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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.

Our food system depends on the right information—how can we deliver?

Diego Arias's picture
Photo: CIF Action/Flickr
For most of us, watching the weather forecast on TV is an ordinary, risk-free and occasionally entertaining activity. The weatherman even makes jokes! But when your income depends on the rain or the temperature, the weather forecast is more than just an informative or entertaining diversion. Information can make or break a farmer’s prospects. Farmers get a sense of the risks they face down the road and plan their planting, harvest, use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, crop and livestock activities and market sales around weather reports and other information—on prices, local pests and diseases, changes in credit terms and availability, and changes in regulations, among other things.

The availability and quality of such agriculture risk information is hugely important for farmers, and the potential impact of bad information can be quite costly, leading the farmer to make wrong decisions and eventually lose revenue. Information systems that have unreliable sources and/or poor data processing protocols, produce unreliable results, no matter how complex the data processing model is. In other words, one can have “garbage in – garbage out.” Information is integral to agriculture risk management, not only in the short term to hedge against large adverse events, but also in the medium and long term to adapt to climate change and adopt climate smart agriculture practices. Climate-smart agriculture programs and agriculture risk management policies are toothless unless farmers have reliable information to implement changes on the ground.

Investing in agriculture risk information systems is a cost-effective way of making sure that farmers--and other actors along the food supply chain-- make the right decisions. But agriculture risk information systems in most countries suffer from lack of capacity and funding. Mexico, a country with an important agriculture sector, does not have information on market prices of agriculture products like maize, which is why a new Bank project aims to strengthen their capacity in this area. Mexico is not alone. Argentina solved this same problem recently with World Bank support, creating a market price information system for basic grains.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 2)

Dana Rawls's picture
Satellite image and analysis of damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Evan in Samoa. Credit: UNITAR-UNOSAT

With crisis mapping’s increasing profile, other organizations have joined the fray. Just this month, Facebook announced that it was partnering with UNICEF, the World Food Programme, and other partners to “share real-time data to help respond after natural disasters,” and the United Nations has also contributed to the field with its Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) founding MicroMappers along with Meier, as well as creating UNOSAT, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Programme of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research.

In a 2013 interview, UNOSAT Manager Dr. Einar Bjorgo described the work of his office.

“When a disaster strikes, the humanitarian community typically calls on UNOSAT to provide analysis of satellite imagery over the affected area… to have an updated global view of the situation on the ground. How many buildings have been destroyed after an earthquake and what access roads are available for providing emergency relief to the affected population? We get these answers by requiring the satellites to take new pictures and comparing them to pre-disaster imagery held in the archives to assess the situation objectively and efficiently.”

Four years later, UNOSAT’s work seems to have become even more important and has evolved from the early days when the group used mostly freely available imagery and only did maps.

Using ICTs to Map the Future of Humanitarian Aid (part 1)

Dana Rawls's picture
Haiti map after the 2010 earthquake. Over 450 OpenStreetMap volunteers from an estimated 29 countries digitized roads, landmarks and buildings to assist with disaster response and reconstruction. OpenStreetMap/ITO World

The word “disruption” is frequently used to describe technology’s impact on every facet of human existence, including how people travel, learn, and even speak.

Now a growing cadre of digital humanitarians and technology enthusiasts are applying this disruption to the way humanitarian aid and disaster response are administered and monitored.

Humanitarian, or crisis, mapping refers to the real-time gathering and analysis of data during a crisis. Mapping projects allows people directly affected by humanitarian crises or physically located on the other side of the world to contribute information utilizing ICTs as diverse as mobile and web-based applications, aggregated data from social media, aerial and satellite imagery, and geospatial platforms such as geographic information systems (GIS).

The rise of artificial intelligence: what does it mean for development?

Leebong Lee's picture

Video: Artificial intelligence for the SDGs (International Telecommunication Union)

Along with my colleagues on the ICT sector team of the World Bank, I firmly believe that ICTs can play a critical role in supporting development. But I am also aware that professionals on other sector teams may not necessarily share the same enthusiasm.

Typically, there are two arguments against ICTs for development. First, to properly reap the benefits of ICTs, countries need to be equipped with basic communication and other digital service delivery infrastructure, which remains a challenge for many of our low-income clients. Second, we need to be mindful of the growing divide between digital-ready groups vs. the rest of the population, and how it may exacerbate broader socio-economic inequality.

