There is a long list of issues in the world to address – poverty, hunger, drought, polluted air, water, lack of basic sanitation, poor health, to name a few. COVID-19 has only increased the current problems for the global economy.
Before we move further to discuss how climate and agriculture is a double-edged sword, let us look at some staggering facts:
|– Need to feed more than 10 billion people by 2050, implying roughly 70% more food production than now.
|– Over 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions(GHGs) are due to crop, land use, livestock production, and soil and nutrient management.
|– More than 800m people globally are famished and More than 30% of the farm produce is wasted every year.
|– It is estimated that global climate change will reduce agricultural productivity by roughly 17% by 2050.
One of the assessment reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states, ‘Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use’ (AFOLU) contributes the largest share of global methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Majority of the methane emissions is produced by enteric fermentation during the digestive processes of ruminant animals, and by rice cultivation. The nitrous oxide emissions are mainly due to the application of nitrogen-based fertilizers and animal manure management.
The impact is most adverse in low- and middle-income countries, where large populations depend on agriculture and are vulnerable to food insecurity. Yet, climate change’s impact on global food security is not only to food supply, but also to food quality, food access and utilization. Climate usually affects the nutritional value of crops. Research proves that under conditions of elevated levels of carbon dioxide, the concentrations of minerals in some crops (e.g. wheat, rice and soybeans) can be up to 8 percent lower than normal. Protein concentrations may also be lower, while carbohydrates are higher (FAO, 2015). Certain impinging effects on water borne diseases were also noticed, due to the changing climatic effect.
Droughts, floods and recent locust outbreaks are becoming more frequent, with yields declining, these sudden climatic changes heighten the pre-existing problems for farmers globally.The silver lining amidst this prevailing trouble, is the advent of advanced technologies which not only make farming sustainable but also increase the yield, farmers’ income, food safety and security while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. A large part of this solution is precision agriculture.
Precision agriculture, put simply, is farming that uses information technology, satellite positioning (GNSS) data, remote sensing techniques, and proximal data gathering for the crops. The goal is to optimise returns agricultural yields and to minimize potential environmental impact and wastages. Various researches have been conducted to study in detail the probable benefits to the producer, the global economy, and the climate.
Precision agriculture has several benefits for the above-mentioned stakeholders:
1. Higher yields with greater efficiency – It means more production with less water and lesser agricultural area using the variable-rate application (VRA) technology to increase soil fertility and yields by reducing and managing nutritional imbalances, crop stress, and pest infestations. Precision farming, thus, could aid efficiently in feeding a growing population and optimizing land use.
2. Greater food security – Higher crop yields means more production of food and thus increased food security and safety using product traceability, resulting in greater savings and higher profits for the farmers.
3. Environmental benefits – Controlled use of water in a limited agricultural area, brings down the use of natural resources are utilized efficiently which means less deforestation. Also, reduction in the use of fertilizers and other pesticides facilitates a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions and less contamination of soil and water bodies.
4. Agricultural Health – Frequent monitoring of crops through advanced technology, i.e. remote sensing techniques, drones, etc. helps in early identification of diseases, thus letting the farmer take timely corrective and preventive measures. Microbes are being developed to help crops like corn, wheat, and rice extract nitrogen from the air and use them on their own. This will not only reduce the need for man-made fertilizer but will significantly bring down the carbon emissions from agriculture. Enriching the crops will become far more efficient than today.
5. Generate and obtain real-time data – Continuous monitoring ensures the updated status of the field in real-time based on the chosen parameters of plant and fields. This is made possible through remote sensing devices in fields.
According to the World Economic Forum, global yield could see a drastic increase of 10-15% by 2030, greenhouse gas emissions and water use could witness a decline of 15-20% provided 15-25% of the farms of a region start adopting precision agriculture. VRT allows critical farming inputs like fertiliser, chemicals, lime, gypsum, irrigation water and more to be applied at differential rates across a field, without the need to manually alter the settings on equipment or making multiple passes over an area.
VRA technology is particularly useful in
– Lowering greenhouse gas emissions
– Preventing Soil degradation
– Preventing water pollution
Changes in conventional farming methods and equipping farms and farmers in soil management practices could reduce the carbon footprints drastically. Technology is expensive but recent developments are promising. Implementing agri-tech is becoming easier to adopt ,as it allows building productivity zones, site-specific field management using satellite images and remote sensing techniques.
It is imperative to safeguard food security, and technology backed with precision farming internet based agriculture needs to be applied not only to food production, but also to all other stages of the food supply chain. However, as on today, there is a lack of sufficient research into the impacts of climate change on food processing, packaging, transport, storage and trade. Adaptation of agri-tech initiatives will engage multiple sectors and consider the broad range of systemic operations across the food value chain.
The need of the hour is to exploit technology and leverage precision farming in developing local and global strategies for an equitable, just, and smooth agriculture transition while addressing climate change. Real-time data backed agriculture will establish optimum farms with ideal crop yields and curtail food wastages alongside lower environmental impact by efficient use of need based agri- inputs in farming.
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