Intriguing ways technology is helping farmers and the future of food

Tue, 2017-01-31 13:15 -- Compassionate C...

With global food demand expected to double by 2050, world hunger is not likely to go away without intervention. Numerous efforts are underway on many fronts, of course -- from indoor agriculture that relies on cloud technology to mobile apps that are helping farmers in China to an Internet of Things project on farm lands in Montgomery County, MD. These efforts to frame the future of food are not only essential, but as the examples below underscore, they are also pretty fascinating. – Liz Enbysk

Groundnut farmers participating in an intelligent cloud pilot launched in June 2016 in the Indian state of Andrah Pradesh saw a 30% increase in crop yields.

A joint effort between Council Lead Partner Microsoft, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Andrah Pradesh government, the pilot tested a new sowing application for farmers combined with a Personalized Village Advisory Dashboard.

The sowing app was developed to achieve optimal harvests by advising the participating farmers on the best time to sow depending on weather conditions, soil and other indicators.

During the pilot, 175 smallholder groundnut farmers were sent 10 sowing advisories via SMS with recommendations on seed treatment, optimum sowing depth, preventive weed management, land preparation, farm yard manure applications and the like.

ICRISAT adopted the Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite with its big data and advanced analytics tools to empower farmers and government officials with technology and promote digital farming practices in the state.

"We are excited about the results that have emerged from the use of the sowing application and Personalized Village Advisory Dashboard," said Dr. David Bergvinson, Director General of ICRISAT. "We look forward to continuing our partnership with Microsoft to enhance incomes and improve the lives of small holder farmers -- and give a boost to our digital agriculture initiative in a big way,”

From groundnuts to sorghum
A multi-institutional research effort led by the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center of St. Louis is working to optimize breeding strategies for grain sorghum for Sub-Saharan Africa. The effort just announced a $6.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to expand and accelerate the development and deployment of advanced sorghum phenotyping and breeding technologies.

The goal is to improve yield and stress tolerance of sorghum, which is a leading bioenergy feedstock crop in the U.S., but also a critical source of nutrition for millions of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"The Gates Foundation recognizes that most smallholder farmers rely on small plots of land for food and income. This grant will help increase the productivity of a crop that can, in a sustainable and effective way, reduce hunger and poverty and make communities economically stronger and more stable over the long term," said James Carrington, Ph.D., president of the Danforth Center.

Wiring Western Australia for ag
An AU$22 million telecommunications fund has been established by the state government of Western Australia (WA) to bolster infrastructure and agriculture in rural and regional areas with poor connectivity.

According to a ZDNet report, Agriculture and Food Minister Mark Lewis believes access to high-speed internet is a necessary precursor to productivity gains and re-establishing WA's competitiveness.

"Autonomous vehicles, variable rate technologies, real-time weather applications, and remote sensing are just a few of the opportunities which will open up to WA agriculture through blanket digital coverage of farming regions and enhanced download speeds," Lewis said.

WA has already seen the benefits of wired ag. In 2015, the University of New England used digital technologies to turn a 2,900 hectare commercial farm in to a SMART (Sustainable Manageable Accessible Rural Technologies) Farm.

Linked via AARNet and the national broadband network (fibre, terrestrial wireless and satellite), the predominantly grazing SMART Farm is a national demonstrator site. Members of the community as well as students of all ages can access the latest data streaming in from a range of field, animal and machinery sensors.

AI for seed breeding
Syngenta and the AI for Good Foundation recently launched the Syngenta AI Challenge, a new international competition focused on leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) tools for use in seed breeding.

"In the face of a rising global population, we need to grow plants that can adapt and thrive in changing conditions -- especially as vital resources like water and land are finite," said Joseph Byrum, Ph.D., MBA, PMP and senior R&D strategic marketing executive with Syngenta, a global agribusiness. "The Syngenta AI Challenge is about creating models that can help solve this puzzle and ensure world food security."

The competition challenges participants to develop a model that can be used to analyze large amounts of seed data more effectively, ultimately leading to improvements in the world's ability to grow more food in the face of changing environments -- without using more resources.

"If artificial intelligence is going to change the world, it had better help us solve some of our most pressing problems," said James Hodson, co-founder and CEO of the AI for Good Foundation. "Few things are more pressing than ensuring we can feed a growing world population sustainably."

The winner will receive $7,500; there are also runner-up prizes. Entry deadline is June 1, 2017. Information sessions about the competition will be held at several universities beginning in February.


This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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