Aldo Agostinelli

Sustainability rhymes with digital. It may not be true phonetically speaking, but it certainly is from a practical point of view. With a growing population expected to reach 9 billion units by 2050, and an increase in the demand for food estimated between 59% and 98%, only a technology-driven optimization of crops may save us from future famines and the possible consequent wars. Still, this is not a futuristic dream but a  process which has already started and is currently going on.

Robots, drones, satellites, IoT devices, remote sensors, the blockchain and Big Data, can be used – and have already been used – to allow farmers to get their well deserved crops, achieve the maximum yield without exploiting their soil and dispersing water resources, to cut down on the use of chemicals and ultimately, to access loans more easily than now.

Farming systems of the past have led to heavy damages to the environment : soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, eutrophication and climate changes. Today we are therefore forced to change direction relying only on technology: we need to try to satisfy the increasingly high demand for food, while at the same time reducing our environmental impact.

Consequently, farming is evolving: so far it has been a job to be passed on from generation to generation, now it requires a proper training aimed at creating real professionals, with good and even excellent digital skills. This is a trend which has emerged over the past 30 years and which has led to the creation of several online courses, post-degree masters, certificates and workshops addressing the subject of “smart agriculture”. In 2018, the overall US market of smart agriculture  (including high precision farming, intelligent greenhouses, GPS devices and drones) was estimated to be worth 7,53 billion dollars, and is expected to reach 13,50 billions by 2023 (Is Digital Farming the Key to Sustainable Agriculture?).

According to the report issued by Global Market Insights, the market of agricultural drones is going to be worth over 1 billion dollars by 2024. Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch has forecast the creation of 100 thousand job vacancies in the US and 82 billion dollars of financial activities from 2015 to 2025.

“Digital technologies have been rapidly transforming  the world of farming: data, predictive analysis, AI and the software for the overall management of farms help saving time and money and allow to reach unprecedented levels of precision and efficiency”, claimed Dan Burdett, Head of the Digital Agriculture division of Syngenta, a Swiss multinational company producing seeds and chemicals for farming.

In order to access and boost farmers 4.0’s financial conditions, too, the  mAgri programme by GSMA has invested on digital profiles. It is meant to give farmers  functional digital identities which could be useful from two different points of view: on the one hand, it could allow farmers to access financial services ( loans, insurances etc. ); on the other hand, as explained by  Daniele Tricarico, Insights Director of GSMA mNutrition, in order to “help them meeting the requirements in terms of traceability and certifications of the agricultural value chain so that they can improve their practices and products and make their prices more competitive” (A New Era in Agriculture is Underway – A Look at Digital Farmer Profiles with GSMA’s mAgri).

If we consider that 80% of the global demand of food is met by small farmers or family run agricultural businesses, the use of the existing technologies for the achievement of the necessary production and the preservation of our eco-system (and of farmers themselves) is obviously the only viable option to feed the world population in a sustainable way (Can access to data really transform agriculture for smallholders?).

Luckily, optimistic voices concerning all of the above are quite loud. And technology is playing its part as expected. It is up to us now to push on the accelerator of  smart agriculture.

Which technologies would you implement and apply to agriculture 4.0?  Tweet @agostinellialdo.

To find out more about the digital world, you may read my latest book entitled: “People Are Media” 

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Aldo Agostinelli