The Data Revolution Hasn't Yet Hit Agriculture
World Resources Institute - Big data surrounds us. Every minute, our smartphones collect billions of data points on our location, search histories and habits. Data has become one of the world's most valuable commodities for companies.
The $6-billion-dollar sale of the game Candy Crush was not so pricey because of the app itself, but because of the massive amounts of user data that came with it. Data has surpassed oil as the world's most valuable resource.
But this data revolution hasn't reached every economic sector yet. The agriculture sector in developing countries has been largely passed over. Not only is this a huge missed opportunity for big data companies, it's a significant obstacle in the path towards sustainable food.
Agricultural Data Is Key for Sustainability
The release of WRI's newest World Resources Report highlights the urgency of creating a sustainable food future. The global population is expected to surpass 9 billion by the year 2050, and current growth in crop yields will be insufficient to feed everyone. If we are to feed the world in years to come---and do it without destroying the planet---we will need a paradigm shift in food production.
Big data could be crucial in making that shift happen. A study from 2016 estimates that there are more than 570 million farms in the world, and almost 87 percent of all the world's agricultural land is held by small-scale or family farmers. By collecting information from farmers on crop inputs and yields, development organizations and others could make better recommendations on where and when to plant, how much of what kind of fertilizer to use, and the most effective ways to work the soil to increase yields without degrading the land. Without the insights farm-level data brings, the path towards sustainability is uncertain.
Farm data would provide immense benefits for agricultural-tech companies and farmers. Companies could use data on fertilizer usage, irrigation and seed type to improve the ways and regions where they market agricultural products, and better tailor their services to the individual needs of farmers. Farmers would benefit from the increased efficiency that data-based insights could provide. With more access to data would come the ability to improve production. It is estimated that a 1 percent increase in the number of internet users globally could increase cereal production enough to feed 131 million more people.