Sustainable farming operations are a key approach to counteracting or mitigating the impacts of climate change on global food supplies. Shailendra Tiwari, Founder, Fasal writes…
Global warming and climate change have been part of numerous discussions led by world leaders over the past few decades. It is an urgent issue that has sadly almost become obsolete, but nonetheless deserves our careful consideration. Human activities contribute the lion’s share of CO2 emissions – with recent studies showing an increase in carbon dioxide of up to 48 percent since pre-industrial levels. The main culprits include deforestation, dependence on fossil fuels and ranching. A lesser-known casualty of this global crisis is agriculture.
Effects of climate change on agriculture
Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change and the numbers don’t support it. To put India in context, a study by National Innovations in Climate-Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) predicts that rain-fed and irrigated rice yields will fall by <2.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively, by 2050. Wheat and corn yields are expected to fall 6-25 percent and 18-23 percent, respectively, through 2100. In addition, small farms make up about 90 percent of the world's 570 million farms and are extremely sensitive to these climatic variations.
Effects of climate change on horticulture
Horticulture is not spared from the consequences of climate change either. Unpredictable high temperatures and rainfall patterns have a major impact on fruit and vegetable productivity. For example, an increase in temperature can cause light-sensitive plants to mature faster, pollination will be significantly affected, flower and fruit drop will be common, more water will be needed for irrigation, and the list goes on.
Fruits like grapes, citrus, and melons, which are sensitive to light, ripen about 15 days earlier, and high temperatures and moisture stress can cause apricots, cherries, and apples to crack. With India being the second largest fruit and vegetable producer in the world, our agricultural economy is in danger of collapsing if climate change is not addressed immediately.
Why do we need climate-resilient agriculture?
Due to the ongoing threat of global warming, its effects will have far-reaching consequences that may not be foreseen at this time, but may be felt in the decades to come. Food security is one of them.
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Food security is a global concern and one that is part of recent discussions given the stress in the supply chain caused by the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. But geopolitical issues aside, climate issues will pose a greater threat in the future and may lead to food insecurity. The scenario will result in higher food prices but with lower production due to the uncontrolled heatwaves affecting crop yields worldwide. Rising temperatures will also lead to increased stress in livestock, which in turn will affect the world’s food supply. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) predicted in 2015 that global food demand could increase by more than 60 percent by 2050, which will further strain the already climate-sensitive food supply chain.
Tech-driven countermeasure to enable climate-resilient agriculture
Climate change is happening and a proactive and concerted effort is the only way to deal with this global phenomenon. Sustainable farming operations are an important approach to counteracting or mitigating the effects of climate change on our food supply.
When we talk about sustainability in agriculture, it refers to a more data-driven approach backed by science. Precision farming is an umbrella term built on this philosophy of using data collected via sensors, satellite imagery, artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), drones and automation, among others, to make a more informed farming decision establishments. This can directly translate into higher quality and quantity of yields while reducing operational costs and the overall impact of farming on the environment through reduced use of fertilizers and pesticides.
Precision farming tools
One of the most important frameworks that enable precision farming at scale are the IoT sensors and other supporting technologies such as drones, GIS (Geographic Information System) and NDVI (Normalised Difference Vegetation Index) that help in collecting, measuring, analyzing and storing farms in Metrics help in real time. Thanks to IoT systems, farmers can achieve better yields and contribute to better food security and security as a by-product. The data-driven approach also offers room for better traceability in food production and farm management. The ability to monitor the entire supply chain translates into greater savings and higher profits for farmers, creating a win-win situation for both producers and consumers.
Complementary to precision farming are technologies such as Variable Rate Technology (VRT) that enable precise and controlled use of water, natural resources and inputs based on zone-specific deficiencies informed by farm-level data. This helps minimize wastage of valuable resources and reduces the use of fertilizers and pesticides, resulting in reduced greenhouse gas emissions and soil and water pollution.
Early disease predictions and local weather forecasts are also part of the field of precision agriculture, enabling farmers to take timely preventative measures against climate change and further increase their agricultural productivity and profitability.
Climate Resilient Agriculture – A Sustainable Future
Climate change is not just our problem, it is everyone’s problem. We have the technology to make our food supply chain more resilient to potential threats like rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns from climate change.
Precision farming is already part of the farming ecosystem, but not yet on a large scale. Mass adoption will only happen, especially in developing countries like India, if the technology is affordable and accessible to farmers with small landholdings. Many startups are already working on this problem by developing Agritech solutions considering cost and form factors. A local pool of experts and systematic knowledge transfer of these technologies through government initiatives and agricultural institutions are also key to educating the average Luddite farmer. Government initiatives such as the Indian Digital Ecosystem of Agriculture (IDEA) and AgriStack also serve as an excellent foundation to facilitate large-scale precision farming and work towards combating climate change.
(The views expressed in the article are those of the author.)