issues.
Population growth becomes a threat to food security when there is no proportionate increase in food production. In the future, we will see an increased demand for food as the planet's population grows. By 2050, the world's population is expected to rise from 8 billion people today to 9.8 billion. During this period, the world must sustainably produce 70% more food to meet the needs of the growing population.
The trend toward urbanization is also a case in point. In low-income and high-income countries, dietary changes occur parallel with economic development and urbanization. According to the World Bank just 30 years ago in the early 1990s, 54% of people lived in rural areas; that figure has dropped by 20% in recent times. As incomes rise, people move to cities and their consumption patterns typically transform as availability and variety of food increases dramatically. In particular, there is a trend towards consuming greater amounts of animal protein — especially beef — which itself raises environmental concerns such as water use and greenhouse gas emission.
While agriculture remains crucial to feeding the world's growing population, it also comes with significant environmental consequences. To produce more food, should we use more finite natural resources such as land, water, and energy?
Agriculture is indeed important to our civilization and economy, but it has put too much strain on the Earth's resources. Farming currently takes up 50 per cent of the Earth's habitable land. Moreover, there is evidence that the large-scale conversion of natural habitats into agricultural lands has led to the loss of biodiversity, increased soil degradation, and more pressure on water resources.
Agricultural activities consume 70% of all freshwater globally. This has caused many problems, including drought and water shortages in some areas. Agricultural practices also account for about 30% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This includes methane from livestock, nitrous oxide from fertilizers and other soil amendments, and carbon dioxide from burning forests or crops to make room for new ones.
The changing climate is leading to a shift in the type of crops being grown and a decrease in productivity. The impacts are being felt worldwide. According to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming is causing changes in temperature patterns, rainfall patterns, and the frequency of extreme weather events.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where maize cultivation is primarily based on a rain-fed system, it is estimated that the area suitable for maize production could significantly decline due to rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall. In the United States, a report has projected that corn, soy, and wheat yields could drop by 5-25% by the end of the decade due to climate change. In Indonesia, new research suggests that climate change could significantly reduce rice and coffee production.
Climate change is also increasing the risk of crop pests and diseases, altering the timing of crop growth. This, in turn, can result in reduced food availability and increased prices, particularly for communities that are already vulnerable.
One-third of the food produced each year (1.3 billion metric tons) is lost or wasted globally. In developing countries, post-harvest loss is estimated to be about 30 percent. This waste has serious economic and environmental consequences.
Wasted food means wasted resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food wastage costs over $750 billion annually. As much as 25% of the water available globally is used to produce food that is never eaten. More than half of the land available for agriculture is used to plant the food that is wasted. In fact, it is estimated that the amount of land required to produce the wasted food in the world could cover an area larger than China.
Moreover, the decomposition of food in landfills leads to the emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that has a higher potency compared to carbon dioxide.
Agriculture is a significant part of existence. This industry is meant to provide us with food, fuel, fiber, and jobs. But challenges, such as those mentioned earlier, have increased poverty and hunger levels in many parts of the world. Statistics from the United Nations show that more than 700 million people live in extreme poverty. More than 800 million go to bed hungry each day. And more than 2 billion people suffer from malnutrition.
Agriculture 4.0 is the next step in the evolution of agriculture. According to The World Government Summit, which popularizes the term, it is a new way of thinking about how food is produced, processed, and distributed around the world. The concept is based on the idea that modern agriculture needs to adapt to changing climate conditions and consumer demands in order to remain valuable in an increasingly resource-constrained world.
At its core, Agriculture 4.0 uses big data, machine learning, and automation to manage farming operations and make informed decisions. Based heavily on digitization, it has been demonstrated as a farming system for producing more food with fewer resources — including water, land, and energy — while reducing pollution.
To many analysts, Agriculture 4.0 represents a significant shift in the way farming is done because it can increase efficiency, productivity, and sustainability in the agriculture industry. For example, farmers can prevent disease outbreaks before they happen by monitoring changes in temperature, humidity, and other factors through sensors that monitor the health of plants or animals. In addition, with digital technologies, farmers can connect with key stakeholders in the value chain to get expert advice and exchange valuable data and services.
Modern farming techniques include vertical farming, the practice of growing crops indoors in a vertically-stacked space. By growing plants at high densities indoors, vertical farmers are able to maximize their yields while minimizing their footprint on the land. In addition, vertical farming allows for the production of fresh foods year-round.
Modern greenhouses are another form of indoor farming that has become popular recently. They are large, enclosed structures that use natural sunlight and often artificial lighting to grow vegetables and flowers all year round. They are mainly used for commercial purposes. The countries with the most greenhouse agriculture are mostly found in Asia.
Food production and distribution have been transformed by the use of technology, particularly in the areas of logistics, packaging, and marketing. New technologies such as blockchain offer a way of creating digital ledgers that can track the movement of goods and services across the supply chain.
In addition, advances in packaging have led to more sustainable options, such as biodegradable plastics that prevent spoilage during transport from farms or factories to store shelves. This smart packaging can also be composted or recycled once they have reached its use-by date.
The agriculture sector is embracing new technologies and applications that are helping farmers do more with less. One of the most promising of these technologies is nanotechnology. Nanotechnology uses microscopic particles to enhance a variety of agricultural processes.
For example, nano-sized particles can be used to treat plants' leaves with chemicals that kill certain types of pests. This process allows farmers to target specific pests without hurting other species. With this, they can increase crop yields while protecting their fields' biodiversity. Nanotechnology can also be used in crop genetics and breeding to create new varieties of crops that are more resistant to disease or drought.
The future of agritech is exciting as tech companies are already building innovative products and services to solve many farming problems, such as low productivity, high input costs, volatile prices, lack of market access, and poor infrastructure.
At Jiva, we see ourselves as one of the players in this field, striving to overcome the challenges smallholder farmers face. Through our four tech-based services, we aim to digitize the rural supply chain and bring smallholder farming into the future.
We provide critical services such as selling higher quality inputs that reduce the quantity needed for planting while simultaneously increasing yield. Jiva's AI-powered advisory platform delivers practical, actionable advice to farmers with an option to communicate with experts to get further details. Finally we purchase harvest directly from farmgate through our network of rural entrepreneurs which reduces post-harvest wastage.