AI will help developing world to streamline crop production

AI will help developing world to streamline crop production

01:42

Nowadays, agriculture is all about high speed and precision. From prediction technology to Artificial Intelligence (AI), farmers have a range of tools at their disposal.

In the last decade, there has been unparalleled growth in precision agriculture across the globe.

Precision agriculture involves a range of strategies and tools that enable farmers to optimize and increase soil quality and productivity by introducing a series of targeted key interventions.

Based on state-of-the-art tools and technologies, precision agriculture allows farmers to intervene at the right time and choose the right solution for their crop. It saves time and leads to better sustainability, higher productivity, and increased profitability for farmers.

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“The biggest challenge for agriculture remains the same as it has been for 7,000 years – to produce more with less resources,” says Cezar Busato, a Brazilian agronomist.

Busato, who has been running his family farm for over a decade, says that given the advancement in technology, farmers these days can count on efficient prediction tools for effective application of chemicals and fertilizers.

“When you combine these with Artificial Intelligence, working with a database full of high quality information, you will be able to produce more, spend less resources and be more sustainable,” he says.

He believes robust Artificial Intelligence will be a game changer in agriculture.

Syngenta, a provider of agricultural science and technology, has been developing precision agriculture tools to help farmers.  /Syngenta

Syngenta, a provider of agricultural science and technology, has been developing precision agriculture tools to help farmers. /Syngenta

Syngenta, a provider of agricultural science and technology, has been developing precision agriculture tools to help farmers. /Syngenta

Farmers make between 100 and 150 decisions during a season – from choosing the right genetic variety for their field to assessing the soil conditions and planting the right seed at the right time.

Syngenta, a provider of agricultural science and technology, has been developing precision agriculture tools to enable farmers to get those decisions right – using data and AI to increase their overall yield.

“We have a strong presence on the ground through our channel partners, and we work with them using these technologies and their algorithms and make them suitable for use by the farmers,” says Feroz Sheikh, Syngenta’s Chief Digital Officer.

Sheikh says one of Syngenta’s most successful digital products is a risk mitigation offer called AgriClime, which is available in several countries. It makes weather predictions, including “the likely heat or frost or cold conditions or how much rainfall is expected in the season and providing some kind of a mitigation guarantee to the farmers, sort of like an insurance.”

Agriculture as a sector uses 80 percent of water worldwide. So, if we can have precision agriculture in most of the farming system, we can easily reduce our irrigation and water use by 70 to 80 percent.

– Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist, UN FAO

Syngenta’s digital tools are used to manage about 850,000 square kilometers of farmland. The team is now collaborating with Google on an AI project, to help a computer distinguish between a weed and a plant.

It will help the farmers detect the density of weeds in their field, help them determine the species of the weed and subsequently help them make informed crop prediction decisions.

The idea is to allow this technology to develop and make it accessible to farmers and help transform herbicide and weed management, globally.

Syngenta's digital tools are used to manage about 800,000 square kilometers of farmland.  /Syngenta

Syngenta’s digital tools are used to manage about 800,000 square kilometers of farmland. /Syngenta

Syngenta’s digital tools are used to manage about 800,000 square kilometers of farmland. /Syngenta

Local knowledge and experience has played a pivotal role in their plans.

Sheikh says when they develop an Artificial Intelligence algorithm for a new market, it is based on local datasets, including the local soil and weather conditions, so that the recommendations are effective for that environment.

“We need really in-depth, granular and defined data. Artificial Intelligence will help us manage the big data that we’re able to collect through different means and it will allow us to really reduce the input,” explains Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

“Agriculture as a sector uses 80 percent of water worldwide. So, if we can have precision agriculture in most of the farming system, if we have the investment to put it in place, we can easily reduce our irrigation and water use by 70 to 80 percent.”

However, accessibility to technology and innovation remains a huge problem.

Elouafi says there is obvious discrimination and a massive difference between the Global North and the Global South, “and the main issue is definitely cost.”

Certain countries are at the forefront of investing in technology and innovation.  /Syngenta

Certain countries are at the forefront of investing in technology and innovation. /Syngenta

Certain countries are at the forefront of investing in technology and innovation. /Syngenta

She sees it as a big problem that must be tackled because there are several innovations that are available in the developed world that the small-scale producers in the developing world cannot access. Hence, they have no means to improve their productivity and efficiency.

“I always give the example of staple crops in Africa, right now most of them are producing about one tonne per hectare. Meanwhile, in Europe, most of these staple crops are at least 10 tonnes per hectare. There is a difference in the ecosystem , but it is mostly the gap in inputs and the way the farming system works in Africa versus in Europe.”

But there are certain countries that are at the forefront of investing in technology and innovation and making it available to markets across the world.

China pushed very strongly for scaling-up of technologies at the farmer level.  /FAO

China pushed very strongly for scaling-up of technologies at the farmer level. /FAO

China pushed very strongly for scaling-up of technologies at the farmer level. /FAO

The FAO has hailed China’s farming model as a success.

China pushed very strongly for scaling-up of technologies at the farmer level and did much more than other countries, says Elouafi. So, within a few decades, China has increased the farmers’ income through adoption of technology which boosted their yield.

“There are very strong institutions in China that work very hard on making many innovations available and putting them on the ground with the farmers and increasing productivity, efficiency and hence income of the farmers,” says the Chief Scientist.

The FAO has also praised the investment in China, Russia, Japan and South Korea and hopes these countries will help make technology accessible to farmers across the globe.

China has increased the farmers' income through adoption of technology which boosted their yield.  /Syngenta

China has increased the farmers’ income through adoption of technology which boosted their yield. /Syngenta

China has increased the farmers’ income through adoption of technology which boosted their yield. /Syngenta

Despite all the technological advancement in precision agriculture, it has been difficult to forecast extreme variability and weather conditions like the recent floods in Pakistan and the droughts across Europe.

“Unfortunately, we don’t yet have all the tools nor all the understanding about it and that’s why we are surprised every year when we have huge disasters… but my expectation is that in a very short time, maybe in a year or two, we will have a better understanding of what’s happening and hopefully can intervene before it happens,” says Elouafi.

“But we now have the computing systems that will allow us to juggle much more data than before. We do have a huge investment in Artificial Intelligence that will allow us to bring all that information to give a better projection.”

Cover image:Precision agriculture allows farmers to intervene at the right time. /FAO

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