Sembrando éxito: el creciente papel de la IA en la agricultura sostenible

Each year, the global agricultural sector grapples with staggering losses of up to 40% in crop production due to plant pests and diseases, resulting in an economic setback of approximately US$220 billion. Climate change is projected to further worsen crop losses by another 10-25%. At a time when the global population is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, farmers not only need to reduce the burden of crop loss but are also expected to produce 70% more food, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

 

The question remains: how?

 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is emerging as a transformative force in agriculture, empowering stakeholders with vast capabilities and insights to facilitate sustainable and cost-effective commercial farming. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), AI could potentially increase farm productivity globally by as much as 67% by 2050.

 

Farmers can significantly benefit from AI technologies, such as predictive analytics and precision agriculture. Research findings by Arkinvest suggest that AI and precision agriculture can reduce annual agricultural operating costs by more than 22% globally.

 

AI models offer cost-effective and precise solutions for measuring soil moisture, nutrient levels, crop health, water use efficiency, and other agricultural parameters. These technologies can also detect diseases and determine optimal planting and harvesting times.

 

This is evident in Malaysia, where farmers, as part of an initiative spearheaded by Mimos Berhad, a government agency under the Ministry of Science and Technology, are using SKYFLD, a precision farming platform. SKYFLD enables them to map their fields and monitor crop health using satellite data. This data helps improve yields by targeting fertilizers and crop treatments more effectively. Besides optimizing the use of these inputs, farmers can monitor biomass performance and health to identify and investigate critical zones and take necessary countermeasures.

 

Countries across the APAC region, facing substantial risks from climate change, are turning to AI to improve farming practices. AI helps enhance farm economics by increasing income, reducing input costs, and building resilient food systems. For example, AI-powered energy management systems analyze energy consumption patterns on farms and suggest strategies to minimize waste. Whether it’s powering equipment or managing climate control systems in greenhouses, optimizing energy usage not only reduces costs for farmers but also promotes a more sustainable agricultural sector.

 

Large corporations like PepsiCo are promoting AI adoption in the region to support innovative agricultural research and scale technological solutions to address common farming challenges. PepsiCo’s crop intelligence model, developed in collaboration with Cropin, uses satellite imagery and remote sensing data to provide valuable insights. This system can generate forecasts up to ten days in advance, helping even small farmers identify different crop stages and closely monitor crop health. It includes a disease warning system based on weather forecasts and historical data. These forecasts enable farmers to plan their harvests more effectively, manage labor, and negotiate contracts with buyers more efficiently.

 

The Catalyzers Nurturing the AI Ecosystem

 

In countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, and the Philippines, AI application in agriculture is gaining momentum, drawing attention from both governments and businesses. For example, the Thai government subsidizes farmers to use drones for fertilizing and pest control, offering a precise, faster, and safer method for crop management. Malaysia’s AI roadmap for 2021-25 includes developing autonomous robots for oil palm harvesting, aiming to boost its leading position in vegetable oil exports. The International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines is utilizing AI, supported by a US$2 million grant from Google.org, to enhance rice breeding for climate resilience.

 

In Southeast Asia, several incubators and accelerators are fostering an enabling ecosystem for agritech start-ups to leverage AI technologies. For instance, corporate-led initiatives such as PepsiCo’s Programa Acelerador de Efecto Invernadero nurture and support start-ups addressing food security and sustainability challenges. Some of these challenges include pest and disease management, supply chain inefficiencies and post-harvest losses. The program’s focus has widened to include sustainable and regenerative agriculture, alongside the circular economy, and climate action, to tackle a broad spectrum of environmental issues.

Enwise, a China-based start-up that participated in the Greenhouse Accelerator Program in 2023, specializes in transforming organic waste into energy and fertilizer efficiently. By leveraging its digital AI system, Enwise continuously supervises and adjusts conditions to maximize bio-energy output and has rapidly scaled its technology. This example illustrates the importance of collaboration among start-ups, corporations, governments, and research institutions in driving innovation throughout the agricultural value chain.

 

A similar success story is seen with PepsiCo’s iCrop technology, where farmers collected 1 million data points from over 118,000 acres of potato fields. Machine learning was used to analyze data on various factors such as seed type, soil type, and water usage to assess crop performance and optimize yields. Both examples highlight how advanced technologies and collaborative efforts are revolutionizing agriculture, enhancing efficiency, and boosting productivity.

 

From equipment automation to agri drones, smart farming systems like vertical gardens in Singapore to market intelligence and supply chain optimization, AI-powered systems are facilitating sustainable farming practices and making farmers competitive and the agricultural value chain more resilient.

 

Knowing the Bottlenecks

 

While the growing use of AI in commercial agriculture holds immense promise, it also presents its fair share of challenges. Data privacy and security concerns, interoperability issues, and the digital divide between large-scale commercial farms and smallholder farmers are just a few of the hurdles that must be overcome. Moreover, ethical considerations surrounding the use of AI in agriculture, such as algorithmic bias and socio-economic implications, require careful attention and regulatory oversight.

 

The recent release of the ASEAN Guide on AI Governance and Ethics in February 2024 marks a significant milestone in addressing the potential risks associated with AI.While these guidelines are voluntary, they lay the groundwork for broader discussions and collaboration on AI governance and ethics within the ASEAN region. Additionally, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, y Vietnam have launched their national AI strategies.

 

AI solutions developed for agriculture must also be scalable and customizable to suit the diverse needs and conditions of farmers which vary across geographies. However, achieving scalability while maintaining effectiveness and affordability remains a significant challenge. Customizing AI algorithms and models to accommodate variations in soil types, climate conditions, and crop varieties requires considerable expertise and resources.

 

For AI algorithms to operate effectively, data quality is key. However, in reality many agriculture datasets are disaggregated and not easily accessible. As an emerging technology, AI requires highly skilled and trained professionals but the demand for skilled experts far outstrips the supply.

 

To facilitate a smooth transition from legacy systems to advanced AI technologies in the agriculture sector, stakeholders will need to tide over the odds not only from adoption and application aspects but also in terms of innovation and technology.

 

Realizing AI’s full potential in agriculture demands data-driven approaches, clear frameworks, innovation, ethical deployment and collaboration. Can the region foster a competitive, inclusive AI ecosystem for sustainable farming?

 

The onus is on us.

 

Call to action: Join the sustainability movement! PepsiCo’s Greenhouse Accelerator Program is for passionate innovators driving positive change for our planet. If you’re a breakthrough start-up seeking funds and expertise to grow your business, come aboard. 

 

Visit https://greenhouseaccelerator.com to learn more and be a part of the change.

 

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