The UN Prospectus 2019 states that world population is estimated to rise from 7.7 billion people in 2019 to 9.4 billion by 2050. Agricultural production has to drastically increase, considering that aggregate agricultural consumption is predicted to increase by 69% from 2010 to 2050. Also, according to the Agriculture 4.0 – The Future of Farming Technology (The World Government Summit), other than population growth, there are other developments placing pressure on agriculture to meet its demands for the future. These include: urbanisation, scarcity of natural resources, climate change and food waste.

The reality is that very little innovation has taken place recently in the industry. In any case, nothing indicates that food scarcity and hunger will not be an issue in the coming decades.

To meet these challenges, close collaboration is required from the governments, investors, and innovative agricultural technologies.

Agriculture 4.0 will no longer depend on applying water, fertilizers, and pesticides uniformly across entire fields. Instead, farmers will use the minimum quantities required and target very specific areas. As such there is need for adoption of digital technologies. The good news is that a number of these digital and technological advancements are taking over the industry, enhancing the entire value chain. Agricultural technology startups have grown more than 80% since 2012, according to Agfunder.

Efficiency and productivity will increase in the coming years as ‘precision agriculture’ becomes bigger and farms become more connected. But while the growing number of connected devices represents a bigger opportunity for food producers, it also adds complexity.

The solution lies in making use of cognitive technologies that help understand, learn, reason, interact and increase efficiency. Here are some of the key gamechangers:

Drone technology & high-tech makeover

Drone technology is giving agriculture a high-tech makeover. Aerial and ground-based drones can be used throughout the crop cycle in a number of ways as follows:

  • Crop supervision: Drone technology offers a large variety of crop monitoring possibilities at a lower cost. Also, drones can be integrated at every stage of the crop lifecycle, from soil analysis and seed planting to choosing the right moment for harvesting.
  • Soil and field analyses: Drones are able to produce precise 3D maps allowing early soil analysis, which can be used to plan seed planting patterns. Also, the analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen level management.
  • Health assessment: Drone monitoring helps to assess a plant’s health and spot pesticide, bacteria or fungal infections on the crops. Also, as soon as a sickness is spotted, a more precise remedy can be applied and monitored. Furthermore, in the case of crop failure, the farmer will be able to document losses for insurance claims much faster.
  • Crop spraying: This is another area of drone applications in agriculture. Experts estimate that aerial spraying can be done as much as five times faster than with traditional machinery such as tractors.
  • Irrigation: Drones can be used to increase watering efficiency to identify which parts of a field are dry, possible pooling or leaks.

Blockchain & securing the agriculture value chain

Blockchain is a sequence of blocks of digital data which allows for secure transactions and record keeping. The capabilities of blockchain technology to resolve issues including in agriculture is revolutionary.

By using it for agricultural trade, farmers, buyers and third-party service providers from the agricultural supply chain can share information. The technology ensures validated and immutable information, allows for trust-less trade, and tracks transactions through the value chain with the click of a button.

The platforms based on blockchain technology empower and enable verified cooperatives, agro-businesses, farmers and agri-buyers to participate in the global market by transacting directly with each other, reducing distribution costs, creating financial security and increasing supply chain transparency.

Blockchain can also reduce inefficiencies and fraud and improve food safety, farmers pay and transaction times. By improving traceability in supply chains, it can enable regulators to quickly identify the source of contaminated foods and determine the scope of affected products during contamination incidents.

Additionally, the technology can reduce waste by detecting bottlenecks in the supply chain contributing to food spoilage. The transparency of blockchain can also help to fight food fraud. As consumer demand for organic food soars, the news is rife with cases of fraudulent labeling. The smallest transactions can be monitored efficiently and communicated across the entire supply chain. It is estimated that blockchain could save billions by improving efficiencies that reduce fraud and human error.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) & Data

Farmers in many parts of Kenya and the world are largely dependent on timely rainfall to sow and harvest. Uncertainty surrounding this phenomenon has, however, haunted them since the beginning of civilisation. Over time, however, this uncertainty had reduced significantly as farmers back in the day could almost accurately plant crops based on previous experience with weather conditions. Gradual onset of global warming and climate changes, over the last century, has slowly, yet steadily put this wisdom out of use.

Artificial Intelligence automates complex processes, using data it identifies, trends to create value and provides forward-looking intelligence. As such, there is a need to embrace the idea of integration of AI in sowing the crops. AI has the capability to not only enable farmers to do more with less, but also improve the quality and ensure faster go-to-market for crops.

Some major ways AI can be adopted to transform the agricultural sector include:

  • Image recognition and insight: Drones that use AI help farmers to scan their fields, monitor and collect data from every stage of the production cycle. With the drone data and computer vision technologies, farm strategies can optimised. These Artificial Intelligence systems will save time, increase safety and reduce potential human error while improving effectiveness.
  • Improved ROI: By including data, for example, climate conditions, kind of soil, commercial centers, potential invasions, data about what worked best, year to year outcomes, marketplace trends, prices or consumer needs, and information in the algorithm, farmers can make decisions to maximise return on crops. Further, AI innovation can process investigations that help farmers minimise losses in the production supply chain of their farms.
  • Virtual assistants: Virtual assistants are automated interactions with end users. AI powered virtual assistants, using machine learning techniques, understand natural language and interact with users in a personalised way. Agriculture could also leverage this emerging technology to replace the extension officers by assisting farmers with answers to their questions, giving advice and recommendations on specific farm problems.

While these innovations only scratch the surface of the coming digital revolution, it’s clear that digital solutions will transform agriculture with great benefits for smallholders. We anticipate that the agricultural industry will continue to see steady adoption of these technologies. It is time that farmers start using digital technology to get what they deserve.

Abednego Rotich

Senior Manager,

PwC Kenya

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