Kathy Gibson reports from Gitex – Digital farming is a very real trend, helping to increase food production around the world. But this also means that food security could be threatened by cybersecurity attacks.

When it comes to digital inclusion, sometimes we forget the smallholder farmers who are largely responsible for feeding the world, says Joseph Lukwago, co-founder and chief technology officer of Rural Inclusion.

“When we think about solutions, we need to listen to these people too,” he says.

Lukwago points out that digital farming has revolutionised agriculture, driving a fundamental shift in how we cultivate, nurture and harvest food.

“Farms have become data centres and farmers data scientists, using analytics to maximise yields while minimising waste,” he says. “But this means farmers are facing new challenges of cybersecurity.”

Once isolated, farms are now part of the global network, and that comes with vulnerabilities. Not only are the threats real, but the consequences can be dire.

According to Lukwago, farmers face vulnerabilities in a number of areas, from the vulnerability of smart farm machinery to data breaches and leaks; from a lack of awareness and preparedness to ransomware attacks on food chains.

Creating discord in food chains can cause prices to spike or drop – and even threaten the supply of food to consumers, Lukwago says.

To mitigate these challenges, it is vital for farmers and other players in the food supply chain to build cyber resilience, he adds.

Strategies to achieve this include comprehensive training; data backup management; robust access controls; regular security audits; an incident response plan; and collaborative information sharing.

“And, any system developed for agritech must be inclusive,” Lukwago adds. “In rural communities, this can make all the difference.”

He outlines what he calls the “smart framework within which agritech solutions should be built:

* Simple – educate users about the simplicity of applications and innovation

* Modifiable – ensure it can be customised according to user requirements

* Actionable – ensure data is measurable, accurate and shared in a timely fashion

* Relevant – ensure the innovation demonstrates exponential advantage that influences users to adopt it

Trusted – educate users about the trustworthiness and accuracy of the innovation.