Food insecurity is a blight that affects many. According to the Department of Agriculture, 12.8 percent (17.0 million households) were food insecure. The percentage of food insecure household was statistically significantly higher than the 10.2 percent recorded in 2021 (13.5 million households) and the 10.5 percent in 2020 (13.8 million households).
But there are ways to battle this. Here are four ways by which emerging technologies can reduce food insecurity.
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers estimates that the adoption of precision agriculture could increase crop yields by six percent, decrease fertilizer use by 14 percent and reduce water spending by 21 percent.According to a Global Market Insights study, the autonomous agriculture sector worldwide is expected to exceed US$95 billion in 2027. To put that figure in context, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, agriculture in that state represented US$81 billion in 2021.
Precision agriculture is akin to a symphony, where each plant is a note played with exacting precision. Leveraging technologies that are elevated by data-driven decisions such as GPS, drones, and IoT devices, farmers can optimize resource allocation. Water, fertilizers, and other inputs are judiciously distributed, ensuring crops receive precisely what they need, when they need it. This results in increased yields and reduced environmental impact.
- Vertical farming and hydroponics:
According to recent U.S. Census data, 24.5 million Americans reported not having enough to eat, representing a substantial increase from 18 million a year ago. Insecurity also arises from food deserts, where 1/2 of the population lives a mile or more away from a supermarket. One of the ways to address this concern is to bring the supermarket home.
Vertical farming represents a radical departure from traditional agriculture. It allows us to grow crops in vertically stacked layers, often in controlled indoor environments. Coupled with hydroponics – a method of growing plants without soil – this technology eliminates the need for arable land. It’s a boon for urban areas with limited space and holds the promise of providing fresh produce year-round, even in the heart of the city.
- Genetic modification and CRISPR:
In this critical moment, our world is grappling with an unparalleled food crisis. Driven by the devastating intersection of conflict, the ongoing challenges of Covid-19, and the far-reaching effects of climate change, an alarming 828 million individuals now endure the heart-wrenching reality of going to bed hungry each night .It is conflict that stands as the chief instigator of this global hunger, with a staggering 60% of those suffering residing in regions marred by war and violence. Tragically, the impact of climate change exacerbates this crisis, as floods, droughts, and brutal storms decimate vital crops and livestock, leaving countless without sustenance.
Yet, it’s not just the extreme shifts in weather patterns that cast a shadow over millions. If we allow global temperatures to rise by 2°C from pre-industrial levels, an additional 189 million people worldwide will face the grim reality of hunger – a number that could surge to an overwhelming 1.8 billion if temperatures climb by 4°C. The urgency to address these intertwined challenges with compassion, empathy, and a steadfast commitment to collective action has never been more pressing.
Genetic modification and CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology are revolutionizing crop breeding. Scientists can now precisely alter the genetic makeup of plants, imbuing them with traits that enhance resistance to pests, diseases, and harsh environmental conditions. This means crops can thrive in regions previously deemed inhospitable, expanding the potential for agricultural productivity.
- Data analytics and artificial intelligence
In the realm of food aid, timing stands as a crucial factor. Availability often faces obstacles during crises like climate shocks, economic downturns, or situations involving conflict and migration. A study released in January 2022 from the University of Illinois sheds light on how machine learning models can revolutionize decision-making in the dynamic landscape of food insecurity, ensuring relief reaches the right places promptly. However, early warning systems encounter challenges. Gathering data can be costly, and in hard-to-reach or technologically underserved areas, obtaining vital information can be a struggle. Effective forecasting hinges on robust statistical models and accessible data on prices, weather, and demographics, enabling on-ground responders to execute targeted interventions proficiently.
Addressing food insecurity necessitates a comprehensive examination of data from diverse sources and platforms. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) extends assistance to nearly 128 million individuals across over 80 nations. This critical task demands a nuanced approach, considering the unique circumstances of each location, from landlocked countries to those with port access, and those susceptible to floods or unforeseen events. The Frontier Innovations team at WFP is at the forefront, evaluating the potential of emerging technologies such as blockchain, A.I., and robotics to support operational teams in navigating distinct and ever-changing variables.
The power of data cannot be overstated. With the aid of sophisticated analytics and AI, farmers can make data-driven decisions. By analyzing vast amounts of information related to soil health, weather patterns, and crop behavior, they can fine-tune their practices for optimal yields. Moreover, predictive analytics can help anticipate and mitigate potential challenges, offering a buffer against unforeseen circumstances.
As we stand on the cusp of a new era, it is heartening to witness the convergence of technology and agriculture in the fight against food insecurity. These emerging technologies represent a beacon of hope, offering pragmatic solutions to a challenge that has plagued humanity for far too long.
By embracing innovation and leveraging the power of science, we are poised to usher in a future where no one goes to bed hungry. Together, we can cultivate a world of abundance and sustenance for all.
Photo: Nes, Getty Images