The global population is growing at an alarming rate, and the agricultural sector must undergo significant changes to cater to the increasing demand for food in line with the population explosion. Smallholder farmers are among the key players that can help to achieve global food security. As per the World Economic Forum, globally 600 million smallholder farmers work on less than two hectares of land and are estimated to contribute 28%-31% to total crop production and 30%-34% to food supply on 24% of gross agricultural area.
However, these marginal farmers are often the neglected, vulnerable group and account for most of the poor and hungry in developing and underdeveloped countries. Most of these farmers are trapped in a vicious cycle of low-intensity farming, poor yields, limited access to agricultural technology and markets, and inadequate profits. The negative effect of climate change only adds to the agricultural production challenges.
The progressive decline of arable land due to growing urbanization is a major hurdle to smallholder farmers and the Agri-industry. Accompanying challenges include feeding a growing population, providing livelihoods to farmers, and protecting the environment.
To support marginal farmers, enhance food security, reduce poverty, and tackle climate change, we must understand the dynamics involved in agricultural production. Agriculture is influenced by numerous factors – some being technological, such as data-driven agricultural practices, management, and decision-making; others being biological such as diseases, insects, pests, and weeds; and environmental, like topography, soil fertility, water quality, and climatic conditions.
Major operational efficiency issues plaguing agriculture
1. Agricultural holdings are mostly individual businesses predominantly managed by smallholder farmers
The agricultural operations of a smallholder farmer are family-run, and all the family members contribute to the labor. A major challenge facing smallholder farmers is low productivity. They struggle due to the lack of knowledge about increasing productivity using innovative technologies. Many marginal farmers are poor and unable to afford the goods and services needed to improve operational efficiency of their small-scale farming activity, which makes it important to educate them and provide required financing to adopt smart farming practices.
2. Lack of technological access to smallholder farmers
Access to technology can make smallholding farming efficient, climate-smart, and profitable. As smallholder farmers play a significant role in food security, they must gain access to technological innovations, processes, and machinery, and get access to the knowledge on their use. The right technology and tools can help them predict risks and prevent them. Digital farming goes a long way in helping to meet the rising demands of food production with efficiency in a shorter time span.
3. Feeding a growing population while adhering to Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) norms
The United Nations (UN) expects the world population to reach 9.7 billion in 2050, which would require an increase of about 70% in food production to feed the growing numbers. Agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change can aggravate food insecurity caused by overpopulation. Climate-smart agriculture practices that focus on sustainable and efficient use of resources help to increase agricultural productivity and ensure that the world meets the goals of food security as envisaged by the UN.
4. Ensure predictable yield and good quality of produce, to provide a stable and secure livelihood for farmers
Agriculture is the primary source of income for poor and marginalized communities in many countries worldwide. It provides for their basic needs and contributes significantly to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Climate change has exacerbated farmers' challenges in agricultural production. It has amplified the intensity of weather events, led to floods, droughts, and weed and pest infestations, and threatened the existence of farming as a livelihood. Adopting digital farming is critical to mitigate these effects, develop resilience, and ensure predictable yields.
5. Volatility of food prices mandates improved crop resilience and yield protection
Along with economic growth, global populations have had to tackle the twin concerns of inflation and increasing food prices. In regions affected by drought and famine, inflation and price rise result in increased food shortages and hunger. This increases the burden on farmers already impacted by the disruptions caused by climate change.
6. Protecting the environment
Agriculture and the environment are closely linked and significantly impact each other. Many modifications and techniques used in farming to boost yields negatively impact the environment and sustainability. Degradation of soil and water quality, acceleration of soil erosion, and contamination of groundwater, poor water management are some ill-effects of the excess use of agrochemicals. Sustainable and climate-smart agriculture practices can increase output on existing farmland without negatively impacting the environment.
7. Coping with climate change
Industrialization and the resultant increase in greenhouse gases have played a significant role in global warming and climate change. Extreme weather events such as unprecedented rise in temperatures and sea levels, storms, floods, and droughts; extreme precipitation; frequent and prolonged wildfires; and weed and pest infestations are some of the impacts of climate change on agriculture. Smart farming supported by digital connectivity can help to develop climate-resilient agriculture and mitigate the burden of climate change.
