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The earth’s population is 7.6 billion and will rise to 11 billion by the turn of the century. Somehow, we must feed this 45 percent larger population with 10-20 percent less farmable land, and far less farmers. At the same time, a significant fraction of land and productive crop yield will be converted into bioenergy to provide clean energy. We will therefore have a significant farm-to-fork and farm-to-tank supply chain to manage. Addressing the huge increases in sustainable productivity (i.e. increasing yield/acre with low inputs/acre), monetization (i.e. cost/acre via multiple end markets) and poverty in rural, farm-based sectors in emerging markets is a global imperative.
Figure 1: IoT-in-the-Sky (satellites) combined with IoT-in-your-hand (mobile phones) provides valuable data that forms the foundation for digital agriculture at low unit costs.
Many of the problems in agribusiness (productivity, monetization, food safety & finance/insurance) are underpinned by information problems: how to time the right inputs (seeds, fertilizers, mechanization, pesticides), how to link supply and demand before the commodity perishes, how to track the provenance of every food item or certify the “green-ness” of biofuels, and how to mitigate risks faced by hundreds of millions of small farmers.
The first green revolution emerged in the middle of the last century with the creation of better hybrid crops and the increased use of fertilizers, pesticides and irrigation to dramatically raise crop yields. We are at the cusp of a second green revolution: a digital green revolution, enabled by data from the Internet of Things (IoT), and underpinned by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain technologies. We have “IoT-in-the-sky”, i.e. cheaper and smaller satellites throwing off terabytes of data every day, creating open data sources of crop health with videos at a resolution of 1/40th of an acre, in all parts of the world.
At the smaller scale, inexpensive mobile phones provide image and video data locally (perhaps someday via chatbots) that can be analyzed via computer vision. Low cost sensor packages can observe fields or be mounted on drones or harvesters to measure local phenomena. Weather data and modeling can now be done with unparalleled resolution (500 meters).
Financial market and logistics data are becoming available via pervasive growth of IoT in supply chains, and the measured data can be recorded on the blockchain to allow a customer to see a video of where their food originated and how it came to their fork, redefining the relationship consumers have with their food. The integration and analysis of this IoT data could help local farmers – and the extended ecosystems that support them – make better decisions about farming strategies to deliver a higher crop yield and improve monetization of produce.
This digital green revolution opportunity is global, and with the onset of new, more accessible technologies, impacting both emerging and established markets. Our team in India is pioneering this research. IBM Research – India and IBM Software Labs have been recognized by the Aegis Graham Bell Award in 2018 for their work in digital agriculture and innovation in IoT. The award recognizes a pilot project done by the IBM India Research Lab demonstrating that precision agriculture techniques can be applied to farms in developing markets. These AI based solutions can be used for small farm holdings, at the right scale and it has been demonstrated that the implementation of these techniques has potential to impact farmer decisions and yields in a positive manner.
The award is a tribute to the father of telephony, Alexander Graham Bell, to promote innovation and entrepreneurship in the fields of telecom, social, mobility, analytics, cloud and security by recognizing the outstanding contributions of innovators. Congratulations to the entire team on this tremendous accomplishment, especially Manisha Sharma, our lead partner in the India Software Lab.
Explore more of the work IBM Research is doing in the Energy and Environment industry