IoT will play an important role in the food crisis - Wirepas

IoT will play an important role in the food crisis

Samu Hemiä

We have all noticed the surge in our day-to-day grocery expenses as we are hit with the effects of recent global events. International armed conflicts, supply chain disruptions, and the long-term economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic are setting us back in global development and pushing food prices to all-time highs. In many low-income countries, a 10-15% food price inflation [1] is threatening to drive millions into malnutrition and extreme poverty. 

By 2050, feeding a planet of 9 billion people will require an estimated 50 percent increase in agricultural production [2]. IoT solutions may help us take the necessary steps in agricultural efficiency to reach that goal. Smart sensoring and tracking can generate substantial livestock production gains while considering the environment and animal welfare. By tracking animal health, feeding, and productivity on an individual level, IoT technologies can not only boost the efficiency of livestock farming but also make it easier to forecast. That will result in more accurate capacity planning and, therefore, less spoilage. Pigstech, a Wirepas partner, focuses on better animal and farmer lives with the help of IoT.

However, shifting from a meat-based to a vegetarian diet has become popular. In addition to the health benefits, the massive amounts of energy (fossil fuels), freshwater, and soil that animal farming consumes make plant-based food the far more sustainable choice. IoT can make it even more sustainable by saving natural resources, particularly water. By combining data from sensors that capture soil moisture and nutrient levels, diseases, pests, and temperature, IoT systems can maximize crop production and form adaptive irrigation systems that determine the most efficient watering patterns [3]. Meter Group has demonstrated up to a 50% reduction in water usage in greenhouses and doubled productivity. Not to mention the supply chain inefficiencies and risks that IoT solutions can eliminate, increasing productivity and enhancing food quality and safety at all processing, transportation, and storage phases. 

For example, a US software company from Georgia has managed to save 772 million liters of freshwater in some five years by applying IoT and AI-based innovative technologies to agriculture [4]. That’s enough drinking water for 141 000 people over that period! And that is only one minor pioneer operative.

This goes to show that smart, affordable, and scalable technologies have the potential to be transformative on a global scale, making considerable improvements to efficiency and sustainability. Now that is all well and good, but improving agricultural efficiency requires massive IoT connectivity technology.

Operating with small margins in a continuous struggle for profitability, agricultural operators often use large plantation fields and animal populations to reach economies of scale. Any IoT solution aiming to produce data on agriculture must be massively scalable to cover all corners of the property. Furthermore, the connectivity must operate on a very high density to reliably track each individual plant or animal in a crowded space, such as a stall or a shipping container. With so many fragile and animate assets to track, the network must be easy to deploy. Just stick the device to a wall, container, or asset.

Returning to the profitability issue, device lifetime significantly impacts the cost; agricultural IoT solutions must be power-efficient to last long with small batteries or energy harvesting. The connectivity also needs to function without the heavy infrastructure to optimize its use and make farm work practical and operations even more cost-efficient. With harsh weather conditions, heavy machinery movements, unpredictable animal behavior, and other variables present in the industry, reliability is essential in agricultural IoT connectivity. If a device or access point drops, others in the network must adapt and maintain connections.

[1] World Bank Food Security Update

[2] Chart: Globally, 70% of Freshwater is Used for Agriculture

[3] Five ways that IoT can help with sustainability

[4] Home - Agrisource Data

Words from the author:

As a university student majoring in industrial engineering and management and minoring in circular economy, seeing and experiencing the challenges facing our societies during the past couple of years has sparked in me an interest not only in the business opportunities inherent in finding solutions to these challenges but also in the general well-being of the Earth and the people on it. As I try to make ends meet despite surging food prices and a tight student budget, I often think about the importance of sustainable food production. Affordable nutrition is an absolute necessity for everyone, but it must be produced efficiently and sustainably. After all, we young people need this planet to feed us for a long, long time!

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