Solving the global food insecurity crisis requires technology
- From satellite sensors monitoring soil in Pakistan to blockchain in coffee bean production in the Democratic Republic of Congo, technology is reshaping the agricultural sector.
- But at a session of the World Economic Forum in Davos, a much simpler solution to solving the world’s hunger problems was proposed: improved infrastructure and access to basic technologies like mobile phones.
- These simple solutions could create fairer supply chains and radically transform the global agricultural sector.
Food insecurity is a long-standing problem that requires a combination of technologies and practical solutions to solve.
This is the message launched by Ishmael Sunga, CEO of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), on the last day of the World Economic Forum conference in Davos.
It is believed that at least 720 million people in the world are hungry today. And although the food supply has been disrupted by the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, we cannot attribute these global events to the persistent problem of hunger in the world, he told the room. .
“Those who feed the world are themselves hungry,” said Sunga, who joined other panelists from Nestlé, the Indian government and chemicals company Yara International in a panel discussion.
During the session, which aimed to discuss how technology can boost food security, he called for equity and justice in distribution, as well as improved infrastructure for the agricultural sector. global. “Technology plays an important role,” Sunga said. “But context matters. Technology must serve farmers, and it must be able to help them solve their problems.”
Many of these problems are simple and require simple solutions. “And yet those solutions can be very deep,” he told attendees.
Technology as a solution
Technological advances offer farmers around the world a promising opportunity to improve their production and avoid the negative impacts of climate change.
“Our founder pioneered the innovation to sequester and extract nitrogen from the air and turn it into fertilizer to feed a growing population,” Svein Tore Holsether, President and CEO of Yara International ASA, told the panel. . .
“Our agricultural universities are working on hybrid seeds,” added Mansukh Mandaviya, Minister of Health and Family Welfare and Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers for India.
And from soil-monitoring satellite sensors in Pakistan to using blockchain to build food trust in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s coffee bean supply chain, Nestlé Executive Vice President Leanne Geale said. described the myriad ways the conglomerate is leveraging technology in the agricultural space.
These innovative measures may prove fundamental in reshaping the global agricultural landscape. But new forms of technology must be inexpensive for the individual farmer. And that often means that the simplest forms of technology could prove to be the most transformative.
Back to basics
“If you deploy simple technology, which could deliver mobile phone technology, it’s going to do things at scale, it’s going to do things quickly, it’s going to enable people to make decisions,” Sunga said.
Tore Holsether agreed, telling Davos attendees that this approach has proven effective.
At the start of the pandemic, his company worked with farmers in East Africa to figure out how to quickly increase food production. They used cell phones to provide economic advice and connect digitally with 2 million farmers. 250,000 of these farmers also received fertilizer, and through the program they were able to triple their maize yields in the first season.
An integrated approach that combines technology and practice-based reward systems – such as the Nestlé Income Accelerator project, which offers incentives to farmers who adopt agricultural practices such as pruning and the use of shade trees to create more resilient crops – can help empower farmers and move towards ending global hunger.
But above all, Sunga argues that access to fair value chains for all farmers has the greatest potential for impact. This means that better infrastructure for the world’s poorest farming communities is essential, especially information and communication infrastructure.
“Issues related to the areas you farm on can influence your amount of inputs. You might think your land is one hectare, but maybe it’s half a hectare,” Sunga said. When you enter the data for that hectare, you end up with waste. “Yet you can measure the size of the pitch with technology,” he said, adding that “these basics are so fundamental to correct.”
“As the value chain becomes more fair, just and distributes fair labor and fair compensation for the ecosystem role played by farmer managers, you will see a big shift,” he said.