Director-General  QU Dongyu

Agriculture must get ‘smarter’ to end poverty and hunger


18 February 2020, Bangkok – With the majority of the world’s food produced by smallholder farmers, countries are taking steps to make agricultural processes smarter, more efficient and more profitable for all.

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, made the remarks while visiting a tomato ‘smart’ farm in central Thailand.

In the Southeast Asian country, technologies and innovation are being applied to make everything from rice to high-yielding cash crops more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events. That makes farming less risky for cash-strapped smallholders, who often bear the brunt of climate related disasters like floods and prolonged droughts.

Knowing when to plant is key, but many factors can result in planting and sowing in less than optimum periods. The smart tomato farm in Suphan Buri Province is a pilot project of the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives. It employs Precision Agriculture (PA), sometimes referred to as the "internet of plants and fields".

Using data as its foundation, precision agriculture involves collecting and processing biological and physical information, analyzing weather and farm data to optimize productivity. Computer-based algorithms then get to work to produce a ‘digital version’ of a crop and responses to the variables it could face under various conditions. And, of course, it does it fast – leading locals to nickname the smart farm in Suphan Buri Province “tomato smart farm.”

“Only smart people can deliver smart farms,” said the Director-General while touring the farm. “I’m fully convinced by your performance and your procedures and practices of this farming technique.”

Smarter farming saves resources – both natural and financial – keeping money in the pockets of smallholders

The Director-General noted that the use of these technologies can reduce fertilizer cost by 39 percent, reduce labor cost by as much as 85 percent, and increase harvesting periods by 1.5 months, thus increasing the tomato productivity. The farm has also become a learning center for young smart farmers in Thailand.

“Smarter farming is the only way to deal with global warming and climate change. And it’s a solution to build up a buffer to mitigate the price fluctuations of marketing (produce)”

Relying more on data in agriculture is the way forward, Qu said. “Because we are now in a digital world, we need to rely on science-based evidence.”

FAO could learn from these experiences and share with other countries across the region in the context of its Hand in Hand Initiative. “Sharing with other countries that can benefit from these experiences – particularly countries with so many smallholder farmers,” he added.

FAO would support these initiatives at all levels (country offices, regional offices and headquarters). “It takes constant pushing to move forward but we can do it together,” Qu said.