Academia calls for liberalising AgTech commercialisation

By Munawar Hasan
March 21, 2023

LAHORE: Farm productivity and water use efficiency can be enhanced tremendously through simplifying commercialisation of cutting-edge agricultural technology (AgTech) and use of drones in farming sector, stressed Dr Muhammad Abubakr, Executive Director, Centre for Water Informatics & Technology (WiT) at LUMS.


“Growers need not to worry anymore about applying farm inputs like water, fertilizers or pesticides on entire fields. Instead, AgTech enables them to go for targeted use of these inputs in appropriate quantities on a required area. Application of moisture and temperature sensors, aerial imaging and positioning systems, tunnel farm monitoring and diverse use of drones have increasingly become vital tools of today’s agriculture,” said Dr Abubakr and his team, including Dr Jawairia Ahmad, Dr Talha Manzoor and others at a media briefing here at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on Monday to a group of journalists.

Unlike exponential adoptability of innovative farm technologies in the region, unfortunately, growth of AgTech has been slow in the country mainly because of cumbersome regulation process and curbs on use of drones at farms. We need to promote use of new technologies to meet the challenges related to water resources management due to urbanization, climate change, and population growth, observed Dr Abubakr. He added that it is particularly important to allow technology-driven interventions for increasing agricultural water productivity.

He also presented several key findings from computational models and field experiments that demonstrate the transformative potential of disruptive technologies for the water-energy-land nexus in the region. These interventions include updating bulk irrigation delivery, providing digital irrigation advisory services for farmers, making a business case for water conservation technologies, adopting nature-inspired practices, and balancing technology investments on demand and supply.

He also highlighted the costs of the action, no-action, and cooperation in meeting the basin's sustainable development agenda and warns of the potential drawbacks of technology-based water efficiency routes. For instance, he maintained, Pakistan can save billions of dollars every year alone by investing in efficient use of water.

Indigenous homegrown technologies are critical for solving our water woes. We now have the capability to conserve water by empowering farmers and water managers with tools to make real-time decisions on when to irrigate and how much to irrigate, he said and adding threat of climate change is real as this menace is creating huge uncertainties in our water cycle such as the mistiming of rains and snow-melt. The only way forward is to learn to adapt, make use of technology-based early-warning systems and mitigate the impacts of disasters like floods, droughts and heatwaves by proactive preparations, he opined.

Glaciers and snow melt are the major sources of river water. Yet all climate change scenarios predict that some years of rapid melt / high flows will be followed by the eventual drying up of our rivers. Countries like Pakistan must prepare for these future scenarios by investing in storage, replenishing groundwater, and adapting to new water-smart agricultural practices, he added. Policymakers must use science-based decision support tools to make investments in interventions that can create the most impact. For this, the incorporation of climate analytics and water resources research is needed in economic decision-making in our planning departments, he said.