When the general public thinks about today’s exciting technological breakthroughs, the imagery that springs to mind is unlikely to be a crowded pigpen in China or yam fields in the farmland of Nigeria. Yet, rural areas are the front lines for some of the most important gains technology is enabling in modern society. The growing imprint of technology-driven advancements on the agriculture industry and in rural areas, generally, is one of the tech field’s most promising success stories.
Digital transformation is making its mark on the agriculture industry, with the Internet of Things, blockchain, robotics and drones among the technological forces that are helping to offset modern obstacles with which previous generations of farmers did not have to overcome. In the not-so-distant-past, farmers fretted about the weather, pests and their equipment – and that was about it. Today’s farmers must contend with a range of more sophisticated challenges, such as market volatility, international trade friction, serious labor shortages, borrowing costs and capital availability and an increasingly complex regulatory environment.
Amid these challenges, in an industry known for razor-thin margins between success and failure, enabling even a 5% increase in yield can make a dramatic difference. Technological innovation increasingly is the path to swinging that equation in farmers’ favor by equipping them with an expanded set of solutions to their challenges. At the same time, for these innovations to serve their important purpose, it is imperative for security professionals to support suppliers and distributors’ assurance that these technologies are being deployed safely and securely throughout the supply chain.
Technology enabling a global bounty
The recent Forbes AgTech Summit underscored how key industry advancements – such as more reliable pathogen detection, autonomous wheelbarrows and analytics software that allows farmers to more accurately predict crop conditions – are capable of improving profitability for farmers and providing a more robust global bounty that will be increasingly critical as population growth, climate change and soil degradation put strain on the world’s food supply.
Much of the technological progress that is recalibrating the way food is being grown and distributed is attributable to automation. The implications of automation can cut in both directions, often driving improved business outcomes while, in some cases, imperiling job security for current workers. The net impact of automation, though, tilts heavily in a favorable direction when it comes to the agriculture industry. In many countries, including the United States, agriculture workers are in short supply, not because automation has put them out of work, but because of a range of factors that include urbanization and more stringent enforcement of immigration laws.
Automation is a potent force in counteracting that labor shortage, producing driver-less tractors and more efficiently planting and harvesting to maintain productivity and prevent wasting crops while people around the world go hungry.
It is not just automation that is serving as a new catalyst for farmers and food producers; a variety of emerging technologies are modernizing business models in rural areas around the world. From a Chinese tech giant deploying AI-powered pig-tracking systems, to a growing number of blockchain implementations that will allow food to be tracked globally throughout the supply chain, more efficiently addressing customer risk, it is encouraging to see technology deployed so creatively in an industry that affects all of us on a daily basis.
The ability to more effectively address food security is especially notable, with blockchain and IoT technology allowing inspectors and consumers to become aware of potential hazards in more timely fashion and avert potential health crises. Dubai has shown leadership in this regard, moving to put in place a food monitoring system that will make its reported $200 billion of annual food imports safer and more secure for its residents.
Life-saving health measures
Agriculture is not the only cornerstone of rural life that is being enhanced by technological innovation. Medical drones in Africa deliver life-saving supplies that are not readily available in local clinics, such as blood, medicine and emergency vaccines. In China this year, a logistics firm initiated delivery of goods to sparsely populated areasthat will rely on larger drones transporting products to warehouses and smaller drones connecting rural residents with final deliveries. As with all technological innovations, organizations must deploy the needed safeguards and controls to keep pace with the deployment of these new technologies, with drones in particular posing several legal and security considerations. Organizations must determine their appetite for added risks and liabilities introduced by a drone program, as well as how to meet the related compliance requirements on an ongoing basis.
Undeniably, however, these are significant opportunities for residents of rural areas that would not have been possible as recently as five years ago. Even as global population trends reflect increasing urbanization, the capabilities that are being developed will ensure farmers and rural residents stand to benefit from technological innovations that are taking root every bit as much as city-dwellers. As digital transformation spreads beyond our urban hubs to rural fields throughout the globe, it us up to the security community to perform the due diligence necessary to enable these advancements to truly blossom.