Digital technology to face challenges in our agriculture
Bangladesh, known for its fertile lands and agrarian heritage, faces a myriad of challenges in its agricultural sector. However, with the advent of digital technology, a new era of possibilities has emerged and moved forward. The challenges of agriculture are a continuous reduction of agricultural land, abnormal changes in weather and climate, miniaturisation of agricultural land over time, crisis of labour, increase in prices of agricultural inputs, growth of population, decrease in agricultural land productivity, new diseases, etc. Despite these challenges, Bangladesh's success in agriculture is enviable.
Although its challenges, it's impressive to see Bangladesh progress in rice, wheat, and corn production. In addition, to feed the increasing number of people with limited resources, the government of Bangladesh initiated various strategic steps such as Vision 2041, the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), etc. To overcome these challenges faced by Bangladesh's agriculture needs to explore the transformative potential of digital thinking. However, implementing the 4IR and Vision 2041 might face some new challenges. For instance, high initial investment/cost of agricultural inputs for small marginal farmers; lack of knowledge transfer and generation of trained manpower in digital agriculture; scarcity of localisation of technology; Knowledge gap; lack of domestic hardware and software; absence of modern technology at the farmer level; lack of willingness of young youth and equal distribution of benefits of revolution, etc.
The major challenges in Bangladesh's Agriculture are (i) Land scarcity and climate change: Bangladesh tackles diminishing agricultural land due to urbanisation and environmental degradation. Unpredictable weather patterns and climate change further exacerbate this problem, leading to uncertainties in farming. (2) Labour crisis and population growth: The agriculture sector is plagued by a shortage of skilled labour, as young generations increasingly seek non-agricultural employment. Coupled with a growing population, this trend intensifies the pressure on the sector to meet food farming. (3) Productivity and yield: Despite progress, Bangladesh's agricultural productivity remains below its potential. Factors such as outdated farming techniques and limited access to modern technologies hinder optimal yield, and (4) Input cost and price fluctuations: Escalating prices of agricultural inputs, including fertilisers, pesticides, and machinery, put a strain on farmers' financial resources. Moreover, market price fluctuations often lead to uncertain returns on investments.
To overcome the constraints of Bangladesh's agriculture, digital thinking acts as a catalyst for change. Intelligent/digital farming, precision or smart farming, represents a revolutionary approach to modernising agriculture. It leverages cutting-edge technologies to enhance efficiency, productivity, and sustainability in farming practices. This essay explores the concept of intelligent farming, its benefits, and its potential to address the challenges the agricultural sector faces. Digital farming represents a transformative shift in agriculture, promising a more sustainable, productive, and economically viable future in the way of (i) Precision agriculture: Digital technologies enable precision agriculture techniques, which involve using data-driven insights to optimise crop yields. Farmers can make informed decisions about planting, irrigation, and pest control by integrating GPS, sensors, and data analytics. (2) IoT and smart farming: The Internet of Things (IoT) facilitates real-time soil conditions, climate, and machinery monitoring. Smart farming practices utilisingIoT devices automate various aspects of farming, leading to increased efficiency and resource conservation. (3) Drones and satellite imaging: Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and satellite imaging provide farmers with a bird's-eye view of their fields. This technology aids crop health assessment, allowing for timely intervention in pest infestations or diseases. (4) Access to knowledge and market information: Digital platforms and mobile applications deliver crucial information to farmers, including weather forecasts, market prices, and best agricultural practices. This empowers them to make informed decisions and navigate market uncertainties. (5) E-commerce and agri-marketplaces: Digital platforms facilitate direct connections between farmers and consumers, reducing the need for intermediaries. This ensures fairer prices for farmers and provides consumers access to fresh, locally produced food. (6) Capacity building and training: Online resources, webinars, and e-learning platforms offer farmers a wealth of agricultural knowledge and training. This helps bridge the knowledge gap and equips them with the skills to adopt modern farming practices.
Embracing digital thinking holds the key to revolutionizing Bangladesh's agriculture sector. Digital farming is rooted in integrating advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), drones, and data analytics into agricultural practices. These technologies combine to gather and analyse soil conditions, weather patterns, crop health, and machinery performance data. The insights from this data empower farmers to make precise, data-driven decisions, optimising every aspect of their operations. The essence of digital farming directly boosts the productivity of a country, such as (1) Enhance productivity: Intelligent farming enables farmers to optimise inputs like water, fertilisers, and pesticides. Applying these resources precisely where and when they are needed leads to higher crop yields and improved overall productivity. (2) Resource efficiency: Intelligent farming systems use sensors and IoT devices to monitor soil moisture levels and crop health in real time. This data-driven approach minimises resource wastage, conserving water and reducing the environmental impact of agricultural practices. (3) Improve decision-making: AI algorithms analyse vast data to provide actionable insights. Farmers can make informed decisions regarding planting times, irrigation schedules, and pest management, resulting in higher-quality crops and reduced losses. (4) Risk mitigation: Intelligent farming equips farmers with early warning systems for potential diseases, pest outbreaks, or adverse weather conditions. This proactive approach allows for timely interventions, minimising crop losses. (5) Sustainable practices: By optimising resource use and minimising environmental impact, intelligent farming promotes sustainability in agriculture. It aligns with global efforts to reduce the ecological footprint of farming while meeting growing food demands. (6) Economic viability: Intelligent farming increases yields and reduces operational costs. By maximising resource efficiency, farmers can achieve higher profitability, ensuring the economic sustainability of their operations. Overall, farmers involved in agriculture can optimise their agricultural operations, which reduces manual labour and long-term production costs, eases risk management, increases production, simplifies post-production management and processing, speeds up data collection and processing, and makes agribusiness more profitable. The goal is to increase the quality and quantity of crops and optimise the human labour used.
Digital farming represents a transformative agricultural shift, promising a more sustainable, productive, and economically viable future. As technologies evolve and become more accessible, the potential for intelligent farming to revolutionise agriculture globally is immense. Stakeholders must collaborate to ensure the seamless integration of these technologies into farming practices, enabling farmers to meet the growing demands of a rapidly changing world while safeguarding the environment for future generations.
The writer is a Senior Scientific Officer, Farm Machinery and Postharvest Technology Division, Bangladesh Rice Research Institute