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Agriculture 2.0: how the Internet of Things can revolutionize the farming sector

Hyea Won Lee's picture
Nguyen Van Khuyen (right) and To Hoai Thuong (left). Photo: Flore de Preneuf/World Bank
Last year, we showcased how Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta are adapting to climate change. You met two shrimp farmers: Nguyen Van Khuyen, who lost his shrimp production due to an exceptionally dry season that made his pond too salty for raising shrimp, and To Hoai Thuong, who managed to maintain normal production levels by diluting his shrimp pond with fresh water. Now, let’s suppose Nguyen diluted his shrimp pond this year, another year with an extremely dry season. That would be a good start, but there would be other issues to contend with related to practical application. For example, when should he release fresh water and how much? How often should he check the water salinity? And what if he’s out of town?
 
Nguyen’s story illustrates some of the problems global agriculture faces, and how they unfold for farmers on the ground. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts, resource constraints, and climate change are confronting farmers who need to produce more with less. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected demand by 2050. Efficient management and optimized use of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer will be essential. However, managing these inputs efficiently is difficult without consistent and precise monitoring. For smallholder farmers, who account for 4/5 of global agricultural production from developing regions, getting the right information would help increase production gains. Unfortunately, many of them still rely on guess work, rather than data, for their farming decisions.
 
This is where agriculture can get a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT)—or internet-enabled communications between everyday objects. Through the IoT, sensors can be deployed wherever you want–on the ground, in water, or in vehicles–to collect data on target inputs such as soil moisture and crop health. The collected data are stored on a server or cloud system wirelessly, and can be easily accessed by farmers via the Internet with tablets and mobile phones. Depending on the context, farmers can choose to manually control connected devices or fully automate processes for any required actions. For example, to water crops, a farmer can deploy soil moisture sensors to automatically kickstart irrigation when the water-stress level reaches a given threshold.

Three misconceptions about women in agribusiness that hold companies back

Nathalie Hoffmann's picture

Debunking common misconceptions about women in agribusiness can unlock business opportunities for the private sector

At the recent World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, global leaders from across the world came together to deliberate on some of the most pressing issues of our time, such as agriculture and food security and greater social inclusion. With the global population projected to rise more than 9 billion by 2050 and the demand for food expected to jump sharply, the need for addressing the challenges of food security assumes greater urgency than before. There is also a growing need to adopt stronger measures to reduce the gender gap—women shouldn’t have to wait 170 years to bridge the divide.

Ahead of the Davos meeting, IFC released a report on agribusiness, Investing in Women along Agribusiness Value Chains, highlighting how companies can increase productivity and efficiency in the agriculture sector by closing economic and social gaps between women and men throughout the value chain, from farm to retail and beyond. The solution to address two of the most pressing challenges—food security and gender parity—isn’t difficult to find, as my research for the report suggests.

Women comprise over 40 percent of the agricultural labor force worldwide and play a major role in agriculture; yet they face a variety of constraints, such as limited access to agricultural inputs, technologies, finance, and networks. As the report shows, an increasing number of companies now recognize that investing in women can help increase companies’ bottom lines—while helping improve the lives of people in rural areas.

Yet, despite the clear business rationale, one wonders why more companies aren’t replicating the efforts of successful companies. The answer probably lies in the prevailing misconceptions about women in agribusiness—despite promising business case testimonials for gender-smart investments from multinational companies such as Mondelēz International and Primark.

Agribusiness companies need support in identifying where and how they can close gender gaps in their value chain. A good start would be to debunk those common misconceptions about women in the sector:

Rabobank Foundation and the World Bank team up to strengthen financial cooperatives for agrifinance

Juan Buchenau's picture

The World Bank and Rabobank Foundation are teaming up to strengthen financial cooperatives in rural areas to improve financial services for smallholder farmers and agricultural SMEs.
 
Financial services in rural areas are scarce and expensive. Servicing smallholder farmers spread across wide geographical areas isn’t attractive to mainstream financial institutions as their transactions are small, their cash flows seasonal and returns on investments can be risky due to potential crop failures or weather calamities.

