Global Hunger & Precision Agriculture

A colleague of mine begins his presentation at professional meetings by noting the population of the world. He does this to emphasize that the single goal of agriculture is to feed the world. Like him, I too will begin this article by noting the world population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 6,967,814,676 people on Earth. This number represents a doubling of the world’s population in the last 50 years. I will also add a few facts to this population figure. According to the recently released “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011” report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Program, there are an estimated 925 million undernourished or hungry people. This figure represents about 13% of the world’s population. The majority of undernourished people live in rural areas and four out of five are farmers.

The fact that most hungry people are farmers seems counterintuitive. But as the 2011 report points out, farmers, especially smallholder farmers in food importing countries, are most impacted by high and volatile food prices and extreme weather events. Their livelihood and personal sustenance are tied to food. If they cannot produce a crop, they cannot feed themselves, nor do they have a source of revenue to buy food. The 2011 report also notes that while high prices worsen food insecurity in the short-term, they increase the long-term investment in agriculture. This investment is targeted at not only increasing yields but also at reducing production costs. Improvements such as seeds resilient to abnormal weather conditions, better timing and placement of fertilizers and affordable irrigation practices, attract investment and help farmers counter economic and environmental shocks.

The Role Of Precision

Precision agriculture can contribute to reducing global hunger by providing farmers the tools to create the necessary information for making good investment choices.

The more detailed and complete picture a farmer has about a field, the better the decision as to where and when seed and materials can be applied and what management practice can be implemented to improve crop production. However, precision agricultural tools cost money and take time, both of which are in short supply for many of the world’s farmers. So the challenge to the precision agriculture community is how to bring information-generating tools to the poorest of the farmers and do so in a manner that improves their production and economic situation.

Before taking up the challenge, I believe it would be helpful to introduce a measure for quantifying the contribution that information and technology make to agriculture production. The chosen measure is popular in economic analysis; it is called the “total factor productivity” or TFP. TFP accounts for the efficiency in a production system. That is, the TFP increases when there is an increase in output for the same amount of input. In the case of agriculture, there is TFP growth when yields increase with the same materials and/or practices or when yields remain the same with a reduction in materials and/or practices. The TFP can increase when either a new technology is introduced to save material, energy or time, or when there is a smarter use of resources while realizing the same output. Clearly, precision agriculture is a good candidate for promoting TFP growth in crop production.

The TFP would be important to watch worldwide because it provides a measure of how efficient one production system is over time or when it is compared to another system. It also provides a rough indicator of the sustainability of a production system. As a system becomes more efficient, it becomes more sustainable, because it either uses less of, or gets more out of, the same resources. If the same TFP calculation could be applied to many farms over time, the sustainability of a given operation could be evaluated relative to its neighbors.

Meeting The Challenge

The challenge can now be taken up by precision agriculture. As more farmers around the world adopt precision agricultural tools in their operations, there will be an ever-increasing accumulation of data and information about those operations. These data and information can be mined, organized and evaluated to create recommendations for the community of contributing farmers. These recommendations can be in the form of new seed, materials or practices that either increase yields or reduce input costs. These recommendations can be shared with farmers outside the contributing community by matching up soils, environments and operations. Farmers receiving recommendations outside the community would indirectly benefit from precision agriculture and may be incentivized to invest in it. The implementation of the shared recommendations for a more sustainable operation in a given geography would not only raise the TFP in a region, but also reduce world hunger.

In summary, precision agriculture as a generator of field-level information can play an important role in helping poorer farmers improve their crop production and attract long-term investment. Efficiency measures, such as the TFP, can be used to quantify which farming operations are sustainable and economically successful. Once identified, the technologies and practices of these successful operations can be shared with other farmers in need of assistance.

One last note, in the time it took me to write this article, the population of the world is now 6,967,842,049. It will be over 9,000,000,000 by 2040.

Leave a Reply

Regions Stories
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to Startups?
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
Pest-Monitoring-Map
AmericasStrider, Syngenta and Trends in Digital Agriculture
September 5, 2018
I recently attended Strider Day in São Paulo, an event hosted by Brazilian agtech company Strider. The event offered two Read More
John Deere ExactApply
AmericasSciFi in Ag: Self-Reacting Spray Nozzles to Fight Dicamba Drift
September 5, 2018
Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
DronessenseFly Launches eBee X Drone, Breaks Through 1,000 ac…
September 5, 2018
senseFly today reportedly sets a new standard in mapping tools with the launch of the eBee X. Launched with the Read More
AmericasOn The Scene: 2018 Farm Progress Show Wrap Up
September 5, 2018
Former Monsanto President (now Bayer CropScience Chief Operating Office) Brett Begemann’s opening salvo during his first appearance at a Farm Read More
EventsAg Experts Discuss Big Data Challenges in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Agricultural experts at a Houston conference praised the advancements in unmanned aerial vehicles, sensors, and data-collecting technology used in precision Read More