Importance of Technology in Sustainable Farming
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There’s little doubt that sustainable agriculture is the only way forward if we are to continue to produce food for generations to come. Over the past several decades, digital technologies have had a profound impact on our daily lives and businesses. These technologies also have enormous potential to impact agriculture in several aspects. When applied to agriculture, it does have the capacity to enhance global food security and improve farmer livelihoods, particularly in a context where the global population is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2050. While on the one hand, farmers must produce more, they must also reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Digital technology, while enabling both these, can add one more significant benefit to this - it can make the agriculture value chain more equitable. Digital technology comes with several solutions to make this happen.
Digital Solutions for Sustainable Farming
There’s an entire gamut of solutions that aid in many aspects of sustainable farming – right from farm management and traceability to certification and market linkage. Farm management entails digitisation of farmer and farm profiles, capturing biometric data and geo-referencing of the farm. It enables keeping track of sowing dates and yield estimation. Need-based inspections for detection of pests and diseases also come under its purview. Farmer Advisory Services is another solution through which farmers can receive audio and text messages on the weather forecast, crop calendars, advice on irrigation and fertiliser, and on market price, seeds and inputs. Certification, on the other hand, is a solution that provides ready-to-use templates for several recognised standards such as UTZ/Rainforest Alliance, FairTrade, Global and GAP and aids in maintaining the digital Internal Control System (ICS) for certification. The technology platform helps keep track of any non-conformity so that corrective actions can be taken to ensure compliance and obtain certification. Certified products fetch premium prices for its producers.
The Good Things
Another extremely relevant solution in our present times is traceability. Traceability provides complete visibility of the produce from farm to consumer for various value chains such as fresh produce, organic cotton, cocoa, coffee and others. A QR code or barcode-based traceability solutions allow consumers to trace the origins of the food or clothes to farmer groups, with the exact location. This is especially useful with the new brand of consumers out there who are conscious of the ethical and environmental processes involved in the cultivation or production of that item. Again, monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is a solution that comes in handy for management of the agricultural process. In this application, data is captured through dynamic survey tools, using the web or mobile devices. Digital technology can also be used to manage the supply chain of any product, which provides complete visibility of the entire chain on a real-time basis. The system can digitise all farm and farmer details and also record procurement transactions. This ultimately helps in accurate and timely payment to the farmers. Another use of digital technology is market linkage, which connects farmers and buyers through a common portal. This helps the farmer to participate in global markets by providing visibility to the buyer. It informs farmers of the existing market prices and commodity futures so that they can negotiate for better prices. Digital technology in agriculture also finds a place in financial services, as it can manage all financial services in agriculture from credit and payments to crop insurance and collections. With a platform that can be integrated with financial institutions, it provides transparency and accuracy for accessing credit.
The combined use of all these technologies has already started making an impact on the agriculture sector. For example, organic cotton farmers in India have gained sustainable market
access to global brands with premium pricing. It has contributed to monitoring and eliminating deforestation and child labour in cocoa value chains. It has enabled organisations to implement good agricultural practices by streamlining the coaching and mentoring of farmers. Another significant outcome is the building of trust between customers and ends consumers by being able to demonstrate the origin of produce. QR code-based traceability solutions are playing its part by providing full visibility.
In short, these new technologies help in changing the way in which agriculture can be managed, making farming sustainable. All the more, it connects all the players in the ecosystem and creates sustainable farming communities.