Every year, nearly one-third of food produced for human consumption—worth over $1 trillion and weighing approximately 1.3 billion tonnes—is lost or wasted globally. At the same time, nearly 828 million people go to bed hungry every night. These statements, culled out from two separate UN World Food Programme reports, do not paint a picture of irony. They merely draw attention to the fact that one of the primary causes of rising hunger around the world is food wastage or loss.
It is more obvious than ever that our food systems in their current state are inadequate to end poverty and hunger. A potential solution is the use of technology such as big data analytics and AI to improve the yield or income per acre of farmers—so that they remain invested in agriculture.
Agriculture 4.0, a considerably more advanced variant of precision farming, has the potential to transform the traditional farming industry.
It refers to the use of the Internet of Things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence, and robotics, to extend, accelerate, and improve the efficiency of activities throughout the entire production chain. It differs significantly from conventional farming practices, which control crop watering and spraying pesticides or fertilisers uniformly across the field. Instead, farmers will need to be more targeted and data-driven in everything they do—from crop selection to deciding which part of the field to grow what type of crop. Future farms will use robots, temperature and moisture sensors, aerial photographs, and GPS technology to increase efficiency. These innovative techniques, collectively referred to as advanced or high-tech precision farming, will make farms more profitable, efficient, safe, and environment-friendly.
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While the adoption of Agriculture 4.0 is still a few years away, precision farming has taken off in several countries. The farming sector in India is split into two levels. First, where farmers continue to use traditional farming methods to grow crops, and the second, where farmers have begun to use precision farming techniques to up their game. The second cohort is already reaping the benefits of using technology with better yields and a higher income per acre.
Consider the case of some grape farmers in India who have begun spotting and geo-locating crop diseases or pestilence, allowing them to control infestations earlier and in a more precise manner. This also leads to lower use of harmful pesticides on the crop. Several new-age farmers are also using soil mapping software to determine the optimum level of fertiliser use in their farms. They are also using drones to spray pesticides in a more targeted manner.