DOWNINGTOWN, Pennsylvania — As the world becomes more interconnected through technology, new challenges have emerged in the developing world. Climate change has accelerated food insecurity and water scarcity, threatening people’s livelihoods all over the world. Roughly “1.6 million people already live in countries with water scarcity.” That number is expected to double in the next 20 years. Water is a necessity for life and a necessary ingredient for food. That is why SupPlant, an Israeli technology startup, is attempting to bridge this gap through technology.
The Trifecta: Water, Food and Poverty
According to the United Nations, “water is key to food security.” In developing countries, access to food depends heavily on the water supply; however, water is distributed unevenly across the world, especially in Africa and Asia. Improvements in water allocation are necessary to prevent food insecurity.
Without significant investment or developments in technology, about 370 million people will suffer from food insecurity in 2050. Furthermore, without proper water allocation to boost crop production, food insecurity and poverty is inevitable. For example, in Namibia, when droughts occur, farmers are unable to produce food, so they are forced to move to urban areas where they are subjected to poor living conditions.
However, proper productivity in the agricultural sector can also alleviate poverty faster. Allocating water properly will promote food security, and therefore, decrease poverty. This makes precision agriculture an important investment.
What is SupPlant?
SupPlant is a tech startup seeking to utilize proper water management through innovative and technological methods. These methods increase the efficacy of precision agriculture. It operates in 14 different countries, specifically designing its technology for small growers and farmers. The company’s main goal is to educate and equip farmers and groups with the skills and technologies necessary to adapt to the modern-day climate and conserve water.
The Borgen Project corresponded with Ori Ben Ner, the CEO of SupPlant. In his email, Ner said, “SupPlant is focused on aiming to use less water to grow more food.” SupPlant is using new innovative technologies to “talk” to plants by using “AI Power Precision Farming,” a form of precision agriculture where sensors measure plants’ current necessities through their soil and current environments.
According to Ner, the company places the sensors in five different locations on the plant. Other companies only place a sensor in the soil. Once placed on the plant, the sensors measure “plant and fruit growth patterns” and “the actual water content in the soil and plant health data.”
Ner added that SupPlant’s sensors “monitor real-time and forecasted climatic data and forecasted plant growth patterns.” This information, as well as “Big-Data” from expert “agronomists,” is uploaded every 30 minutes to an algorithm in the cloud. The algorithm generates a unique recommendation based on the plants’ stresses and growth.
“We provide high resolution, real-time and forecasted insights and irrigation commands for an accurate irrigation regime and practices, ensuring healthy and robust harvests with the optimum water usage that builds their resilience through time,” Ner said.
SupPlant’s Operations and Success
SupPlant operates in 14 different countries, making ample progress in each. According to Ner, the company’s precision agriculture has successfully reduced water consumption by 20% in Israel to grow 20% more avocados.
In other countries, the company has been able to successfully grow more food, using less water, tackling food insecurity. For example, according to Ner, in South Africa, SupPlant’s precision agriculture produced 41% more lemons without using any more water. In Mexico, if facilitated the growth of 20% more mangos, using 15% less water.
To continue to grow its success, in 2021, the company raised more than $10 million to jumpstart projects in Africa and India where many farmers have a dual task of mitigating climate damage and growing food. SupPlant’s main goal from this funding round is to make their technology increasingly available to “vulnerable populations” and reach as many farmers as possible.
By September of 2021, the company hopes to implement precision agricultural techniques for 500,000 farmers in Kenya. By 2022, it aims to provide more than two million sensors to smallholders in Africa and India, according to Ner. Ner said in a SupPlant press release, “We already have strategic and disruptive agreements in place with global leaders that will allow us to reach millions of farmers in the upcoming year with this new and exciting technology.”
– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram