As the world’s population is set to grow exponentially, the greatest challenge we currently face is in ensuring food security. There is an urgent need to create a sustainable, smart and scalable food production process, to ensure the production levels meet the demand.
This would mean fine-tuning our agricultural process to sustainably increase yield, increase efficiency of the global food supply chain, minimise wastage and eradicate malnutrition. The key component of being food secure is in ensuring the food we consume is nutritious and healthy for our lifestyle.
Food security is not a problem of a populated world of the distant future, it is in fact very real right now. As figures from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) indicate, the number of undernourished people facing chronic food deprivation, has increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, from around 804 million in 2016.
Hunger has been on the rise for a third year in a row, now accounting to 11 per cent of the global population.
Therefore, urgent action is needed to address not only today’s issues, but to plan and mitigate for the future. Our present agricultural and farming methods will either be inadequate or inefficient at a grander scale, unless we bring in smarter solutions to handle the way we produce our food.
We know that the agriculture and food sectors currently suffer from information asymmetries and closed data practices that limit progress, value generation and the fair distribution of resources. The lack of institutional, national, and international policies and openness of data limit the effectiveness of agricultural and nutritional data from research and innovation.
A good start would be in establishing open data policies that create an atmosphere for engaging close cooperation between all stakeholders to share vital information for better planning and implementation. By creating this open access environment, it can enable farmers and food producers across the board to make better fact-based, enlightened decisions, and help ensure smart practices in food production.
For example with better data synchronisation, farmers will be at a position to access vital information such as historic weather patterns, soil information and AI-calculated farming pattern to maximise yield. Akin to a smart investment banker, a farmer can also better handle risk — by pricing in factors such as drought or floods — and subsequently adjust his farming cycle.
Although the amount of data openly available is constantly increasing, there are still challenges related to data management, licensing, interoperability and exploitation. There is a need to evolve policies, practices and ethics around closed, shared, and open data.
This is where strong open data legislation by governments will help in reviving the ecosystem from the fringes of society to the mainstream, ensuring greater public-private participation. The scope of open data is limitless — right from information on vital farming metrics to real-time data on food supply chain, stockpiling and wastage, it is only through clear data, information and numbers that we can know how to optimise and improve our processes.
In 1986, approximately 1 per cent of the world’s data production was in a digital format. Twenty years later, it was 94 per cent. Today, almost the totality of data generation is digital.
We have the intelligence, but making it into a readable and accessible format will revolutionise the world as we know it, not just in agriculture or food production.
Another component to understand here is the geographical aspects of the problem, with extreme poverty and food security predominantly rural. Therefore eradicating poverty and hunger goes hand in hand.
By educating and engaging the rural community in the organised workforce, including in farming techniques, we stand to provide a means of sustainable, self-dependent livelihoods.
— Andre Laperriere is CEO of GODAN.