8. Transboundary pests and diseases
Climate change and changes in land cover, such as desertification and deforestation, can increase the vulnerability of humans, plants, and animals to pests and diseases. Changes in atmospheric gases, temperature, and humidity levels can alter interactions between pests and their hosts and natural enemies. It can also help insect and plant vectors to travel beyond their geographic range into new regions. The use of innovative technologies can help farmers understand these changes through timely alerts for better management of pests and diseases.
9. Rise in demand for quantity and quality of food
Agriculture, like any industry, is driven by consumer demand and preferences. To keep up with the alarming growth in population, agriculture and the food industry must increase production to meet growing demand. With the rise in awareness about Climate Smart Agriculture, there is an increase in consumer demand for the quality and safety of the food they consume. Consumers also want to know if their food is cultivated using environmentally friendly methods and if they are responsibly sourced. Agriculture cloud solutions can help the food and agriculture industries weed out defective produce, optimize yields, and meet consumer demands for quality and quantity.
10. The need to curtail food wastage
The World Food Program estimates that nearly a third of all food produced each year is wasted before consumption. The loss can happen in the kitchen or during harvest and transport. Poor storage facilities with lack of pest control lead to mold and pest infestations and ruin produce. Lack of access to technology and allied services result in crops rotting in fields. Food losses and waste translate to economic losses for all stakeholders in the agricultural value chain and increase food prices, which affects food security and accessibility to food for vulnerable groups. Modern agriculture can be leveraged to reduce such losses.
11. Lack of data sources on/off the field
A lack of reliable data in the agricultural industry means that it is not possible to precisely point out where interventions are needed (in agricultural policies or processes). Data on land, such as planted, harvested, in production, irrigated, non-irrigated, permanent pastureland, etc., can provide estimates of acreage and output for most crops and help to plan for and mitigate risk. To improve agricultural productivity and devise policies to safeguard the livelihood of farmers, statistical data obtained from satellites and other remote sensing tools (such as drones in agriculture) can prove useful.
12. Need for optimum use of agrochemicals
Agrochemicals improve crop health, but their overuse harms the environment by altering the pH value of the soil. It kills beneficial organisms, increases the nitrate content and toxicity, pollutes air and water, and causes algae to bloom in water sources, which threatens aquatic life. If agrochemicals enter food chains, they can cause various health problems in humans and animals. Judicious use, replacement with biopesticides and biofertilizers, and regulatory policies for management and use are some control measures for the optimum and safe use of agrochemicals.
Need for an intelligent agriculture cloud
Technology is a key enabler to solve these predominant operational efficiency issues plaguing the agricultural industry. Accelerated digital transformation drives farmer engagement that enables knowledge sharing, increasing efficiency, productivity and quality of produce, and adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. The intelligent insights derived using agriculture cloud platform accurately predicts yield and supports dynamic real-time decision-making that mitigates risks, protects yield, and ensures adherence to precision farming practices. The agricultural transformation brought about by intelligent agriculture cloud can enhance resilience among smallholder farmers, enable affordable food production, and ensure farm-to-fork traceability.
One of the solutions that enable agriculture transformation is Cropin Cloud. It is the world's very first purpose-built industry cloud platform for agriculture. Cropin’s Intelligent Agriculture Cloud is a simple, easy-to-deploy platform that bridges communication and information gaps between stakeholders across the agricultural ecosystem.
Cropin Cloud integrates multiple solutions:
- Applications for digitization
- Data pipelines for enhancing analytics
- Unified access to machine learning models
Cropin Cloud delivers unprecedented collective capabilities to every stakeholder in the agriculture ecosystem to accelerate digital transformation. Food processing companies can digitize farm operations and achieve traceability in agriculture with Cropin Cloud. Village-level intelligence gained from micro and macro data using cloud can help farming, seed companies, Agri-input manufacturers, and food processors with accurate yield prediction and monitoring to re-adjust supply against demand.
Farm equipment and other agri-input manufacturers can gain from mechanization data on farming resources to sense and meet demands. Information from Internet of Things (IoT) and remote sensing devices such as drones and satellites can provide farmers and financial institutions with capabilities to monitor farmland, Agri-input usage, weather, and crops to assess the viability of loans and facilitate access to finance.
Cropin Cloud can assess data to assist governments in formulating policies that can improve smallholder farmer livelihoods and address food security. Farmer engagement through farm management apps and the availability of reliable real-time information can help implement climate-smart agricultural practices that can protect the environment and biodiversity.