Agriculture in the era of climate change: sustainable practices don’t have to come at the cost of productivity

Written by by Catherine Schulze-Jones, Marketing Manager at Mezzanine on 30 November 2021.

The COP26 summit, held five years after the momentous Paris Agreement in which all countries agreed to work together for the first time to limit global warming to 1.5°C, was held in November 2021 in Scotland. While many commentators have labelled the conference a failure, it was heartening to see the myriad of opportunities and innovative solutions available from all parts of the world.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

Mezzanine’s CEO, Jacques de Vos, took to the digital stage on two occasions to explain how digital solutions could pave the way for both smallholder and commercial farmers to adapt to the changing climate and to make food production more sustainable.

On the 4th of November, Jacques joined Nokia and SAP to pitch digital solutions to environmental problems in an ETNO (European Telecommunications Network Operators Association) and International Chamber of Commerce Forum session. He pitched the MyFarmWeb solution, which collates data from a variety of data sources on one platform and provides a way for farmers to get a holistic view of their operations from under the ground (analysing soil properties and moisture content), on the ground (pest monitoring, plant health tracking and harvesting), and above the ground (satellite mapping, weather stations, and vehicle tracking). Total visibility of all farm activities and conditions is a powerful decision-making tool that can benefit both the farmer and the environment.

Precision farming practices are dependent on multiple sources of data and information stored in different places. This makes it harder to make consolidated and informed decisions. IoT technology offers farmers and agricultural businesses a digital solution to this challenge, introducing precise and autonomous sensors to farms to support data collection. Platforms like MyFarmWeb enable the consolidation of various data streams over time, supporting data analysis through a single dashboard that is easy to manage.

On 11 November, at the UN climate change global innovation hub pavilion, we spoke about innovative enabling climate solutions on a panel from a variety of industries and expertise backgrounds. This session focused on the circular economy and  innovative technology and financial instruments as a way to mitigate climate change and gave a fascinating insight into the range of extraordinary approaches and technology available.

Jacques de Vos focused on agriculture in Africa and explained how technology, even via the most simple of phones, can give farmers access to good quality drought tolerant and pest-resistant seed to help mitigate the risks of drought  increasingly felt by African smallholder farmers. Coupled with expert advice, access to markets, and, critically, access to finance and insurance, small scale farmers in Africa can both adapt to the changing climate and participate in climate-smart activities, showing that environmentally-friendly activities don’t always have to come at a cost to productivity.

Data shows that 70% of arable land in Africa will be under severe heat stress by 2050, which can spell catastrophe for the continent’s chiefly agriculture-driven economy. There are, however, ways to deal with this challenge and that is through earth observation to monitor soil moisture content. Earth observation satellites can  measure the moisture content in the top 5cm of soil and map them against average trends. Should moisture levels be too high or too low and affect the harvest, a payout is triggered automatically to cover the cost of the loan.

Government investment in digital technology for agriculture could see more “high-tech” solutions available to small holder farmers too that are usually only available to commercial farmers able to afford the cost. IoT devices can monitor weather patterns and inform pest infestation predictions and also identify which regions are in danger and guide the spraying of pesticides to key areas rather than blanket spraying, bringing precision agriculture decision support to the smallholder farmer community.

The key is to leverage the interconnectivity that mobile technology provides to link people with solutions and give them access to the tools and networks they need. A business model centred on mobile technology allows us to innovate across multiple industries to bring about a more sustainable way of working and encourage entrepreneurship in the rural agrarian economy, thereby creating productive societies.