Laying the groundwork toward achieving Asia’s sustainable future

In August, when the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its latest report, the writing on the wall became clear: our planet is facing an existential crisis. From floods to wildfires and heat waves, weather and climate extremes are affecting many parts of our world.

Now, we have almost reached the point of no return. The question is: Can we, the human race, prevent an all-out ecological collapse?

The short and hopeful answer is, yes. One of the ways to combat this—apart from cutting down on the greenhouse gas emissions emanating from industrial production—is through sustainable agriculture.

The difference we can make

Looking at this from an Asian perspective, we can really make a huge impact. Asia hosts almost half the world’s population. In 1950, there were 1.4 billion people in Asia, but today there are around 4 billion.

And the population is growing unabated. China and India, for example, will add an additional 1 billion people into the middle class by 2030, according to CaixaBank Research.

How are we going to feed such a huge population without harming our planet? The answer to this conundrum lies in sustainable farming with the help of technological innovations.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and sustainable agriculture

We live in the era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), where technologies such as mobility, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are bridging the gap between the digital and physical worlds. Innovations such as sensor technology, machine learning, wireless communication, positioning systems, and data visualisation tools are revolutionising the farming sector, reducing manpower costs and increasing productivity substantially with minimum damage to the environment.

This meeting of technology and agriculture has given birth to smart farming: using modern technology to increase the quantity and quality of agricultural products. With smart farming, farmers can be empowered to produce more with the help of sensors, robotics, IoT, mapping, data visualisation, and statistical processes.

We have seen a similar transformation in the United States due to increased automation; the farm sector in the US has already shrunk to less than 2% of the labour force.

Developments in smart farming technologies are especially important in markets with high agricultural exports like Australia. It is therefore unsurprising that farmers in the state of Victoria have been earmarked to receive AU$15 million for funding of robotics, wireless networks, sensors, and analytics systems deployment to help make agriculture smarter.

Closer to home in Asia, in Singapore for instance, urban farms are cropping up and they are using smart technologies to great effect. These include vertical production technologies in controlled environments utilising LED technology and the deployment of artificial intelligence to monitor plant growth. The initiatives are aligned with Singapore’s ‘30-by-30‘ vision—producing 30% of the country’s nutritional needs by the year 2030. Singapore sources over 90% of its food from other countries, with only 1% of space allocated for agricultural use, so it’s a bold ambition, which would be difficult to achieve without the help of smart farming technologies.

Underlying network

At the core of all this smart farming is the underlying networking technology. Be it the automated machinery connected to a control system, the use of real-time data on production outputs, weather information, or even farm-to-market data, all these function on the bedrock of a mix of various technologies. At its heart is networking and connectivity, which are critical in orchestrating this entire process where the reliability of networks will be instrumental.

This sounds quite reasonable and straightforward in this day and age, but the reality is that there’s still a rural-urban connectivity gap in Asia. Specifically, there’s an uneven network distribution, where network infrastructure and resources tend to favour urban areas. This may be understandable, but at the same time it’s important to make sure that rural areas also have adequate and reliable coverage so that farmers and the larger agriculture industry can better leverage technology to improve production and output.

I imagine there could be many use cases in Asia where today’s most advanced technology, coupled with reliable networks, could be leveraged to ultimately help the region get closer to addressing its growing consumption demands.

Our future is sustainable, smart farming. With the right technologies with strong networking capabilities in place, we can build a better world together.