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Agriculture needs more artificial intelligence, automation

Responsible technical change is essential for transforming agrifood systems in the Caribbean and Latin America, according to the latest report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on The State of Food and Agriculture 2022 (SOFA).

“The report states that agriculture automation, including using tractors or artificial intelligence, can increase productivity and resilience, improve product quality and resource efficiency, reduce human labor and labor shortages, improve environmental sustainability, and facilitate climate change adaptation and mitigation,” according to a Nov 2 FAO press release.

The SOFA report reflects analyses of 27 case studies; and identified the use of technology at different stages of development, as well as barriers that impede technological applications, especially by small-scale farmers.

“FAO is convinced that without technological progress and increased productivity, it is not possible to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu wrote in the report’s foreword.

“What matters is how the automation process is carried out in practice, not whether it occurs or not. We must ensure that automation is carried out inclusively and promotes sustainability.”

The solution, in part, requires policies that ensure agricultural automation is inclusive and contributes to sustainable and resilient agrifood systems.

“The general principle of the policy recommendations offered in the report centers on the idea of responsible technological change. This involves anticipating the impacts of technologies on productivity, resilience and sustainability while focusing on marginalized and vulnerable groups,” the FAO release states.

The “key” is for governments to create an enabling environment through “policy instruments” from legislation and regulation; infrastructure; institutional arrangements; education and training; research and development; and support for private sector innovation.

Motorised mechanisation has been an important form of automation in agricultural production and an integral component of a global transformation. However, the report reveals that adoption of automation has been uneven in different parts of the world. One example is the available statistics on the number of tractors per 1,000 hectares of arable land worldwide, which show the uneven progress towards mechanization in different regions of the world.

“Latin America and the Caribbean [have] shown considerable progress in mechanization, driven by farming system evolution, structural transformation, and urbanization. The number of tractors per 1000 hectares of arable land almost tripled from 5 in the 1960s to 14 in the 2000s.”

The SOFA reports that in the region, it is private actors that drove agricultural mechanisation, while some governments created an enabling environment.

“For example, through public programs developed by governments in Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, which provided access to credit at low-interest rates and tax exemptions. In addition, several countries, such as Peru, exempted agricultural machinery from import duties.”

The case studies revealed an uneven spread of automation among farmers. The report recommended that inclusive investments are needed to further develop technologies and adapt them to the needs of end users. Such initiatives must involve farmers, manufacturers and service providers, with particular attention to women and youth.

“In addition, investments and other policy actions designed to promote responsible agricultural automation should be based on context-specific conditions, such as the state of connectivity, challenges related to knowledge and skills, adequacy of infrastructure, and inequality in access. Even biophysical, topographical, and climatic conditions play a role. For example, small machinery and even manual equipment can benefit smallholders in hilly terrain,” the release noted.

The SOFA report addresses the potential negative impacts of labour-saving technological change in terms of job displacement and unemployment. While it concludes that such fears are overblown, it recognizes that automation in agriculture can lead to unemployment where rural labour is abundant and wages are low.

Caption:

Agriculture needs more artificial intelligence, automation

Responsible technical change is essential for transforming agrifood systems in the Caribbean and Latin America, according to the latest report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) on The State of Food and Agriculture 2022 (SOFA).

“The report states that agriculture automation, including using tractors or artificial intelligence, can increase productivity and resilience, improve product quality and resource efficiency, reduce human labor and labor shortages, improve environmental sustainability, and facilitate climate change adaptation and mitigation,” according to a Nov 2 FAO press release.

The SOFA report reflects analyses of 27 case studies; and identified the use of technology at different stages of development, as well as barriers that impede technological applications, especially by small-scale farmers.

“FAO is convinced that without technological progress and increased productivity, it is not possible to lift hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition,” FAO Director-General QU Dongyu wrote in the report’s foreword.

“What matters is how the automation process is carried out in practice, not whether it occurs or not. We must ensure that automation is carried out inclusively and promotes sustainability.”

The solution, in part, requires policies that ensure agricultural automation is inclusive and contributes to sustainable and resilient agrifood systems.

“The general principle of the policy recommendations offered in the report centers on the idea of responsible technological change. This involves anticipating the impacts of technologies on productivity, resilience and sustainability while focusing on marginalized and vulnerable groups,” the FAO release states.

The “key” is for governments to create an enabling environment through “policy instruments” from legislation and regulation; infrastructure; institutional arrangements; education and training; research and development; and support for private sector innovation.

Motorised mechanisation has been an important form of automation in agricultural production and an integral component of a global transformation. However, the report reveals that adoption of automation has been uneven in different parts of the world. One example is the available statistics on the number of tractors per 1,000 hectares of arable land worldwide, which show the uneven progress towards mechanization in different regions of the world.

“Latin America and the Caribbean [have] shown considerable progress in mechanization, driven by farming system evolution, structural transformation, and urbanization. The number of tractors per 1000 hectares of arable land almost tripled from 5 in the 1960s to 14 in the 2000s.”

The SOFA reports that in the region, it is private actors that drove agricultural mechanisation, while some governments created an enabling environment.

“For example, through public programs developed by governments in Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru, which provided access to credit at low-interest rates and tax exemptions. In addition, several countries, such as Peru, exempted agricultural machinery from import duties.”

The case studies revealed an uneven spread of automation among farmers. The report recommended that inclusive investments are needed to further develop technologies and adapt them to the needs of end users. Such initiatives must involve farmers, manufacturers and service providers, with particular attention to women and youth.

“In addition, investments and other policy actions designed to promote responsible agricultural automation should be based on context-specific conditions, such as the state of connectivity, challenges related to knowledge and skills, adequacy of infrastructure, and inequality in access. Even biophysical, topographical, and climatic conditions play a role. For example, small machinery and even manual equipment can benefit smallholders in hilly terrain,” the release noted.

The SOFA report addresses the potential negative impacts of labour-saving technological change in terms of job displacement and unemployment. While it concludes that such fears are overblown, it recognizes that automation in agriculture can lead to unemployment where rural labour is abundant and wages are low.

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