SEATTLE — According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) the world’s population is set to grow from 6 to 9.1 billion by 2050; a situation that will require food production to rise by 70 percent in the developed world and double in developing nations.
Given that there are approximately 500 million small-scale farmers around the world, enabling them to take up new Internet of Things (IoT) technology could be the answer to ensuring the food demands of the world are adequately met.
For large-scale farmers, the Internet of Things (IoT) in agriculture involves the use of highly interconnected sensors in the measurement of farm variables such as the number of seeds planted, the amount of fertilizer used, soil moisture levels and the temperature of stored products.
This kind of precise data allows farmers to make informed decisions regarding planting, fertilizing and harvesting crops.
More advanced uses of the Internet of Things for agriculture include the use of self-driven tractors to control the spacing between crops to allow for more crops to be planted per acre. Farmers can also use drones with multi-spectral and optical sensors to remotely monitor the health of their crops or identify sick livestock within their herds.
According to RCR Wireless magazine, estimates show that agricultural IoT systems can increase yields by up to 15 percent.
If adoption of such technologies has proved so successful in increasing the quantity, yields and sustainability in large-scale farms, how can the Internet of Things system be used by small-scale farmers to achieve similar results?
Scientists at IBM Africa research lab have developed the EZ farmer application as part of a broader initiative to develop smart water management solutions for farmers.
The EZ farmer application uses IoT and big data technologies to deliver up to date information to smallholder farmers about current and future water and soil moisture levels. The application is targeted at “telephone farmers.” These are small-scale farmers living in urban areas who travel to their farms only over weekends and monitor operations during the week by telephoning frequently.
Information is obtained through the use of water tank level monitors, soil moisture sensors and infrared cameras on farms. This information is then transmitted to the farmers via smartphones and tablets. The application helps these farmers to more effectively monitor and manage water resources, and it allows farmers to cut down on labor to monitor these parameters.
Illuminum greenhouses is an up-and-coming company that was recognized for their innovative use of Agriculture IoT at the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES).
The Illuminum solution combats the over-reliance by smallholder farmers on rain-fed agriculture by providing them with affordable, solar-powered greenhouses with sensor technology to monitor soil moisture, humidity and temperature within the greenhouse.
Most importantly however, the farmers can regulate the water supply in the greenhouse through their mobile phones. Farmers can receive and query the ambient conditions within the greenhouse and open and close the greenhouse irrigation system via SMS.
These two examples illustrate the potential benefits of IoT for small-scale farmers and the potential for technology to help feed the world in the future.