Each month People, Spaces, Deliberation shares the blog post that generated the most interest and discussion. For March 2017, the featured blog post is "Future Jobs for youth in Agriculture and Food Systems: Learning from our backyard in DC" by Iftikhar Mostafa and Parmesh Shah.
When we think of agriculture and food, we think of a farmer working in a rural area producing food for consumption and selling some surplus. With growing urbanization and increasing demand for food, food system has moved away from just agricultural production. It involves aggregating, value addition, processing, logistics, food preparation, restaurants and other related services. Many enterprises from small to large are part of the enterprise ecosystem. The potential for new jobs for youth who start and are also employed by their enterprises is significant. The Africa Agriculture Innovation Network (AAIN) has developed a business agenda targeting establishment of at least 108 incubators in 54 African countries in the next 5 years focusing on youth and women among other actors. At least 600,000 jobs will be created and 100,000 start-ups and SMEs produced through incubation and 60,000 students exposed to learn as you earn model and mentored to start new businesses.
In recent past, there have been many innovations in areas of technology, extension, ICT, education, and incubation leading to new generation of enterprises and enterprise clusters resulting in the creation of good quality and new jobs in agriculture and food systems. A key challenge in the future is how we create more and better jobs in the agriculture and food system value chain. One of the major requirements for creating more jobs is a radical change in the way youth are taught agriculture and entrepreneurship. The skills required for a modern agriculture and food system are of a higher order and need to be upgraded significantly.
Robots have been a part of our mythology for thousands of years, the emphasis alternating between their positive transformative power over human society and acting as agents of great destruction. Our image of robots has been shaped to a large extent by Hollywood and literature. Celluloid robots in Star Wars, 2001 Space Odyssey, Robocop, Star Trek and many of Isaac Asimov’s novels have become a part of the human story. Off-celluloid, robots have been helping our society in concrete ways (for example police work (bomb disposal), infrastructure projects etc.). However when Watson won Jeopardy it brought artificial intelligence and robotics a new kind of attention. People started to wonder if robots could replace humans. When we think of robots we think of self driven cars, household robots or even warrior robots. However, in our view, the influence of robots and Artificial Intelligence (AI) is more subtle and their presence more ubiquitous than one would think. One such impacted sector is the agriculture sector (in the US) which is on the cusp of a massive transformation, as it moves from mechanization to automation. When rolled out and commercialized (soon) this massive scale of automation will have a significant impact on US farming and on immigration for sure. But does this also impact the development landscape? If so how?
Agricultural robotic systems have been implemented in fruit and vegetable harvesting, greenhouses and nurseries. Harvest Automation, for example, has developed the the HV-100, a 90-pound robot for commercial nurseries that can pick up and rearrange potted plants. There are quite a few silicon valley startups that are contributing to this revolution in the region known as “America’s Salad Bowl”, around Salinas Valley. California, where Salinas Valley is located, produced $1.6 billion dollars worth of lettuce in 2010 and 70%+ of all lettuce grown in America. Lettuce Bot, a new robot developed by Stanford engineers Jorge Peraud and Lee Redden, both from farming families from Peru and Nebraska, can “produce more lettuce plants than doing it any other way” (Yahoo Finance). Lettuce Bot’s innovation is that while attached to a tractor, it takes pictures of passing plants and compares these to a database. When the weed or a lettuce head that is too close to another one is identified, a concentrated dose of fertiliser is sprayed. A close shot of fertilizer kills the errant weed or lettuce head but actually feeds the further off crops at the same time.