The next wave of technological progress to sustain the world’s fast-growing global population will capitalise on artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to improve the precision and sustainability of farming techniques.

AI, IoT, connected services and autonomous systems together enable farmers to make decisions at the level of a single square metre or individual plant or animal, rather than entire fields or all livestock. This precision allows well-informed interventions that ultimately improve agricultural sustainability by helping farmers produce more with less.

A new International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Focus Group dedicated to ‘AI and IoT for digital agriculture’ will examine emerging cyber-physical systems as groundwork for standardisation to stimulate their deployment for agriculture worldwide.

“The projection that our planet will host 9.7 billion people by 2050 necessitates significant technological progress to sustain so many lives,” says ITU secretary-general Houlin Zhao. “This new focus group is the beginning of a global drive to ensure equitable access to the new capabilities emerging in agriculture with advances in digital technology.”

Collaboration with FAO

The focus group will work in close collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which mobilises international efforts to defeat hunger and improve nutrition and food security.

Under the group’s purview will be new capabilities to discern complex patterns from a growing volume of agricultural and geospatial data; improve the acquisition, handling, and analysis of these data; enable effective decision-making; and guide interventions to optimize agricultural production processes.

Dejan Jakovljevic, CIO and director of FAO’s digitalisation and informatics division, says: “New digital capabilities offer us a unique and immediate opportunity to transform food systems and accelerate impact towards zero hunger. The new focus group will significantly contribute towards these efforts, bringing together AI and IoT as key enablers behind new capabilities for digital agriculture.”

The envisaged study aims to support global progress in areas such as precision farming, predictive analytics for smart farming, the optimisation of cultivable acreage, remote cattle monitoring and management, agricultural robotics, and greenhouse automation.

The study will pay particular attention to the needs of developing countries where people’s livelihoods are most reliant on agriculture. Those are also the countries where digital solutions can provide the greatest gains in agricultural sustainability and resilience.