The provision of sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to all people is one of the global concerns as underlined by Sustainable Development Goal number 2 whose targets aim to end hunger and ensure access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food by all people all by 2030. To achieve this goal, science, technology, and innovation have to play an integral part within the four dimensions of food security namely: food availability, access to food, food use/utilization, and food stability. According to the Science, Technology & Innovation (STI) Strategy for Africa 2024, there are practical ways that can be beneficial to the agricultural sector taking into consideration that food safety and security is a pressing necessity not only in Kenya but also in other African populations.
Soil management and irrigation technologies
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Report on the Role of Science, Technology, and Innovation in Ensuring Food Security outline new and emerging technologies including synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, and tissue engineering that may have potential implications for the future of crop and livestock agriculture by 2030. To begin with soil management, it is worth noting that precision agriculture facilitates the precise application of inputs to crop type and soil conditions in ways that increase yields while minimizing environmental impacts as contrasted to synthetic fertilizers.
Consequently, water harvesting technologies can be used to provide adequate water supply which enhances water efficiency and potentially makes the water more available for food production. In the long run, the harvested water can be used for irrigation by using lightweight drills that can detect shallow groundwater making it more accessible as a form of irrigation.
Additionally, solar-powered irrigation pumps can be installed to pump the harvested rainwater in order to increase the quantity of water for irrigation. What is more, it is inevitable to invest in affordable rainfall storage systems as a potential technology for addressing irrigation. Such investments will go along well in providing water during the dry spells and importantly ensuring that the production and supply of food remain constant.
To feed a rapidly changing world, we must use new technology to re-imagine the oldest form of risk mitigation: community.
Indisputably, beyond physical technologies and crop inputs, data can be used as a resource to improve water availability and efficiency. This provides opportunities for County Governments to collaborate with institutions of learning to carry out more research and collectively establish databanks that can inform water security within Counties.
Improving Agricultural Productivity through Big Data and IoT
Secondly, big data and the Internet of things (IoT) can be harnessed for agricultural applications including farmer decision support, precision farming, and insurance. Big data provides farmers with information on changes in weather, rainfall, soil moisture, and other factors that affect crop yield. With all this data, farmers can make accurate and reliable decisions, which ultimately improve farm yields. Big data offers opportunities for smart and precise pesticide application, thus helping the farmer to make decisions on what pesticide to apply, when, and where. Such monitoring helps food producers avoid the overuse of chemicals. Besides, it increases the farmers’ profits by cutting costs on unnecessary pesticide use.
Furthermore, remote management of agricultural machinery helps large farms reduce costs. Big data applications that can process and analyze streams of data retrieved by a variety of sensors, ranging from satellites to farming equipment, enable farmers to track their machinery in the field. This way they can eliminate all the unnecessary routes, considerably lowering fuel costs. Significantly, big data makes it possible to achieve supply chain efficiency by offering tracking and optimization opportunities for delivery routes. As a result, food delivery cycles, from producer to the market, become much shorter, ensuring no food is wasted in the process, on one hand.
On the other hand, the IoT ecosystem makes farming practice more precise and controlled by realizing smart farming applications such as livestock monitoring, vehicle tracking, field observation, and inventory monitoring. Precision farming analyzes the data, generated via sensors. This enables farmers to generate data with the help of sensors and analyze information to take intelligent and quick decisions. Moreover, ground and aerial drones are used for the assessment of crop health, crop monitoring, planting, crop spraying, and field analysis.
With proper strategy and planning based on real-time data, drone technology can give high rise and makeover to the agriculture industry. Drones with thermal or multispectral sensors identify the areas that require changes in irrigation. Once the crops start growing, sensors indicate their health and calculate their vegetation index. To make our greenhouses smart, IoT has enabled weather stations to automatically adjust the climate conditions according to a particular set of instructions. The adoption of IoT in greenhouses eliminates human intervention, thus making the entire process cost-effective and accurate.
Modern technologies unwrap opportunities for farmers to learn emerging trends of agricultural practices that they can adopt to improve crop yields. Policymakers thus have a key role to ensure that they formulate systems and infrastructure that support farmers in this transition. Whereas taking into consideration traditional and indigenous knowledge, and requisite to establish biosafety regulations and institutions that ensure human, plant, animal, and environmental safety.
Adapting food production to climate change
Significantly, these technologies will address climate change mitigation and adaptation in agriculture. STI provides farmers with alternatives to rethink how to repackage information and skills available to support sustained implementation. Particularly, STI for climate change mitigation and adaptation equip farmers with information and knowledge on both social and technical innovations.
Effective adaptation, resilience, and mitigation approaches to a changing climate offer important ecological, agronomic, economic, and social co-benefits to farmers who in turn make informed decisions that improve crop yield with the realization of the STI Strategy becoming a reality.
As such, harnessing the potential of such technologies for food safety and security requires investments in research and development that is STI-driven, human capital, infrastructure, and knowledge flows. County Governments can create an all-inclusive environment for agricultural innovation that will go along well in informing the realization of the STI) Strategy for Africa 2024 through public-private partnerships.