The role of technology in Food Sovereignty: Part 1
by Olaitan Ogunnote & Raimot Adewunmi - Undergraduate Research Assistants, ECV Ontario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
While we might not yet be able to live on our red monochromatic, moon-like planetary counterpart, Mars, we could make our stay on the bright bluish-green Earth with hints of white, a little bit longer and more enjoyable through technology.
Particularly, through technology that makes the world less hungry and the environment more conducive, in other words, more food sovereign. Therefore, what does this world of food sovereignty look like and how can technology help us get there? Besides, who wants to live on Mars anyway.
To answer this question we present a two part blog series. The first blog focuses on food sovereignty from the farmer’s perspective. The second blog is going to focus on food sovereignty from the consumer’s perspective.
Farm: Food sovereignty of farmers
In a food sovereign world, farmers, both female and male, can earn a fair, livable wage while farming in an environmentally sustainable way.
Technology proffers a solution by providing an easier entry to farming, efficient farming techniques that reduce costs, environmentally friendly innovations and finally, improved access to end consumers.
Lower barriers of entry
Growing up in Nigeria, whenever people would ask what we wanted to be when we grew up, the answer was never, “a farmer!” Why? Farmers were known to be poor.
Many farmers lack the financial resources to purchase the necessary inputs needed to farm inhibiting their ability to earn a livable income. Fortunately, crowdfunding platforms such as Thrive Agric provides an array of farms as investments that individuals can purchase and the monies raised from those investments would be provided as funding capital to the farmers. Initially, we were a bit sceptical.
However, each investment is insured, and as an investor, one is guaranteed to receive the return and principal, which one can reinvest into another farm. Also, the farm sponsors receive emails updating them about the farms and new farm openings. So far, one of the authors has invested in a poultry farm, maize farm and a rice farm. Through these crowdfunding platforms, farmers gain access to a steady stream of capital to purchase the necessary inputs enabling them to grow crops and raise animals ensuring a regular inflow of income.
Cost reducing technologies
Over a plate of green peas, braised pork and home baked biscuits, we were engaging in a discussion with a man who worked at the OAC (Ontario Agricultural College) within our University.
Naturally, the discussion centred around food. We spoke about a graduate student who at the time was using drone technology to determine the pest load on onions for his research thesis.
Drones or as they are formally known, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s), are the centre of a growing field of agriculture known as precision farming which entails collecting more accurate and real-time data that farmers can analyse to reduce costs and increase yields.
Pests are undoubtedly unwanted costs to farmers and the ability to accurately establish the right threshold of pests on a timely basis can allow farmers to protect their crops against these pests proactively. Technology, through the use of drones can reduce farming costs and improve the ability for farmers to earn more through increased yields.
Environmentally friendly innovations
Food sovereignty is a bit more than the welfare of farmers and their crops though; it also concerns the protection of the land and the environment as a whole.
We once transitioned to a plant-based diet for health reasons, but as we made that transition, we increasingly became aware of the environmental impact of animal rearing. We tried alternative meats such as tofu, soy-based bacon, plant-based hot dogs and other products of that nature but they were not quite like meat.
Although we are no longer eating a plant-based diet, we still remember the excitement we felt when we found about a start-up called Memphis Meats. Memphis meats is a food technology company that makes cell-based meat, meat that was not slaughtered but meat that was grown through the cells of animals.
A solution like this has the potential of conserving the depleting water and land resources that are consumed in the production of meat through the traditional means. There is less waste, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and land can be used for green spaces such as parks instead of rearing animals for our growing meat consumption. Technology allows us to produce food without damaging the environment any further.
Access to customers
Going back to our childhood in Nigeria, we remember going to the open markets and observing the hustle and bustle, perched flies, endless chatter of haggling voices and exchange of stained Naira notes. The transaction always involved physical currency- no debit cards or credit cards. That was the case, and that is still the case because many of these small-scale farmers, especially those in developing nations, are often part of the unbanked population. Meaning, they do not have access to bank accounts.
So, for those customers that do not have cash on hand, they would have to turn them away and for a poor farmer that could mean being unable to feed their families that day. Platforms like Mpesa, a mobile banking platform that allows individuals to complete financial transactions through their mobile phone numbers are providing a solution.
The farmers do not have to turn away customers, and it allows for a broader reach to customers in distant geographic locations as they can receive their payment without the need for physical interaction, even if they do not have a bank account.
These technological solutions allow local farmers greater access to a wider customer base, and thus earn a higher income, through a more flexible and accessible banking platform.
Technology can improve the living standards of farmers by lowering the barrier of entry to farming through crowdfunding platforms, improve yields and reduce costs through precision agriculture, and widen the access to customers through digital paying platforms while reducing the burden on the environment through cell-based agrotechnology. The improved welfare of farmers and our environment through technology is getting us closer to a world of food sovereignty
Adekunle B (2016) How technology can help nations navigate the difficult path to food sovereignty. The Conversation. Retrieved online