How AI-powered technology is increasing food security and improving the lives of farmers around the world

According to a UN report on the state of food security and nutrition in the world, 811 million people in the world suffered from hunger in 2020. The same report estimates that 118 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger.

Some innovators are fully aware of these truths and are devising ways to take advantage of new technologies to deal with these harsh realities. In fact, machine learning and other AI-powered technologies aren’t just in the dream phase of delivering solutions to global food insecurity, they’re on the ground and in action.

Unsustainable agricultural practices

Often times when technology is seen as a solution for agriculture, it is a big business proposition presented to the major players. In the United States, there are approximately 2.02 million farms. The average size of these farms is 444 acres. Agriculture represents approximately 0.6% of GDP in the United States, a large part of which is generated by large farms. Gross cash farm income (GCFI) is dominated by increasingly large farms, and small family farms struggle to survive. This dynamic is replicated in many contexts around the world.

Part of the reason small family farms cannot produce enough to feed more than their own families or communities, and they themselves may struggle with food insecurity, is that they lack technological solutions to monitor conditions. soil, improve livestock management and streamline operations. Problems that require solutions are often linked to the results of generations of unsustainable farming practices.

Chemicals, deforestation, overproduction and even insidious practices within agribusiness have all contributed to the current state of agriculture around the world. Add climate change to that, and farmers are undeniably in an uphill battle to preserve and restore the land. Without a systematic way to monitor soil conditions and expert advice on the needs of the land, farmers may be unable to adapt in time.

AI solutions to restore the earth

A company not only makes technology and experts available, it makes them first accessible to smallholder farmers around the world. Dimitra is one of the voices advocating for data-driven agriculture. Founder Jon Trask has spent years in technology and business development, working as a consultant to large consulting firms and on projects that have moved billions of dollars in product through the supply chain.

Leveraging its extensive global network of government and business leaders, Trask began to explore possibilities to help farmers. He explains: “In conversations with different agriculture ministries around the world, I started to see a real need. Big tech companies work to serve big farms. There are 608,000,000 farms in the world and 38,000,000 of them are well served by big tech companies. The others are completely ignored.

These “leftovers”, small farmers who look like an endangered species, have become his focus.

Two main projects illustrate how the technology developed by Trask is currently at work around the world, serving small farmers:

Degraded soil conditions on Indian farms

Dimitra is under contract to serve 1.3 million Indian farms. The Dimitra platform is configured to use satellites to assess crop performance, supplement this data with farmer observations and IoT soil sensors, and then feed that information into a machine learning algorithm to help farmers take better decisions about how to prepare, sow, care for and harvest crops, and then get them to market.

This group of Indian farms have very degraded soil conditions, which is not unique to India. It is a common problem all over the world. Aware of the magnitude of this problem, Dimitra solutions must overcome the impossibility of bringing soil specialists to 1.3 million farms. As they deploy consultants on top of data, day-to-day efficiency is all digital.

Trask explains, “We’re expanding our current capacity and segmenting the data that we can see from the satellites, and then trying to regionalize and create a number of categories of ground conditions. Then we’re going to take about 1,000 people for a few years and we’re going to send them to a lot of these farms to take soil samples. Next, we are going to create a relationship between what we see from space and what we see from a drone to what we see on the ground, when we hold the ground in our hand.

The result is simple soil remediation plans, drawn up with the Chamber of Commerce for Agriculture, and farmers actively engaging on the Dimitra platform. Farmers can log in and upload all types of information and their specific action plan. This user-generated data can be visualized together with data from ground sensors, data from drones and satellite data. Using machine learning, they extract new information that can inform soil remediation efforts that enable farmers to adopt sustainable practices. The power of Dimitra is to do something so specific on the large scale farm.

Livestock management through technology

A second project Dimitra is working on is in Uganda at the National Animal Genetics Research Center (NAGRC). With this group, they are building a system that allows them to use historical and genetic data on cattle parentage and find ways to improve cattle health. This results in easier births for the heifers and an increase in the production of milk or beef.

Dimitra’s team have built a genetic platform, which is continuously modified as they identify the characteristics they want to explore further. About 400 scientists work on animal welfare and animal health management, which is a mission-critical endeavor in the agriculture-dependent economy of East Africa. To accommodate it, the researchers use the platform’s “My breeding” function to track the animals.

Discussions with the government’s agriculture ministry highlighted two things: In this developing country, the need for nutrition is acute, especially for young people. Second, the ability to increase exports can solve the painful problems of poverty. “My Cattle” is one of Dimitra’s flagship products, as building identity systems for this use can address the otherwise looming threats facing countries around the world.

More food for the world’s population

One billion people on the planet go hungry every night and don’t have enough food. The average small farmer has an area of ​​four hectares. This farmer produces crops mainly to feed his family (surrounding and extended). They consume about 80% of what they produce. Dimitra’s goal is to use data and machine learning tools to increase their efficiency by 20%. If these farmers previously took only 20% of their food to market, this change would essentially double their income.

Sustainable agriculture must be standardized and the tools given to farmers must represent the best that the tech world has to offer. Trask understands that his business peers, and even investors, have questioned the return on investment of investing in small farms. He admits there are good reasons to do so, but sees it from a different perspective: “This underserved group of farmers accounts for almost 70% of the world’s food production. To increase production and income by 20%, if we distribute it correctly and do not waste it, this could theoretically solve the global hunger crisis. “

As Trask says, “By using artificial intelligence and Dimitra technology in general, they can double their productivity, increase their income and produce more food for the world’s population. “

There is no sector of the market in any region of the world that is not affected by agriculture. It is the literal bread and butter that remains the foundation of global economies. The idea of ​​starting small and going big may seem like a disappointment, but the potential is anything but.

Trask sums it up this way: “Dimitra democratizes agriculture for small farmers by providing the farming system for farming in the future, changing and improving the lives of small farmers and the lives of all by helping to fight. against poverty, soil degradation, hunger. ”

Farmers don’t just feed the world – with the right tools, they have the power to change many of the world’s biggest problems.

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