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Internet of Things

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.

Blockchain technology: Redefining trust for a global, digital economy

Mariana Dahan's picture

a longer version of this blog post is available on the
MIT Media Lab’s Digital Currency Initiative platform

With Google Trends data showing that searches for the word “blockchain” have exponentially increased, we may be entering the peak of the hype cycle for blockchain and distributed ledger technology.

But here’s the thing: the blockchain is a major breakthrough. That’s because its decentralized approach to verifying changes in important information addresses the centuries-old problem of trust, a social resource that is all too often in short supply, especially amid the current era’s rampant concerns over the security of valuable data. It turns out that fixing that can be a boon for financial inclusion and other basic services delivery, helping to achieve the global objectives laid out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Sorting out hype from reality may depend on how well we identify where institutions that have until now played a role in mediating trust between people are falling short, especially in the key area of money. Deploying the blockchain in those settings to generate secure, decentralized trust could achieve great strides in inclusion and innovation.

What do we mean by decentralized trust? The concept is unfamiliar in part because its converse -- centralized trust – is something that we often take for granted, at least while it’s working. But if we look at the history of transactions since the early barter systems to modern-day digital money exchanges, we can see how different trust protocols for keeping track of our exchanges of value have evolved and how, in each case, centralizing trust within particular institutions has periodically caused problems.

As strategies for dealing with this challenge evolved and as the complexity and frequency of transactions grew, different trust bearers emerged. We went from relying on the memory and discretion of tribal leaders, to central governments issuing currencies in the form of precious metals, to commercial banks acting as trusted intermediaries and issuing their own bank notes, to central banks managing a hybrid system in which sovereign fiat banknotes circulate alongside a debt/credit form of money managed by regulated banks and internal ledgers.

Towards a free, open and secure Internet

Samia Melhem's picture
Photo: Free Press/flickr
The world is becoming more digitized, interconnected and dependent on the Internet for opportunities and economic growth. Today, there are 7.4 billion cellular phone subscriptions in the world, which means citizens of the poorest countries can access cell phones more easily than toilets and sanitation.
The Internet of Things (IoT), which brings in the promises (and perils) of totally interconnected devices, is already mainstreamed in our everyday lives, with sensor-equipped cars, phones, utility meters and even houses. Our refrigerators, equipped with sensors, are making decisions for us, based on their capacity to analyze data and execute embedded algorithms related to dietary needs.
But how can these advances help ensure more free, open, secure and empowering connectivity rather than a host of undesirable side effects?
According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – which surveys the ICT sector on an annual basis through a formal survey involving regulators, operators and original equipment manufacturers – the Internet of Things (IoT) is currently composed of 25 billion connected devices around the world. According to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this number will grow to 50 billion devices worldwide by 2020.  These devices collect vast amounts of information on industrial, organizational and personal behavior, and gathers users’ preferences that can be leveraged to improve delivery of products and services, health, education, entertainment and shopping.
Therefore, IoT will bring important socio-economic advantages to those connected – but without guidance, proper policies, legislation and globally adopted codes of conduct (“netiquette” as we used to call it), it could also bring a range of challenges.