In the desperate situation where people are facing hunger and malnutrition, basic technology like the mobile phone can be used to help. This small device can generate enough data to assist relief agencies to make a better informed decision of where to distribute food aid. With mobile phones widely used across the developing world, food relief agencies can now collect detailed information.
This info using text messages and “robocalls” will allow many relief food surveys to be conducted automatically. In the past, making these life changing decisions was a slow process, now however mobile analysis can help identify communities struggling to get enough food.
Until recently data analytics, web-enabled sensors, apps and robotics had little to do with the world of soil, fertilizer and livestock. As pressure grows however to feed an increasingly hungry population, digital technology can help put more food on the global table. As the world’s population grows, essential resources such as water and land are becoming more scarce and under stress.
The UN World Food Program‘s Chief Economist, Head of Analysis and Trends Service, Arif Husain, has commented “we don’t have to put boots on the ground now to get essential information”. Technology fights hunger data is a huge benefit in the fight against malnutrition, this type of technology simply wasn’t there a few years ago.
The wonders of social media
Social media is also another source of useful information. Twitter complaints can be tracked about families having to pay too much for food. There’s also evidence that people are struggling financially to feed their families. Global Pulse is another UN organization which is using mobile technology to track patterns of human behavior. Robert Kirkpatrick, Global Pulse’s Director says “we’re looking for useful data out there that can help us to understand what people are saying relating to the food industry”.
Mobile technology can now be used to deliver new forms of food assistance. Cash or vouchers can be transferred to people via their mobile phones to those who need it most.
It’s now also possible to track the movement of communities that are facing conflict on natural disasters such as war and drought. Mobile calls analyzed through various cell phone towers make it possible for aid agencies to make faster, more accurate decisions on where to deliver food supplies. Recent digital technologies are also helping to improve farming efficiency. The tools available from sensors, video cameras, drones and satellites can make precision agriculture possible. This type of technology brings scientific analysis to farming.
The latest digital technology to help farmers
Farmers can now capture real time information from the depth of seeds being planted, the composition of the soil to the height of the crops as they grow. So-called “on-farm instrumentation” machinery such as seeding machines, tractors and combine harvesters can all be fully equipped with wireless enabled sensors. In addition to this, drones and satellites at high altitude equipped with state-of-the-art sophisticated camera equipment can provide fantastic images of farmland. Using this type of data, it is now possible to allow farmers to forecast their yield crop size, months ahead of the harvest.
In a nutshell, technology reduces the time it takes for farmers to monitor their crops. This allows for the right actions to be taken for instance when it comes to changing the mixture of fertilizers or the irrigation rates. While drones, satellite imaging and web enabled sensors are positive investments for large, industrial farmers, they are mostly beyond the financial reach of smallholders. Statistics show that small farm holders produce around 70% of the world’s food.
Access to real time mobile phone information commodities
Even for small scale farmers mobile phones are ideal for accessing information regarding commodities. This can include food market prices, irrigation, crop-spraying techniques, the right time to plant seeds and local weather patterns. In the meantime entrepreneurs are coming up with tools and devices which can make it easier for farmers to find data and incorporate digital technology into their farming operation.
A California based OnFarm for instance has created software that manages a wide range of agriculture data, management tools and analytics. This can facilitate the exchange of information between farm managers, consultants and field staff. It can also provide alerts notifying farmers of weather conditions like frosts, high winds and low moisture.
Paul Matteucci, a partner at US Venture Partners, is aware that agriculture doesn’t attract the same technical innovators as other industries. He strongly believes this has got to change to feed the hungry.