This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Read part 2 here.
What is AgTech?
Modern farming is changing every day, and it’s on the verge of changing more than we ever might have thought possible. Agriculture technology (or AgTech) is playing a large role in this, bringing us new innovations that will change how humans grow. Technology has always been a part of agriculture; indeed, in many ways, from the first time humans shifted from nomadism to agriculture, cultivation has always been a mode of technological implementation.
However, in the last century these technologies have revolutionized, with the advent of more highly mechanized processes, new advances in genomic research, and new systems of global trade; now, we are on the cusp of another green revolution, with new technologies proliferating that will revolutionize much of what we think we know about agriculture once again.
Though the advent of next generation technology in agriculture has been predicted for more than half a century, relatively recent progress in sensor technology, computer vision, cost effective computing power, and artificial intelligence were required to facilitate the considerable progress we are seeing in this field today, including new advances in genetically modified crops, new hydroponics and drip irrigation conversion technologies, digitized economics, data consolidation and analytics, as well as input/output supply-chain management. Altogether, there is an entirely new paradigm emerging that is transforming agriculture at all levels and scales.
Why AgTech Now?
Farmers are grappling with challenges that are in many ways more complex than ever before. The needs and challenges they face are daunting: they are simultaneously trying to cope with climate change, soil erosion, and biodiversity loss, all while satisfying consumers’ changing desires and expectations, attempting to meet rising demand for more food of higher quality. There are also demographic challenges as well; as millions of people from rural areas migrate to cities each year, farmers need to inspire enough of them to remain and build a career in agriculture. Agricultural technology can play a role in mitigating each of these challenges, and from each, finding new and increasing opportunities
These developments cannot come soon enough; according to the World Bank, agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty, boost shared prosperity and feed a projected 9.7 billion people by 2050. Growth in the agriculture sector is up to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors. But agriculture-driven growth, poverty reduction, and food security are at risk: Climate change could cut crop yields, especially in the world’s most food-insecure regions. Technology can play a paramount role in meeting these challenges head-on.
Equity Building and Resilient Prosperity
One of the most compelling aspects of the growing use of agricultural technology is the role it plays in fostering equity. AgTech represents opportunities for subsistence farmers, smallholders, and women agricultural workers to potentially gain access to outputs that have been previously unattainable.
Women in particular are key to the future of agriculture; the United Nations estimates that approximately 43% of farmers in developing countries are women, but they currently do not perform as well due to a lack of the proper inputs, services, and productive resources. Research indicates that closing the agricultural production gender gap alone could decrease the number of undernourished people by 12-17%.
There are many success stories where technology has been introduced in agribusiness, which show that women’s lives are improved and their roles in agribusiness become more sustainable through the use of technology. Through digitalization, women have shown that when they have access to technology they become not only users, but advocates and promoters of other women. Agriculture’s digitalization has allowed many female ‘agripreneurs’ to leverage technology-based solutions, yet infrastructure and the accessibility of technology remain the biggest challenges and continue to widen the gender gap.
The barriers that women in agribusiness face can be significantly reduced by technology, especially if deployed in a sustainable manner and in collaboration with like-minded stakeholders. Digitalization can help to connect women with advisory services, potentially removing middle-men or reducing labor burdens, providing market or legal information, and enabling financial transactions. Additionally, digitalization can allow for greater supply chain transparency, protecting the value of women's labor, and with it safety, stability and dignity.