To get access to savings and credit, rural households and farms often establish cooperative financial institutions (CFIs). While CFIs have a strong local presence and knowledge, they often have weak institutional capacity and governance, lack access to information technology, and suffer from political interference. Also, the laws regulating CFIs are often inadequate and supervision is weak, all of which hampers CFIs’ ability to deliver financial services. Often, CFIs don’t fall under the purview of the main financial sector regulator and supervisor, but of other entities that don’t always have the required capacity and expertise.

A real-time food security information system is a Big Data reality

John Corbett's picture
Today, all the necessary information assets are available to provide actionable insight to farmers: models, real-time local weather, crop and agronomic insight and calendars. What is also emerging is the technology to deliver actionable insights directly into the hands of farmers: information and communication technologies (ICTs) including cell phones, tablets and other personal communication tools.   

​With a cell phone in hand, a farmer becomes connected to a network of invaluable – and timely – information. There is greater demand for information as extreme weather variability necessitates new farming practices. Local and timely insights help inform farmer decisions. Big Data methods and practices, meanwhile, ensure that this multi-directional information contributes across the agricultural value chain as input providers and produce buyers are also informed.

The warming of the atmosphere is leading to a tremendous increase in weather variability. This variability affects agriculture in a multitude of ways and most insidiously for farmers, in the uncertainty that impacts each step in their production and livelihoods. 

The most common human reaction to uncertain times is to become more risk averse.  For our planet’s 570+ million small-holder farmers, this means lower productivity. With the impeding population surge, particularly in Africa, and diet changes requiring “70 percent more food production,” change must come now.

To Feed the Future, Let’s End Hunger by 2030

David Beckmann's picture

 The world has made impressive progress against hunger in the past few decades – mostly due to the hard work of poor people themselves. They are the most important stakeholders:  Who could be more invested in the struggle against hunger than a young woman with a hectare of land to farm and two children to feed? 
 
The State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI) 2014 tells us that the hunger target of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)—cutting in half the proportion of undernourished people—is within reach. Even better, the evidence shows that the world is making progress rapidly enough to end hunger by 2030. Setting and achieving a goal to end hunger and malnutrition in the post-MDG, post-2015 era can bring an end to widespread chronic hunger, which affects more than 800 million people today. 
 
Ending hunger is important for the present and the future. It is far better to prevent a crisis than to respond after it has occurred.
 
Ironically, people living with hunger are, by and large, the very same people the world needs to feed a growing population. Smallholder farmers often face structural barriers to food security—for example, they lack access to basic infrastructure, such as roads to get crops to the market, storage facilities, electricity, and irrigation. They lack access to credit and land. Helping them increase their incomes and build assets, strengthening safety nets, and focusing on health and education outcomes will help build their resilience to shocks that are beyond their control, such as climate change-related weather events.

Weekly Wire: The Global Forum

Roxanne Bauer's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

Facebook Reaches a Landmark 100-Million Users in Africa Through Mobile
AllAfrica
Thanks to mobile connectivity, half of Africa's 200-million internet users were accessing Facebook on a monthly basis in June 2014, indicating that the social media giant's efforts at penetrating emerging market are paying off. There's explosive growth and incredible momentum across Africa. "We now have 100-million people coming to Facebook every month across the African continent with more than 80% using mobile devices," says Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

UNICEF's Hidden in Plain Sight report details child homicides, domestic violence in 190 countries
Radio Australia
One in five homicide victims worldwide are children, a report by UN children's agency UNICEF has revealed. The Hidden in Plain Sight report analyses data from 190 countries and lists alarming statistics on child homicides, domestic violence and rape. The report found violence against children was most common in the home and with caregivers.  UNICEF spokesman for Eastern and Southern Africa, James Elder, said the report may not even capture the full extent of the problem.   "Violence is a very difficult thing often to detect, it goes grossly unreported, so one of the terrifying things from this report is knowing that in fact the numbers would be lower than the reality," he said.