Artificial Intelligence in Agriculture: Will it help Achieve Food Security?
With the increasing number of mouths to feed, can artificial intelligence technologies help address farming issues?
Today, artificial intelligence (AI) is catching the attention of businesses across many disciplines and industries, agriculture being one of them. This technology has the potential to solve one of humanity’s greatest challenges- food crisis.
According to the United Nations, the current world population of 7.3 billion is expected to reach 8.5 billion by 2030 and 9.7 billion by 2050. And with population explosion, the number of hungry mouths rise exponentially too. Thomas Malthus, an 18th-century economist, had postulated that human population increases geometrically, but the food production increases only arithmetically. Therefore, to feed the world by 2050, food production must be increased by 70% from 2007 levels, as per the FAO estimations.
Artificial intelligence technologies are already helping in agriculture by monitoring soil quality, temperature, irrigation, food produce plucking and more. Now experts believe that it will also become a solution to food security problems. The United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security defines food security in terms of availability, access, utilization and stability. This implies all people, at all times, have physical, social, and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets their food preferences and dietary needs for an active and healthy life. Apart from food security, factors such as climate change and shrinking agricultural lands have propelled the agriculture industry into seeking AI technologies to protecting and improving crop yield.
For instance, GeoFarm South Africa reveals that by leveraging AI, farms in the United States became 27% more productive than South African farms compared across the same area, moisture levels and soil types. At some places, machine learning models are helping to track and predict various environmental impacts on crop yield such as weather changes.
Some key real world examples of artificial intelligence in agriculture include:
- Drones of SkySquirrel Technologies Inc, use computer vision technology to integrate and analyze the captured images and data to provide a detailed report on the health of the vineyard. This primarily helps users access the condition of grapevine leaves, as they are the telltales of grapevine diseases.
- TOMRA Sorting Food, uses sensor-based optical sorting solutions with machine learning functionalities.
- See & Spray robot from Blue River Technology employs computer vision to monitor and precisely spray weeds on cotton plants. The company claims that precision spraying can help prevent herbicide resistance.
- PEAT, a Berlin-based agricultural tech startup, has developed a deep learning application called Plantixwhich identifies potential defects and nutrient deficiencies in soil. The app identifies possible defects via images captured by the user’s smartphone camera.
- Azure FarmBeats from Microsoft offers farmers with access to the Microsoft cloud and AI technologies, enabling data driven decisions that plant cultivators can act on. This includes aggregating agricultural data from different sources, integrating different agricultural datasets from sensors, drones & satellites, building AI models using the fused datasets and customized digital agriculture solutions.
Farmers are also using artificial intelligence to aggregate trends, track supplies, assess risk and reward, generate predictive models, and increase yields. Even in areas where water is already a flashpoint, artificial intelligence along with IoT devices can enable smart irrigation. Doing so, will enable meeting water requirements of crops and preventing unnecessary usage of water resources.
The scope of artificial intelligence is vast and is expanding every day. With increasing usability, the chances of this technology for combating the bottlenecks of food security, will also rise significantly. So, soon the world will achieve another major milestone where technological offerings have helped society!