One of biggest problems faced by the human race today is sustainability of food supply. With food security threatened by runaway climate change, environmental degradation and unsound agricultural practices, having sufficient food to feed 9 billion people is an urgent global concern. But there is a silver lining behind this immense cloud of peril. Smart farming is bringing the agricultural sector a step closer to achieving global food security.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, food production must increase to 70% by the year 2050 in order to feed the entire global population which by then would reach 10 billion. Thankfully, the ambition of increasing agricultural production ten-fold is gradually becoming a reality with the use of IoT. Addressing both quality and quantity of agricultural output, the introduction of sensing technology has made farms “smarter”. Also called precision agriculture, the use of smart farming technology leads to several beneficial outcomes. According to Jerry Giovanny Cano, Consultant of Tecnoparque Nodo Pereira, a Colombian agricultural company, the benefits of a “smart” farm are: Improving environmental and agricultural sustainability; promoting sustainable productivity in plantain crops; organic waste management; crops traceability; and product safety.
One good case study that proves how IoT can potentially save the world from a catastrophic food shortage and famine is that of the Red Tecnoparque Colombia in Lembo, Colombia. This project is implemented by an agency under the Colombian National Service for Learning and aims to improve productivity of banana plantation crops.
The project features the installation of wireless sensors network to monitor banana plantation. These sensors have the capability to monitor flooding, increase or decrease in temperature and presence of plagues and diseases. It also sends signals whether there is a decrease of oxygen in the soil or there is high humidity which could affect the crops. With this kind of precision monitoring, the producers are able to act decisively to either save the crops or take advantage of the conditions to increase or decrease production.
The Red Tecnoparque Columbia aims to improve the quality and quantity of banana crop production. Banana is one of the country’s top export commodities and are shipped to all parts of the world, including the United States. Its economic contribution, therefore, will increase significantly if IoT is enabled to improve crop conditions. Using smart farming technology, the specific parameters to be measured and monitored by state-of-the-art sensors in banana plantation are as follows:
- Digital Humidity & Temperature
- Soil moisture
- Soil temperature
- Trunk diameter
- Fruit diameter
- Rain Gauge
- Solar radiation
There are also sensors that can detect the presence and amount of Ammonia in the soil. Based on information collected by the sensors, supervisors of the project are able to investigate new varieties of banana as well as accurately predict harvest volume. The sensors help increase crop production by providing information that will allow producers to optimize water usage and reduce the use of fertilizers without compromising the quality and quantity of harvest.
What is amazing about the smart farming technology is its usability. Knowing that agricultural producers are far from being techno-savvy, designers created the sensors to simply communicate through protocols and send data via mobile networks using GPRS or 3G/4G. The application used to download reports can be accessed on a mobile phone or any computer. Some industrial communications protocols like 802.15.4 and ZigBee, and low-power wide are networks (LPWAN) like LORA and SigFox can be used as intermediate connectivity between the sensors and the gateway. The gateway is usually in the farmer’s home or office many kilometers away from the sensors on field.
Plantain crops deployment function diagram
Jerry Giovanny Colorado Cano of the Tecnoparque Nodo Pereira believes the Colombia project will be a first step for future researches on using IoT for agriculture. He adds: “Our aim is to upgrade and promote innovation and competitiveness to all the processes related to environmental and agriculture sectors”.
Precision farming uses remote sensing application that also allows producers to prevent the spread of bacteria and fungus which often leads to massive destruction of crops. The advancement in IoT now makes it possible to keep plagues like the “Panama disease” at bay. This disease is now attacking farms in the Philippines, Indonesia, Australia and even as far as Africa. Experts are improving crop species for plantains to be resistant to the disease while using remote sensors to immediately identify and control potential attacks.
Indeed, smart farming is the way to sustainable agriculture. With IoT serving as the backbone of agricultural production, we can sleep soundly knowing we’ll have enough food in the world to last for generations.