These concerns certainly apply to artificial intelligence (AI), which has recently re-emerged as an exciting frontier of technological innovation. In a nutshell, artificial intelligence is intelligence exhibited by machines. Unlike the several “AI winters” of the past decades, AI technologies really seem to be taking off this time. This may be promising news, but it challenges us to more clearly validate the vision of ICT for development, while incorporating the potential impact of AI.

It is probably too early to figure out whether AI will be blessing or a curse for international development… or perhaps this type of binary framing may not be the best approach. Rather than providing a definite answer, I’d like to share some thoughts on what AI means for ICT and development.

Counting the uncounted: 1.1 billion people without IDs

Vyjayanti T Desai's picture
Also available in: Français | العربية| Español
Photo: Daniel Silva Yoshisato

An estimated 1.1 billion people worldwide cannot officially prove their identity, according to the 2017 update of the World Bank's Identification for Development (ID4D) Global Dataset.

Identification matters

How do we prove who we are to the people and institutions with whom we interact? Imagine trying to open your first bank account, prove your eligibility for health insurance, or apply for university without an ID; quality of life and opportunities become severely restricted.  An officially-recognized form of ID is the key enabler – critical not only for exercising a wide range of rights but also for accessing healthcare, education, finance, and other essential services. According to the World Bank Group’s latest estimates, this is problematic for an estimated 1.1 billion people around the globe.

Addressing this most basic barrier was the rationale behind the international community’s decision to set target 16.9 in the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration” by the year 2030. It was also the impetus for the World Bank Group’s launch of the Identification for Development (ID4D) initiative in 2014.

In order to work effectively towards this ambitious goal, governments and development partners need to understand the scale of the challenge – and every year the World Bank Group updates the ID4D Global Dataset to do just that. Using a combination of publicly available data (e.g. birth registration coverage rates from UNICEF) and self-reported data from ID agencies, we estimate the population without an officially recognized ID in 198 economies. In addition, we collate relevant qualitative information such as details on the agencies and ministries responsible, and the prevalence of systems which are digital (now introduced in 133 economies, but not necessarily with full coverage in each).

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.

How can developing countries make the most of the digital revolution?

Nagy K. Hanna's picture

Also available in: French

Digital technologies have been transforming the global economy. Yet many countries have yet to experience the full developmental benefits of digital technologies, such as inclusive and sustainable growth, improved governance, and responsive service delivery. Given the magnitude of change in competitive advantage that digital technologies can confer on adopters, the risks of slow or poor adoption of these innovations can be dire for industries, governments, individuals, and nations. So, how can policy makers successfully harness the digital revolution for development? This is the motivation behind my new publication: Mastering Digital Transformation (Emerald, 2016).

From my long experience in development assistance, I saw how information poverty in its many forms has led to policy planning and management without facts, disconnected enterprises, inefficient markets, poor service delivery, disempowerment, corruption, and more. The ongoing ICT revolution has been long ignored in development thinking and practice. Development practitioners and ICT specialists remain disconnected. I studied the experiences of countries pursuing digital transformation, and captured key lessons and takeaways in several books.

Digital transformation is not a technological fix, a blueprint plan, a one-off event, or a one-size-fits-all strategy. Rather, it is a social learning process, sustained over time, involving diverse stakeholders. Its ultimate objective is to harness the global digital revolution to meet a country’s specific socio-economic priorities. This process is a marathon, not a sprint. It is driven by vision, leadership, innovation, learning, and partnerships among government, business, and civil society.

Ten Principles on Identification for Sustainable Development

Vyjayanti T Desai's picture
The global identification gap is a significant challenge for sustainable development. We hope the new Principles on Identification are an important step to closing it. 
 
In the modern world, many everyday transactions—such as opening a bank account, registering for school, activating a SIM card or mobile phone, obtaining formal employment, or receiving social transfers—require individuals to prove who they are. For the estimated 1.5 billion people in developing countries who lack proof of identity (World Bank data, 2016), this creates a serious obstacle for full participation in formal economic, social, and political life.  Like individuals, governments also need robust, secure identification systems to perform core state functions and administer many of the programs and services vital for development, including social transfers, education and healthcare, and emergency and disaster response.
 
Growing awareness of the need for more inclusive, robust identification systems has led to a global call to action, embodied in Target 16.9 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): “by 2030, provide legal identity for all, including birth registration”. As public attention is increasing, a number of successful initiatives from around the world have highlighted the development benefits of reliable identification systems.

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