Advances in data collection and mass communication have defined the modern era, revolutionizing the ways in which peoples connect and learn from one another. While there are many barriers to the wholescale implementation of data technology in developing countries, organizations and policymakers are helping to grow the economies of countries trapped in the cycle of subsistence farming. These organizations are doing so through the implementation of IoT in agriculture.

IoT and Its Importance in Agriculture

IoT stands for “the Internet of things;” a general idea that refers to the global infrastructure that makes up a society defined by the collection and dissemination of information. With over 6 billion devices online (and growing exponentially) as of 2019, IoT will drive innovation in the 21st century through developments in mass communication and data analysis. Applying these developments to agriculture is important because global food production will have to rise by 70 percent in order to meet the expected demand in 2050. Developing countries will have the most mouths to feed, but also the most potential to grow their yields accordingly. 

How IoT Works in Agriculture

IoT in agriculture depends on innovative sensor technology employed with the goal of streamlining food production. These sensors can provide data on anything from crop health to vehicle maintenance. Typically, sensors are deployed on specific targets according to the farmer’s needs. People can access the data in the sensors wirelessly. Farmers then interpret the data and make manual adjustments as necessary. Depending on the chosen metric and sophistication of the sensor technology, farmers can automate and alter certain processes through companion mobile applications. In a traditional system, a farmer should be able to determine the overall health of their animals, crops, water, and soil through their mobile phone.

Benefits of IoT

IoT allows farmers to keep, track and optimize the countless data points and processes required for efficient agriculture production. Real-time and accurate data allow farmers to optimize inputs and adapt to extenuating circumstances. As a result, production costs decrease and yields increase. Applications and communicative technologies connect and educate communities about useful farming practices. In impoverished areas lacking education and connection, easy-to-follow modules and guidelines are especially helpful to farmers dealing with challenges posed by terrain and situation. The global farming market is expected to grow by 12 percent between 2017-2021, largely due to investment in IoT-related agriculture practices.

Roadblocks of the Digital Divide

Data technology, while cost-effective in the long term, has high upfront costs of capital acquirement and building up digital infrastructure. Obtaining accurate data in real-time depends on reliable connectivity – something lacking in many developing countries. In these areas, people can build an effective digital infrastructure only through outside investment and maintenance. Operating sensors and mobile technology also require a degree of digital literacy. While specific applications are increasingly easier to operate, farmers in developing countries are often disadvantaged by a lack of access to digital tools in education. Even if digital infrastructure and education programs can be successfully implemented, the digital economy opens up other issues of privacy and cybersecurity. Data can be destructive in the wrong hands, so accountability institutions must accompany infrastructure investment.

Bridging the Divide

The potential of IoT in agriculture has sparked the attention of outside organizations, ranging from international institutions to underfunded startups. The World Bank funds many IoT programs and hosts webinars focused on understanding the applications of IoT in agriculture. Mimosa Technology has instituted a hardware lease program to smallholder farmers in Vietnam with the goal of transitioning these farmers to IoT technology. Eruvaka, an Indian startup, uses IoT technology to solve pond management problems for impoverished farmers. Countries have also realized the potential of IoT applications in agriculture. While many developed programs are already transitioning pilot programs to mass production, countries such as Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria have made meaningful investments in IoT as well. In fact, developing countries are expected to make up around 40 percent of IoT’s market value by the end of the year. 

Technological applications of IoT

As technology improves, IoT applications in farming are expected to move well beyond sensors and mobile apps. AI and machine-learning technologies will make the automation of tasks significantly easier. Combined with advances in robotics, automated precision planting could become commercially feasible. Advances in drone technology will allow for the real-time mapping of crops in order to gauge land condition and yield potential. Monitoring this technology will also incentivize sustainable farming practices, such as soil preservation and tracking of vulnerable animal populations. Specialized communication tech will make the collection and dissemination of information easier than ever before, connecting previously isolated communities all over the world. 

The meeting of agriculture and information technology can be a game-changer when attached to sufficient funding and well-intentioned policy. IoT agricultural technology can break the cycle of subsistence agriculture that prevents developing countries from growing economically. Breaking this cycle will contribute to ending global poverty while growing and furthering the global food market.

– Matthew Compan
Photo: Flickr

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries
As of 2019, 56.1 percent of the global population, or about 2.3 billion people, has access to the internet. In recent years the fastest growing market segment has been developing countries, and with the expansion of its popularity, overwhelmingly positive changes have occurred. These top five benefits of the internet in developing countries show how internet access makes a huge dent in global poverty.

Top 5 Benefits of the Internet in Developing Countries

  1. Lifting Individuals out of Poverty: Through internet access, individuals in developing countries are able to gain access to more of the modern economy. With internet connectivity, those living in remote areas can now easily take out microloans, participate in e-banking and more. Today, there are more than 3,098 microfinance organizations that have reached out to more than 211 million clients in developing countries globally. Via such economic tools, those living in extreme poverty are able to improve the quality of their lives. For example, in a case study in India, businesses that received microloans were twice as profitable as those that didn’t. This is because with credit, those without a lot of initial capital now have a discretionary income and no longer have to choose between investing in a business or buying everyday necessities such as medications.
  2. Growing Access to Education: With internet connectivity and new technologies, third-world countries become more able to bridge the education gap between urban and rural populations. In sparsely populated areas, mobile electronic devices such as tablets are being utilized to deliver invaluable classroom instruction to children that otherwise wouldn’t likely receive it. For example, a giant literacy campaign with a budget of $173.5 million is currently being initiated by the Kenyan education ministry. The project utilizes BRCKs: durable, personalized tablets that contain educational content aiming to deliver learning opportunities to those living in even the most remote locations.
  3. Increasing the Ease of Communication: The internet is arguably the most inexpensive and effective connectivity tool. By accessing it, individuals in developing countries can participate in e-conversations through applications such as WhatsApp and WeChat. In a survey conducted in 2017, it was found that about 85 percent of internet users in sub-Saharan Africa used it to stay in touch with family and friends, and around 60 percent utilized it to access social media sites.
  4. Improving Crop Efficiency: Through IoT (internet of things) systems, farmers in developing countries can easily access information about important variables such as humidity, temperature and terrain topography through a variety of sensors. Precision agriculture in third-world countries has also led to the development of unique insurance systems. For example, with Kilimo Salama, farmers in Eastern Africa can now purchase insurance that automatically makes mobile payments to them if their local weather stations record extreme weather occurrences such as drought or flooding. Today, over 150,000 farmers are enrolled in this program.
  5. Greater Global Participation: As of 2017, 53 percent of adult internet users used the internet to stay informed on the news. Because many developing countries also harbor internal conflicts, being up to date on the status quo of things becomes especially crucial for their citizens. In addition, individuals in developing countries can become a part of global conversations via online communication platforms. Social media campaigns have proven themselves to be especially effective at raising awareness for many issues and increasing participation in protests. For instance, many Iranians used Twitter to protest the injustice of the disputed Iranian election of 2009. Through this social media app, the movement was able to go viral with tags such as #IranElection.

Through the increased availability of internet access and clever innovations in third-world countries, the lives of many people have been greatly impacted in overwhelmingly positive ways. With the rise of the popularity of internet kiosks and cafes in rural areas, the hope of universal internet access is no longer far-fetched, and one can only imagine the total impact that internet in developing countries will have on alleviating global poverty.

– Linda Yan
Photo: Flickr