These are hurdles that the agricultural industry will need to overcome over the next couple of years, but the benefits of digital agriculture far outweigh the drawbacks. They present huge opportunities to all agribusiness stakeholder groups to create a more productive, cost efficient and flexible agricultural value chain.
And those improvements in business performance also create the best opportunity to feed the world sustainably.
The gap between modern, advanced farming and subsistence farming is growing at an alarming rate. While the cost of implementing precision farming technology in the developed world has fallen substantially, the weak network infrastructure and limited capital of emerging economies means they are still a long way from benefitting from the digital agriculture revolution. But it also means that they have the most to gain.
With demand for food rising, and the challenges affecting the world’s poorest farmers rising with the threat of climate change, spreading the benefits of digital agriculture is not just an urgent need, but good sense.
“There are a tremendous number of farmers in the world who are subsistence farmers. In some countries, nearly 50% of the population is involved in farming. So if you can increase the efficiency of the farm, then you start to create a profit-seeking farmer. That allows them to not just feed their family but make a profit out of it as well. If we can help them get a better yield, make people more efficient at source, we can give them economic liberation,” Dongoski says.
For every subsistence farmer made more productive, not only will more food be available to feed more people, but also more money will enter circulation locally as they sell their extra produce. Greater efficiency could also lead to an increase in leisure time (i.e., time not spent farming), that could be used for education and training — thereby giving the next generation greater access to work.
More efficient farming methods should also push prices down. Dongoski explains: “In the US, less than 10% of household income is spent on food, which leaves 90% for other goods, services, etc. In some developing countries, 90% of household income is spent on food, leaving very little left over for shelter or other goods and services. Creating more abundant food supplies is not just about nutrition, it has the potential to be a tremendous economic liberator in developing markets.”
Ultimately, boosting agricultural productivity in emerging markets will benefit the whole working world. More sustainable, productive farms will lead to more sustainable, more productive and more inclusive economies.
So, is digital agriculture enough to feed a growing world?
It has the potential to do so. The data revolution can change not just the way we farm but the whole agricultural supply chain. But it will not bring about a true revolution in agriculture without harmonization, standardization and — most of all — trust.
This can only happen if we can find a way to build trust within every part of the agri-business value chain and unite the industry behind a purpose that goes beyond profit — to transform so that it is fit to feed the world.
The first agricultural revolution, from c.10,000 BCE, enabled humanity to settle, leading to the formation of the world’s first societies and civilization. This latest digital agricultural revolution could help those societies survive and thrive long into the future.