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Nepal. Photo by Lesly Derksen on Unsplash

food | water

Digital tools transform farming

Digital precision agriculture tools are helping Nepalese smallholder farmers better maximise the yield potential of their rice crops. With the help of a global team of researchers rice farmers in Terai, which lies at the outer foothills of the Himalayas, are using tech to bridge the growing rice field gaps widening the gulf between ‘actual and attainable’ yields.

Declining soil fertility mixed with a one size fits all approach to managing the crops has accelerated the gulf in Terai. Which the software-based system, a digital tool called Nutrient Expert® (NE), is helping to bridge. By offering a personalised ‘step-by-step’ guide tailored to individual farmers, it shows them the nutrients that need to be applied to their rice fields in different conditions.

“Nutrient Expert gives farmer’s the confidence that they are using nutrients in the right way,” explains Dr Kaushik Majumdar, African Plant Nutrition Institute Director General, and co-author of the study. “The tool also provides farmers with a clear plan on how to best match the timing of their applications with the periods of peak nutrient demand, which is a critical step to ensuring fertilizers are used most effectively.”

This is just one example of how technology is supporting the world’s smallholder farmers, who produce about a third of the world’s food, according to new research by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

During the Nepal study the technology boosted yields by over 2 t/ha. And with the yield gap for rice in the country around 3t/ha, the researchers believe NE – if used at scale, could prove transformative when it comes to meeting Nepal’s nutrient security goals.

Tech solutions

Affordable technology smallholder farmers can use easily will be crucial in improving crop management and achieving the kinds of yields, in ever worsening climactic conditions, capable of feeding a growing global population.

Today’s tech entrepreneurs have been hailed by many as being key to solving hunger in Africa. And there are an increasing number of pioneering startups focusing their efforts on developing precision agriculture technologies.

But the world is not on target to achieve zero hunger – UN Global Goal 2 – by 2030, according to last year’s State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. And hunger is rising, the report showed. With the number of people going hungry in 2019 up by 10 million from 2018, to 690 million. While the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to push 130 million more people ‘into chronic hunger’.

As the research cited above makes clear, and Bertrand Piccard has demonstrated to the world: the solutions are out there. What is needed now is for a coordinated and targeted roll out of technologies where they are needed most. Which means governments and private sector stakeholders must accelerate their collaborative efforts to make these solutions available now – and at scale.

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Written By

Susan is the co-founder of Innovators Magazine and a consultant for OnePoint5Media. Susan is also a member of the UNFCCC-led Resilience Frontiers Nexus group and the Chair of the APOPO Foundation UK board.

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