Today, agriculture technologies advance so quickly that those who resist progress are often left behind. Lightning-fast innovation has its benefits. At a minimum, the majority of farmers have embraced the idea of agriculture robots that can weed, spray, harvest and otherwise manage their least-attractive seasonal tasks. Regardless of their personal feelings, however, advancing technologies are here to stay.
In the “How Do Agriculture Robots Impact the New Deal Economy and Social Issues?” keynote, Josef Kienzle, Sustainable Mechanization Lead for Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and Guy Waksman, Member of the French Academy of Agriculture, presented the current state of the industry, how small-scale farmers around the world are impacted by autonomous and semi-autonomous machines and the considerations that must be made to increase robot adoption and positively impact the global food crisis.
Farm Machinery Must Support Sustainable Agriculture…
Mechanization has come a long way, Kienzle explained, but the last 15 years have brought about dramatic improvements, including optimized design, improved digital data management and more. These improvements have also lowered costs, giving small-scale farmers increased access to autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies.
“Farm machines have revolutionized agriculture and reduced drudgery of millions of farm families and workers, but the machinery of tomorrow will have to do more than that,” Kienzle says. “It will also have to contribute to agriculture that is environmentally sustainable. Farm machinery and sustainable agriculture must evolve together.”
This is a key point. The global food crisis not only requires farms to produce enough food to feed more than 10 billion people by 2050, but it also means increasing food production by approximately 40 percent compared to 2012. Family farmers already supply 80 percent of the world’s food.
The Impacts of the Global Food Crisis…
The task of producing more food to meet the growing demand must be accomplished sustainably, with farmers considering how best to manage scarce resources. The result of failing to sustainably maximize food production is two-fold: If the status quo continues, there will be more than 840 million hungry people by 2030 and fewer available resources with which to address the problem.
“The covid-19 pandemic is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems,” Kienzle says. “Covid-19 has added additional pressure and poses a serious threat to food security. It is estimated that as many as 130 million will be added to the total number of hungry people in 2020.”
Beyond having enough food, Kienzle explains, the food must also be healthy. Producing affordable, nutritious food is already a major problem. Today, more than 2 billion people cannot sufficiently or consistently access safe, nutritious food, and 3 billion people cannot afford the cost of a healthy diet. Some parts of the world experience these impacts more than others.
“If recent trends persist, the distribution of hunger in the world would change substantially, making Africa the region with the highest number of undernourished people,” Kienzle says. “Innovation creates global solutions.”
When there is collaboration between the public and private sectors, entrepreneurs and civil society, he adds, there is an opportunity to create the best possible solutions for the world’s biggest challenges.