How can Big Data play a role in solving world hunger?

According to a forecast by the United Nations, by 2050 our planet will have 3 billion people more than now, and, of course, all of them will need to eat. If we also consider that climate change is clearly affecting global agricultural production, we can conclude that we will soon have a bigger population with less food to feed it.

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Scientists have been trying to solve this serious issue via new technologies which have been developed thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and the smart use of Big Data. These are tools which, if properly integrated into the agriculture industry, may make so-called “precision agriculture” a reality.

Experts coined the term “precision agriculture” to identify the possibility to obtain live data (weather forecasts, soil analysis, the presence of pesticides which may damage crops, etc.) which may be turned into strategic information to that will inform what to do in a given place at a given time.

As Paul Chang, Global Supply Chain Expert of IBM, explain to the American magazine TechCrunch, “Precision agriculture can transform the food industry so as to reduce losses, increase efficiency, decrease costs and enhance sustainability, by means of IoT platforms which can collect thousands of data gathered by on site sensors and provide a predictive analysis of any given situation”.

A practical example of technology which has been designed for optimizing the agricultural supply chain, is that developed by IBM for The Weather Company, specialized in weather forecast services. Thanks to a special agreement signed with Farmers Edge,  the global leader in precision agriculture and data management solutions (it boasts over 1,000 automated, field-centric weather stations in Canada alone), it has engineered a new system which, by combining data science and agronomy, can obtain live data directly on field. They gather data concerning the local climate and soil and match the data to the use of a machine learning technology for predictive modeling in the cloud. Then, they can support farmers by telling them when to water crops and how much water to use, when to reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers and how to prevent diseases and parasites, thus optimizing the yield.

However, if you consider that quite a lot of agricultural resources are lost during transportation, you can also understand that distribution has to be adjusted according to new “big data oriented” criteria, too. This is why FoodLogiQ, a software agency promoting food safety, traceability and sustainability, has developed a system that, by recording data concerning products throughout the supply chain process, prevents contamination and helps sorting products which have to be discarded from the rest so to prevent wasting whole batches.

Consequently, Big Data and the IoT could seriously prove the scientists’ gloomy forecast – deriving from the increase in the global population and the climate change – to be wrong.

What do you think about the use of Big Data in agriculture? I would like to get your comments. Tweet @agostinellialdo.
If you liked this post, you should read:  “Big data, scientists’ most powerful weapon in defense of our planet