Philippine Agriculture 4.0
In 2018, the World Government Summit (WGS) launched “Agriculture 4.0: The Future of Farming Technology,” a report addressing the major challenges of agriculture—demographics, scarce natural resources, climate change, food waste—in meeting future global demands.
In 2020, the UN estimated that some 800 million people (a tenth of the global population) were undernourished, a condition aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The WGS report projects that by 2030, 650 million will still be undernourished, and underscores the need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050.
This gigantic challenge gives a strong impetus for governments to pursue a “business unusual” approach to agriculture and food security, driven by innovations spurred by Industry 4.0. Klaus Schwab, convenor of the World Economic Forum, cites that today, Industry 4.0 puts the world “on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work, and relate to one another. In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.”
The First Industrial Revolution harnessed water and steam power; the Second tapped electric power; the Third used electronics and information technology, while the Fourth (Industry 4.0) built on the Third, characterized by a fusion of technologies, blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, and giving birth to Agriculture 4.0.
Agriculture 4.0 is essentially the digitalization of farm operations. For instance, the use of drones captures farm images and data in real time. This enables farmers to know which areas need water and pest and nutrient management, enabling the precise application of inputs by a fleet of agribots. Smart tractors with GPS-controlled steering perform accurate land preparation, significantly reducing costs. In livestock, sensors are attached to animals, allowing real-time monitoring of their overall well-being. Such data are stored in the farmer’s computer, serving as evidence for a digital platform of farm operations. Moreover, blockchain technology captures the whole process from the moment the crop is planted and harvested until it reaches the market, and is purchased by consumers as a raw or processed product—the origin identified through traceability.
The WGS report further states that agricultural operations will be run very differently, primarily due to advanced technologies such as sensors, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, aerial images, GPS, and information technology. Farmers will no longer depend on the manual application of water, fertilizer, and pesticides across entire fields. Instead, they will use drones in applying precise quantities of inputs for accurately targeted areas. These advanced devices allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe, and environment-friendly.
Science-based innovations, massively deployed by a decentralized extension system led by the provinces and catalyzed by digital technology, will play a key role in addressing food scarcity, significantly reducing hunger in the grassroots.
Agriculture 4.0 will require strategic partnerships among governments, private investors, and developers of innovative agriculture technologies. In the Philippines, Agriculture 4.0 can be pursued with the government establishing an integrated digital platform for farm advisory services in partnership with the private sector. An integrated digital platform will completely transform the agriculture value chain by providing farmers with access to timely information, enabling the massive adoption of cutting-edge technologies. Moreover, it will bring about transparency and efficiency into the supply chain and connect farmers with domestic and global markets to ensure better incomes.
Agriculture will be the center point of economic recovery by the next administration. Therefore, beyond its diagrams, the Department of Agriculture (DA) needs to intensively pursue digital agriculture through research for development, and implement this with local government units through province-led agriculture and fisheries extension systems. By doing this, the DA will transcend its traditional distributive and regulatory functions to ensure food security, reduce dependency on food imports, and increase farmer productivity in an innovation-driven agriculture economy.
Agriculture 4.0 is, indeed, the future of global agriculture and the engine of agriculture modernization in the Philippines.
Dr. Rex L. Navarro is a member of the Coalition for Agriculture Modernization in the Philippines. He was associate professor and former director of the institute (now college) of development communication, University of the Philippines Los Baños.
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