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Disruptive Technologies

Agriculture 2.0: how the Internet of Things can revolutionize the farming sector

Hyea Won Lee's picture
Nguyen Van Khuyen (right) and To Hoai Thuong (left). Photo: Flore de Preneuf/World Bank
Last year, we showcased how Vietnamese farmers in the Mekong Delta are adapting to climate change. You met two shrimp farmers: Nguyen Van Khuyen, who lost his shrimp production due to an exceptionally dry season that made his pond too salty for raising shrimp, and To Hoai Thuong, who managed to maintain normal production levels by diluting his shrimp pond with fresh water. Now, let’s suppose Nguyen diluted his shrimp pond this year, another year with an extremely dry season. That would be a good start, but there would be other issues to contend with related to practical application. For example, when should he release fresh water and how much? How often should he check the water salinity? And what if he’s out of town?
 
Nguyen’s story illustrates some of the problems global agriculture faces, and how they unfold for farmers on the ground. Rapid population growth, dietary shifts, resource constraints, and climate change are confronting farmers who need to produce more with less. Indeed, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that global food production will need to rise by 70% to meet the projected demand by 2050. Efficient management and optimized use of farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizer will be essential. However, managing these inputs efficiently is difficult without consistent and precise monitoring. For smallholder farmers, who account for 4/5 of global agricultural production from developing regions, getting the right information would help increase production gains. Unfortunately, many of them still rely on guess work, rather than data, for their farming decisions.
 
This is where agriculture can get a little help from the Internet of Things (IoT)—or internet-enabled communications between everyday objects. Through the IoT, sensors can be deployed wherever you want–on the ground, in water, or in vehicles–to collect data on target inputs such as soil moisture and crop health. The collected data are stored on a server or cloud system wirelessly, and can be easily accessed by farmers via the Internet with tablets and mobile phones. Depending on the context, farmers can choose to manually control connected devices or fully automate processes for any required actions. For example, to water crops, a farmer can deploy soil moisture sensors to automatically kickstart irrigation when the water-stress level reaches a given threshold.

Electricity and the internet: two markets, one big opportunity

Anna Lerner's picture
The markets for rural energy access and internet connectivity are ripe for disruption – and increasingly, we’re seeing benefit from combining the offerings.
 
Traditionally, power and broadband industries have been dominated by large incumbent operators, often involving a state-owned enterprise. Today, new business models are emerging, breaking market barriers to jointly provide energy access and broadband connectivity to consumers.
 
As highlighted in the World Development Report 2016, access to internet has the potential to boost growth, expand economic opportunities, and improve service delivery. The digital economy is growing at 10% a year—significantly faster than the global economy as a whole. Growth in the digital economy is even higher in developing markets: 15 to 25% per year (Boston Consulting Group).
 
To make sure everyone benefits, coverage needs to be extended to the roughly four billion people that still lack access to the internet. In a testing phase, Facebook has experimented with flying drones and Google has released balloons to provide internet to remote populations.
 
But as cool as they might sound, these innovations do nothing for the one billion people who still live off the grid… and don’t have access to the electricity you need to use the internet in the first place! The findings of the Internet Inclusion Summit panel which the World Bank joined recently put this nicely: “without electricity, internet is only a black hole”.
 
That’s why efforts to expand electricity and broadband access should go hand in hand: close coordination between the energy and ICT sectors is probably one of the most efficient and sensible ways of making sure rural populations in low-income countries can reap the benefits of digital development. This thinking is also reflected in a new generation of disruptive telecom infrastructure projects.

Who shares in the European sharing economy?

Hernan Winkler's picture
Data on the sharing economy (Uber, Airbnb and so on) are scarce, but a recent study estimates that the revenue growth of these platforms has been dramatic. In the European Union (EU), the total revenue from the shared economy increased from around 1 billion euros in 2013 to 3.6 billion euros in 2015. While this estimate may equal just 0.2% of EU GDP, recent trends indicate a continued, rapid expansion.

This is important, as the sharing economy has the potential to bring efficiency gains and improve the welfare of many individuals in the region.

This can also generate important disruptions.

While online platforms represent a small fraction of overall incomes, the share of individuals participating in these platforms is large in many European countries. For example, roughly 1 in 3 people in France and Ireland have used a sharing economy platform, while at least 1 in 10 have in Central and Northern Europe (see figure below).

At the same time, the share of the population that has used these platforms to offer services and earn an income is also significant, reaching 10% or more in France, Latvia, and Croatia. This means that at least one out of every ten adults in these countries worked as a driver for a ride-sharing platform such as Uber, rented out a room of his or her house using a peer-to-peer rental platform such as Airbnb, or provided ICT services through an online freelancing platform such as Upwork, to name a few examples.

Makers and education, part one: how are disruptive technologies affecting the way we educate?

Saori Imaizumi's picture
Girls learning how to design and make a toy with a laser cutter, which increases
interest in STEM career options. Photo: Saori Imaizumi/World Bank Group

Affordable, accessible technologies can democratize opportunities for EVERYONE to become innovators and inventors. Countries can take advantage of this opportunity to create new jobs, new industry and skilled workers to achieve further economic growth and increase competitiveness. Also, preparing citizens with problem solving skills and entrepreneurial mindsets helps solve various social problems in the country in an innovative manner.
 
In a 2013 report entitled “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy,” the McKinsey Global Institute identified 12 potentially economically disruptive technologies, including mobile internet, automation of knowledge work, the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, 3D printing, and advanced materials.
 
Team-based learning through
technologies. Photo: Saori
​Imaizumi/World Bank Group

​I touched upon how these disruptive technologies and low-cost technologies affect the pedagogy of skills development and education, as well as their implications for international development in my previous blogs (New Technologies for Children Learning STEM/STEAM Subjects and the 21st Century Skills and What’s the implication of 3D printers for the World Bank’s mission?) and a feature story (Communities of "Makers" Tackle Local Problems).
 
Elaborating on these posts, I will explore the topic on “how can kids, youth and adults prepare in response to rapid technological changes” from the pedagogy and institutional model perspectives. My analysis is derived from the lively discussion that I recently attended on “Exploring 3D Printing for Development,” organized by IREX and my work at the World Bank.