One of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is to create a world free of hunger by 2030. With as many as 828 million people affected by hunger in 2021 (46 million more people than in 2020 according to the World Health Organization), evidence suggests that we are moving farther away from meeting SDG 2 to achieve zero hunger.
One important and often overlooked component of helping increase food security around the world in a sustainable way is supporting smallholder farmers, who produce about one-third of the world’s food supply.
Smallholder farmers need technical support
The responsibility of feeding the world’s people isn’t an easy one. Smallholder farmers in Latin America face many challenges including climate change, rising production costs and the lack of visibility across their supply chains. Without the tools and technologies that larger producers have, smallholder farmers struggle to remain competitive and sustain their livelihoods.
William Balverde is a small producer in Costa Rica, and he is a part of the administration council of a small farming cooperative. “Climate change is affecting us because here we have a lot of problems with the rain, and we have been affected by plagues and illnesses that we were not even aware of,” Balverde says. “It has affected us greatly, and at some moments, production has fallen completely apart.”
Fabián Román, President of the Latin American-based nonprofit Plan21 Foundation, says that many agriculture producers face the same issues around the world. “We also have other problems, such as contamination, access to water, biodiversity,” Román says. These factors disrupt the production of crops and the ability for small farmers to make a sufficient living.
Co-creating a solution with technology
The key to sustainable agricultural transformation lies in enabling smallholder farmers to harness the power of data. In a perfect world, these farmers will be able to make decisions with more accurate data and tools to manage their crops more sustainably and productively. This means that to help smallholder farmers, we must eliminate barriers that prevent them from accessing these critical insights. Through the IBM Sustainability Accelerator, a pro bono social impact program working to help populations most vulnerable to environmental threats, IBM and Plan21 have teamed up to co-create a solution.
Together with developers from the Costa Rica Institute of Technology, Plan21 and IBM aim to help smallholder farmers in Latin America to manage their crops more sustainably with the goal of increasing their productivity and income. Volunteer IBMers like Paola Simonetti, an IBM corporate social responsibility project manager, are supporting the development of a customized mobile application, YvY, that provides farmers with technical training to make use of insights from weather data, agronomic data and carbon footprint calculations that facilitate production management and allow better adaptation to climate change.
One important component of the IBM Sustainability Accelerator is the configuration of IBM resources and technology to help participants meet their community and environmental impact goals. Plan21’s project utilizes IBM’s cloud and climate data from the IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite, which Román says is very impactful.
“The IBM Environmental Intelligence Suite allows us to provide short-term climate predictions and extended predictions related to the production of the crops, agronomical data and valuable data to make informed decisions that allow the small producers to make better day-to-day decisions in Latin America,” says Román.
The collaboration has already begun to show promising results. One hundred ninety farmers are in initial testing in Costa Rica, with over 1,300 farmers to pilot the solution in 2023 in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Argentina. A total of seven farmer co-operatives have been involved in testing the solution, increasing yields of crops such as coffee, yuca, bananas and cacao. However, there is still much to be done.
Natalia Viquez is one IBMer working with Plan21 as a Project Manager for the YvY app. “The plan for the YvY project for the next year will be to develop new modules that will help small agriculture producers in Latin America and give them accessibility, whether it is by co-ops or independent producers in different countries in Latin America,” says Viquez. “We are hoping for an estimate of 1,600 producers, but hopefully we can add more producers.”
The collaboration between IBM and Plan21 is key to what YvY means today and what it will be in the future, according to Román.
“We are an organization that functions with a team of volunteers. We are not a technology company or technology organization,” says Román. “However, we understand technology is essential to contribute and build sustainable processes, and that is why IBM’s support is essential.”
Progress in the fight against food insecurity
YvY has shown small producers that the technology they thought was once impossible to obtain could now be turned into a reality. But to help increase food security around the world, our work to support smallholder farmers cannot stop here. And with the power of science, technology and partnerships, the potential to make a true difference for communities around the world is bright.