Ōtautahi – With the world’s population expected to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, agriculture needs to become more productive and sustainable.
Technology can help transform the global food production system and mitigate its impact on the climate and environment.
Digital agriculture systems can also be used to reduce food waste and at every stage of the supply chain.
Agriculture has allowed the human population to grow explosively, and its industrialisation over the past two centuries fuelled the jump from 1 billion to nearly 7.7 billion people. As a result, agriculture in its modern form has tested the limits of our environmental resources.
Agriculture causes about 23 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and uses up to 92 percent of the world’s freshwater. According to a report by the WWF and British food retailer Tesco, around 40 percent of food grown goes uneaten. China loses roughly 35 million tons of grain before retail each year, or about 5 percent of the 685 million tons of grain produced in 2021.
With a projected two billion more mouths to feed across the world by 2050, agriculture needs to simultaneously become both more productive and sustainable. That requires increased investment and adoption of productivity-boosting technology and participation from young people and smallholder farmers.
Human ingenuity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advances have given the world an unprecedented array of tools to transform the food system and mitigate its impact on nature and climate.
In precision agriculture, real-time weather forecasting helps farmers with day-to-day decisions on when and how much to irrigate, fertilise and apply pesticides to their crops.
Controlled-environment agriculture promises to further reduce the impact. Some smart greenhouses are completely automated, run by algorithms that ensure optimal conditions for plant growth by adjusting inputs like roof ventilation, artificial lighting and heating.
Ultra-high resolution imaging can spot early symptoms of disease, water stress and soil degradation, while drones spray fertiliser, pesticides, and water with pinpoint accuracy.
By reducing the guesswork in farming, smart agriculture enables crops to reach their full genetic potential without the excessive use of chemical inputs.
Biotechnology is another field that continues to make breakthroughs. Advances in seed science are making crops more resistant to drought, pests and infestation, boosting agricultural productivity and increasing the resilience of food producers to environmental shocks.
Increasing the digitalisation of agriculture improves the overall efficiency of the entire agri-food system. Online marketplaces connect farmers directly with consumers, reducing the number of intermediaries and transit nodes that food must pass through.
This not only boosts the income of farmers by cutting out the middlemen, but it also leads to less time spent in transit, reducing the amount of loss and waste.
The success of any agricultural technology ultimately rests on the rate of adoption among farmers, in particular, smallholder growers.