Industries in Depth

3 strategies that can future-proof the global food system

Reversing the vulnerabilities of the global food system requires out-of-the box thinking.

Reversing the vulnerabilities of the global food system requires out-of-the box thinking. Image: Shutterstock

Krishna Kumar
Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Cropin
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  • COVID-19 and the Ukraine invasion have triggered a global food crisis but innovative solutions must pre-empt future crises as well.
  • Digital tools and technology can approach agribusiness challenges by providing supply chain transparency, environmentally protective approaches and predicting supply needs.
  • As agriculture is one of the least digitized industries, mass digitization is crucial for reversing the vulnerabilities faced by the global food system.

The global food system faces several headwinds, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in food security challenges. The State of Food Security and Nutrition report released by the World Health Organization shows that the number of people affected by hunger rose to 828 million in 2021, an increase of 150 million since the onset of the pandemic. The Ukraine crisis disrupted global grain markets further, underlining the need for resilient supply chains in the agri-food sector.

We have thus reached an inflexion point where the global food system requires innovative and out-of-the-box solutions to address food security, climate change and economic stability. Isolated actions won’t help us anymore but concerted efforts and mass movements are the need of the hour.

As the World Economic Forum’s Tania Strauss has said, in her remit working on the Forum’s Food Systems Initiative, “We must face this crisis with the certainty of multiple food crises to follow. Success now rests on every country taking action.”

Future-proofing the global food system

Three fundamental actions can accelerate our ability to future-proof the global agri-food ecosystem:

  • Incentivize thoughtful but mandatory digitalization of the agriculture value chain to maximize visibility and transparency across the food system.
  • Mass adoption of climate-smart agriculture and regenerative agriculture practices.
  • Enabling economies to build food self-sufficiency.

Accelerated digitalization of agriculture

Real-time visibility and transparency across the global agri-food value chain are imperative, which can only be enabled by accelerating digital transformation. This transformation has to involve every stakeholder – growers, agribusinesses and governments – allowing them to make informed decisions to maximize per-acre value, grow nutritious food sustainably and enable sustainable farming communities.

Today, the use of digital tools and technology in agriculture, enabled by satellite imagery, the internet of things (IoT), data science, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and the cloud, can provide real-time information on food production, distribution and consumption. The smart agriculture revolution has already begun and green shoots are visible not only in the developed world but also in major smallholder farmer markets of Asia and Africa.

The story of Suresh from the South Indian city of Vijayawada is a classic case of how smallholder farmers use technology to optimize materials and labour and generate 30% additional profit. He is now working with the seed major Syngenta and using Cropin’s smart farm solutions to decide his sowing and harvesting pattern, monitor crop health and growth, manage fertilizer application and optimize water usage.

Smart farming solutions can digitize the entire value chain and make every farm asset traceable, predictable and sustainable. Future farms will be like modern factories where we have complete control over the input, cultivation, harvest, warehousing and distribution. Rapid digitalization can unlock the power of data and intelligence to transform agriculture, just like other industries today.

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Farms generate trillions of data points which, when processed with remote intelligence from satellite and weather data, will help farmers and agribusinesses enhance farm performance and increase investment returns. Today, field-tested AI tools are also aiding the farming community in choosing the best crops for their region, advanced pest and disease prediction, water stress detection and irrigation scheduling and accurate harvest date and yield estimation.

In one such smart farming deployment, the confectionery brand Loacker digitized their hazelnut farms and improved farm operations transparency and data capture accuracy, thereby driving 100% sustainability in their hazelnut value chain.

Equipping farmers with digital tools is critical to improving farming yield and achieving food self-sufficiency.

Krishna Kumar, Founder and CEO, Cropin

Climate-smart agriculture and regenerative practices

As countries seek ways to bolster the resilience of agroforestry, agriculture and aquaculture against the damaging impacts of climate change, they are increasingly turning to climate-smart agriculture and regenerative practices. These innovative approaches leverage modern technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve natural resources and increase food security while safeguarding the environment.

Cropin, for instance, has partnered with the Asian Disaster Preparedness Centre to help over 3,200 farmers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka adopt climate-resilient practices and mitigate risk. By digitizing farms and overlaying data with remote sensing data and weather forecasts, farmers are given timely warnings and advisories on negative weather patterns, enabling them to adjust their operations and mitigate risks.

While climate-smart agriculture is essential in the era of global warming, regenerative agriculture is another critical thought process gaining traction. Regenerative agriculture promotes biodiversity and the idea of zero-carbon farms by reducing the carbon footprint.

Agritech companies are providing digitization solutions that define new standards for revitalizing soil health through carbon sequestration, reduced tillage, cover cropping and crop rotation, among others.

IoT tools are used to monitor soil health data and provide insights into the optimal usage of organic matter for ideal soil structure. Live dashboards, reward points based on farmer scorecards and complete visibility into farming operations help the ecosystem drive regenerative farming at scale.

As the world grapples with the challenges of climate change, climate-smart agriculture and regenerative agriculture represent promising solutions for improving food and nutrition security, enhancing resilience and safeguarding the environment. These approaches offer a path towards a more sustainable and resilient future by leveraging innovative technology and practices.

Benefits of digital farming for the global food system.
Benefits of digital farming for the global food system. Image: Cropin

Building food self-sufficiency

Equipping farmers with digital tools is critical to improving farming yield and achieving food self-sufficiency, as highlighted by the Ukraine crisis.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa has implemented an ambitious digital farming initiative that has benefited 3 million farmers across Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania and Mozambique, promoting sustainable development in the region.

Advanced AI models can also assist governments in predicting and mapping crop and food stock supply against anticipated demand, as demonstrated by the Nigerian government’s wheat production analysis.

With agriculture being one of the least digitized industries, mass digitization is crucial for reversing the vulnerabilities faced by the global food system and ensuring access to nutritious food as a fundamental human right. The time to act is now.

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