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Tuesday / April 25.

The ‘Big’ revolution: Big Data to be the future of Food Security

By Meghaa Gangahar

In the wake of the fourth industrial revolution, big data and advanced analytics present their potential as vastly untapped tools for development. Big data, in a nutshell, refers to a massive amount of digital data collected from a variety of sources. This data can be analysed to reveal all sorts of patterns, trends, and associations. Data analytics holds a powerful key to solving problems in resource management and food security. The fissures in data availability are being filled in order to make way for a new era in data processing.

Data Analytics to help address increased demand?

As the population continues to sprout, the rising numbers and incomes hoist up the demand for food. This demand is not just a simple increase in the number of calories demanded, but is a multi-dimensional demand for a basket of nutrients. The quantitative aspect is supplemented with a qualitative characteristic.

The burden of meeting this demand is further heightened by climate change and strain on the resources. To solve this problem, big data and advanced analytics are being used to boost up food production while easing the pressure on water resources. This involves breaking down of complex climatic models and linking them to fine-grained data on agricultural production, markets, and household behaviour. Implementing these techniques will help the world get closer to achieving inclusive food and water security.

Tapping the potential: Combining data and technology

The pressing need to combat hunger is drier in emerging economies. One climate-resilient solution that data analytics offers to optimise farming operations is that of precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is a technology-enabled way of farming that observes, measures, and analyses the needs of individual fields and crops. This customised approach boosts production and improves efficiency while minimising wastage. Whether it is the use of GPS-equipped tractors or automated irrigation systems with water sensors scanning the field moisture in real time; farming has scaled up to a high-tech level.

Satellite imagery and data can track atmospheric patterns, precipitation, and ocean currents. Using this along with weather data, better forecasting and risk management is made available to the farmers to make their farming decisions. This also helps the government plan effectively for droughts and floods. This data can also aid in mapping landscapes, analysing soils, and assessing crop yields.

Besides military use, drones have found utility in helping farmers. They can capture images of entire fields or zoom into individual leaves. The evolution in drone technology extends their use into an interactive one. From taking leaf and water samples and measuring crop-height; to the ability to carry out artificial pollination – the drones are ready to assume the role of farmers’ little helpers.

Accessibility has now reached the remotest of areas. For instance, in Kenya, ‘Sokopepe’ provides a trading platform that links small-scale agricultural producers to retailers and bulk buyers via mobile phones. With the availability of smartphones in sub-Saharan Africa, the subsistence farmers have now gained access to new information and platforms for trading. With accurate weather forecasting and up-to-date market prices at their fingertips, the farmers can improve their livelihoods while ensuring local food and water security.

From waste to worth

The world’s resources are under climatic stress – this necessitates the existence of sustainable value creation. Wastage of food exacerbates the issue of food security. While about a third of the food produced for consumption is wasted each year, a ninth of the world’s population goes hungry. By utilising advanced analytics at every link in the food supply chain, wastage can be effectively avoided. The phenomenon of finding a market for a potential waste product of one industry in another is the essence of a circular economy. With advancements in forecasting and planning, products at the end of their useful life can find new (and possibly cheaper) markets. This would elevate their status from waste to worth.