Thursday September 29, 2022

Digital farming

October 13, 2021

Agriculture is a significant source of income for many families and plays a major role in increasing the employment rate. Industries are moving towards digital labour technologies, cloud storage, and other functions. Digital farming hasn’t been fully adopted by farmers because of the assumed complexities. Pakistan is one agricultural country that has witnessed some considerable diversification over the years.

In most regions, agriculture is given immense importance because food is a necessity in human life. However, Pakistan has not been able to realize its real agricultural potential up till now. This leads to a great gap between actual and potential yields.

Digital farming will also play a major role in motivating farmers to adopt the latest agricultural technologies. Being updated with the market will help farmers know what to grow at a particular time. The current agricultural system is facing numerous problems including the poor adoption of information and communication technology (ICT) by various stakeholders, insufficient funds and improper transportation facilities. Also, there is a lack of training and interaction in the agricultural food chain.

Radio and TV shows can be created to disburse information to the target audience. Hence, if there is an outbreak of a disease, farmers will be notified to take relevant precautions.

Farm machinery automation allows the fine-tuning of inputs and reduces the demand for manual labour. Ultimately, this will reduce the cost of hiring workers and monitoring crop growth. Digital technologies can also help farmers improve the effectiveness of the existing policies. The government can use high-quality satellite imagery to reduce the cost of sending extension officers for the physical inspection of farms. This will help the government enforce better policies for the development of the agricultural sector. Also, the government can help promote the automation of administrative processes for agriculture and the development of expanded government services.

Digital technologies can help in the promotion of trade in agriculture and food products. This will also connect private sector suppliers to new markets and enable new ways for the government to monitor and ensure standard compliance, thereby helping reduce the possibility of products getting bad before sale. This can also be with the introduction of online stores that mainly deal with agricultural produce. The farmers can advertise what they have on their farms and how soon it can be available for sale, making it easier for consumers to get access to farm produce.

Additionally, the world is slowly adopting big data and smart farming and promoting agricultural organisations. Many start-ups are focusing on making the agricultural sector simpler and looking for solutions to help make the sector prosper. Most of these companies are even partnering with the government to get the resources that can then be transmitted to farmers. These technologies may seem tough at first, but information disbursement will ease the illiteracy of technologies. Besides farmers, agricultural or extension officers should also have access to the latest information. This will help them pass the information to farmers in a timely manner.

In the coming years, robots may even be integrated into farm management. This could ultimately transform the entire agricultural sector, positively. Mobile phone apps that can detect diseases can come in handy to provide people with the relevant information on how best to treat livestock and reduce pest infestation. Also, farmers are informed about current weather conditions, different fertilisers, seeds machinery, best pesticides, and farm-related accessories. Mobile phone technology can greatly impact Pakistan residents as most people have internet-accessible phones. This will ultimately revolutionise the economy.

Artificial intelligence can also be used in comparing common diseases and pest infestation. If a certain prevention method doesn’t work, it will be better to tell farmers so that they can reduce the use. Also, patterns can be seen at a certain time. For example, if locusts normally come in January, farmers can be updated on what they should and should not do. The agricultural sector needs to thrive well for the benefit of the whole of Pakistan.

In Singapore, entrepreneurs are creating urban farms with effective technologies. The new agricultural players are incorporating efficient technologies into their farming systems. The use of IoT and data analytics helps farmers control environmental conditions to ensure the proper growth of crops. This is by determining the sunlight, humidity, light, and other essential elements.

Automated systems like animal auto feeders help reduce manual labour. This is also with the help of shed cleaning bots – labourers can now focus on other things. Hydroponic systems are also widely being used to reduce the need for pesticides and fertilisers.

There are also high-tech egg farms that are being used to increase egg yields. The new technologies have helped automate the process – the collection, grading, and packing of eggs. This automation has helped raise productivity significantly. Closed containment fish farms are being used to boost the quantity and quality of produced fish. The digital farming method helps protect the fish from some external factors. This method also helps people farm indoors even with limited space.

Vertical vegetable farms are thriving well in Singapore. The farms use high-tech systems to maximise physical space and create suitable conditions. Big data is also being used to predict crop performance and even deploy drones to collect real-time data on the farms. Many farmers around the world are digitalising the agricultural supply chain to achieve greater efficiency.

Agriculture is the backbone of the Pakistan government. This is for producing food for both domestic use and exports. Agriculture is broad, and farmers, stakeholders, and all service providers need to be taught the best way to undertake agriculture. It is important to ensure that farmers are technology-empowered. Pakistan is moving forward digitally in different sectors, so why not agriculture?

The writer is CTO & director, Centre of Information Technology at IoBM. He tweets @imranbatada.