A new vision in agriculture and livestock: more precision and more data
When Johannes Gutenberg printed the first words with movable type in the middle of the 15th century, he hardly imagined the countless repercussions his invention would cause. Something similar is happening today with Data Science, which with its vast bases of macro and mega data, artificial intelligence and machine learning is already changing the way we produce, buy, speculate and make decisions. It is a fact that these digital technologies are transforming our lives. And agriculture, livestock and beekeeping are no exception to this paradigm shift.
Working smarter to take fewer risks and achieve a win-win situation
For a small farmer who has 200 hectares to grow vegetables, variables such as soil type, weather conditions and market will determine their profits. But how long would it take them to evaluate, in the traditional trial-and-error way, the most profitable option? We are probably talking about several decades and a waste of resources that the planet and people cannot afford.
Historically, these productive activities have not required much technology. However, having information and interpreting it properly makes it possible for the producer to generate more with fewer inputs, improving profitability while reducing environmental impact.
In addition to saving time and money on inputs, the grower who interprets data also gains access to greater precision at different stages of cultivation and more detailed information to better understand and take advantage of climatic and soil conditions, making informed decisions that take into account temperature, alkalinity, humidity, light and pest control needs. In this way, they can not only improve the yield of their harvest, slowing it down or speeding it up more easily to avoid losses, but also promote food safety.
Interesting initiatives abound. A single drone flight provides an accurate picture of where a crop needs to be irrigated or where a vineyard needs to be treated, for example. Others prefer to work with real-time data to monitor the water level of their crops and only irrigate when necessary. Or to efficiently manage beehives, as proposed by the Valencian company Global Bee. This small Spanish company monitors the bee boxes by obtaining, through technology, data on the temperature outside and inside the hive, the humidity of the environment, and the weight of the brood and storage chambers. With this information, a good beekeeper knows if the bees have enough food, if they are suffering from a disease or if it is time to harvest.
An ongoing process that is steadily gathering pace and needs to be driven forward
The most important challenge we have to take on is to find the right tools to maximise the incorporation of these technologies in a simple, dynamic and massive way, so that it is not an area of knowledge restricted to a few, but that small farmers and ranchers can have access to them and apply them.
In May, Mr. QU Dongyu, Director-General of FAO, said in the high-level international conference “Vision for the Future: Transition to Digital Agriculture” that accelerating digitisation in agriculture must also protect basic human rights by ensuring affordable access to digital technologies, digital literacy and digital public goods for all.
The organisation has long been supporting several countries in the development of national digital agriculture strategies. At the same time, it manages virtual learning centres and promotes projects aimed at strengthening digital literacy, such as the 1000 Digital Villages Initiative, which seeks to reduce the digital divide.
For FAO, access to data, digitisation and innovation are key factors in accelerating the transformation of our food systems and are the basic elements that are currently present in all aspects of the organisation, in its actions and spheres of activity.
Let’s take a look at some of the initiatives that are part of FAO’s portfolio of digital services:
- The Hand-in-Hand Geospatial Platform
Launched in 2020 by FAO, this global evidence-based technical tool aims to accelerate agricultural transformation and sustainable rural development in order to eradicate poverty (SDG 1) and end hunger and all forms of malnutrition (SDG 2).
The Platform gathers geographic information and statistical data on more than ten areas, including food security, crops, soils, water, climate, fisheries, livestock and forests, and helps to identify gaps to be addressed and opportunities to be seized.
Recently, for its enormous potential to contribute to the creation of more inclusive, resilient and sustainable food systems, the Platform won the Geospatial World Excellence Award 2022, awarded at the Geospatial World Forum (Amsterdam).
- FAO’s International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture
This tool that is about to see the light of day is about an inclusive and global forum where stakeholders in the food and agricultural sector share experiences and ways to leverage digital tools, ranging from e-commerce, through blockchain to the use of artificial intelligence.
- Food price monitoring and analysis (FPMA)
It is a tool developed in 2010 as part of FAO’s initiatives to address rising food prices. It gathers monthly and weekly price data (retail or wholesale) for various food products in selected markets in each country. For each price series, it provides additional product information, such as per capita consumption.
- Agricultural Stress Index System (ASIS)
It tracks agricultural areas with a high likelihood of water stress or drought at the global, regional and national levels, using satellite remote sensing data at a resolution of 1 km. The system is updated every 10 days, with historical data dating back to 1984.
If we want a more sustainable food supply that leaves no one behind, cares for our soils, uses water responsibly and protects biodiversity, digital technologies can be part of the solution. Digitalisation is an inevitable and irreversible process. Let’s join the club!
To learn more: