The key to the future of agriculture? Technology
Last month we witnessed global leaders meeting to discuss plans to curtail the climate challenges currently facing the planet during COP27. The conference was dubbed by many as the first ‘food COP,’ with over 200 food-focused events, four pavilions and an entire day dedicated to agriculture and adaptation – this comes after many have criticised previous events for ignoring the farming industry completely.
It is no surprise to see farming finally discussed at the top table, with food systems massively impacted by climate change and a big contributor of greenhouse gases. The sector is currently responsible for one-third of greenhouse gases globally, with food and livestock production, fertilizer use, deforestation, transport and food waste as the main drivers.
Despite this, there’s clear evidence that farmers across Europe and Africa understand the need to become more sustainable. Findings from a recent report show 96% of farmers in Europe and 92% of farmers in Africa would like to increase the sustainability of their farms. But with competing external pressures, lack of support and an unease about how to overcome these mounting challenges the real question is - how can we help secure farmers futures while becoming more sustainable?
Climate change threatens farming’s survival
First of all, it is important to understand exactly how big of an impact climate change is having upon the agriculture sector.
Cumulatively it is creating an existential threat to many farms globally, with 97% of European farmers and 93% of African farmers stating that it is impacting the financial viability of their farm. Droughts across both Europe and Africa are having a devastating impact on the produce of farms in both continents, with areas in Spain and Somalia both recently affected.
This is extremely worrying. Continued climate change is likely to lead to further food insecurity in the future, as a result of reduced food production and increased food prices. With a growing European population, this is simply unsustainable. We must move to limit the effect of climate change on our food systems. Just recently, we saw the UK’s farmers warn that we “sleepwalking” into a food supply crisis.
Initiatives within agriculture highlight the acute focus this is bringing, take the EU’s European Green Deal with the Commission’s ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy, designed to reduce the impact of the sector on the environment and to build a more sustainable food system – but is this strategy alone enough? Governments and technology both have a part to play in helping farmers across Europe and Africa take steps to protect their yield and be fit for the future.
Technology’s role in the sustainability of the sector
As farmers continue to mitigate the impact of climate change, our research shows the sector is turning to smart agriculture solutions. Understanding that two-thirds of farmers in Europe (88%) and Africa (89%) feel that digital technologies can help farming succeed in the future, and almost all plan to invest more in digital tools in the next 12 months, shows there’s growing appetite to explore avenues which do not come naturally to farmers. Take smart tools used on farms that can help farmers cut costs, and reduce the use of energy, fertiliser and water, as well as enabling farmers to enhance their productivity and efficiency while being more eco-friendly, which is critical at this time.
Data needs to be at the heart of the digital drive towards sustainability for farmers. Introducing interactive, cloud-based platforms will enable farmers to visualise data collected from agricultural IoT sensors across their farmland. A great example of this is Dairygold Farm, in Ireland where they’ve installed an IoT-enabled weather station, which gives the benefit of knowing the correct time to spray and fertilize the fields without the need to drive to the farm to establish the weather conditions. The data provides the potential to completely transform how the farm runs and create real world and tangle outputs as well as more sustainable actions.
The need for government support
There is clear intent amongst farmers around the world when it comes to digitalisation, but many see barriers to future investment. The main barriers identified include issues like the cost of devices and other hardware, as well as the cost of software and applications. Both were cited as a particular barrier by nearly half of farmers throughout Europe and Africa.
When it comes to who should provide this support for digitisation, farmers are of one voice – 92% in Europe and 87% in Africa say they need government support. However, it isn’t just financial support that farmers need from their government. Training can provide a lifeline to the industry, it’s not just about understanding there is technology that could help them, it’s probably more critical they understand how to use digital solutions which in turn will help adoption. Additionally, a large number want the government to step in and provide better mobile internet connectivity.
Now is the time for governments to capitalise on the positive attitude among farmers and their intent to invest in digital tools, by supporting the industry to overcome current barriers. Technology can help agriculture overcome its sustainability challenge, which will have a massive impact on the fight against climate change.
We must all work together to ensure that funding is available to help implement technology and to train farmers on how to use it. This technology is the key to creating a sustainable agriculture sector that can overcome the issues of climate change, as well as producing the food necessary to feed a growing global population.