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How Well Are Advancing Technologies in Agriculture Being Globally Adopted?

by Agritech Digest
Adoption rate of advancing technologies

The potentials of advancing technologies are enormous, but certain barriers limit their adoption rates…

By Oyewole Okewole

This piece is a follow-up to a recent article titled ‘The Future of Food Production is Promising with These Innovative Advancing Technologies,’ where I discussed the prospects for advancing technologies such as precision agriculture, biotechnology, 3D food printing, blockchain technologies (BCT) and others in agriculture. In this piece, I’ll explore how well these advancing technologies are being adopted around the world. Kindly refer here

The general impact of advancing technologies like precision agriculture, biotechnology, 3D food printing, blockchain technologies (BCT) and many others, is hinged on the adoption rates, especially by farmers within the framework of their implementations. The willingness of the end-users (farmers) to scale its applications in various operations also plays a crucial role in the longevity and continuous transformation of the technologies. Technologies essentially provide solutions to identified challenges with expected positive impacts in their overall adoption. 

Established interactions between agriculture and social, economic, and environmental sustainability have recently defined the utilisation of these technologies. Their usage is further sustained by their affordability, economic gains, convenience in use, and their contribution to a cleaner environment. 

A friend who tried to introduce drone technology to farmers in Nigeria experienced an increased willingness by the farmers to adopt the device but expressed great concern about the financial constraints of buying and adopting the technology in their routine farm operations. 

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The potentials of these technologies are enormous, but certain barriers limit their adoption rates. We shall discuss these barriers and their uniqueness in different agricultural climes later in the article.

TECHNOLOGY ADOPTION PROCESS

Generally, the technology adoption process is defined by its acceptance cycle over a period. According to Gain Insight, the technology adoption lifecycle (TAL) describes customer behaviour as it relates to the acceptance of a new technological product, its features, and its applications. The TAL was introduced by Everett Rogers in 1962. He described the ways consumers approach and adopt new technologies, products and innovations. The end-users are divided into five categories rated in the percentage of the target group that will adopt a new idea, innovation, or technology product. They include: 

  1. The innovators (2.5%): This category is eager to try and adopt new products. They are willing to take risks, are more financially flexible, and are usually younger.  They consist mainly of entrepreneurs.
  2. Early Adopters (13.5%): Just like the innovators, they are also willing to adopt new products, can take risks, and are financially flexible. They closely watch for innovation in the market. They are likely opinion leaders or influencers.
  3. Early Majority (34%): This set of consumers is more conservative and risk-averse as it relates to financial investment decisions. They are more active in making research and adopting a technology product than the late majority and the laggards but depend heavily on the early adopters for user experience and feedback.
  4. Late Majority (34%): They adopt new technology after the average user does. They display a high level of uncertainty about the utilisation and benefits of a new product. They are generally not as financially flexible as the early adopters.
  5. Laggards (16%): They indicate an aversion to change and adoption of new technologies or products. They are not influenced by popular demand or opinion leaders. They often concentrate on the reliability of the products they are already familiar with. They have little financial flexibility to take risks.

Adoption of these advancing technologies into agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and other developing economies is limited by finance and the high costs associated with their adoption remain a leading determinant of their adoption rates. Others include:

i. Poor infrastructure and limited access to the Internet: According to one report, less than 30% of adults in rural areas have access to mobile broadband at 2G and 3G speeds, which is insufficient for the adoption of these technologies. It is therefore important that deliberate efforts are put in place to build a robust internet infrastructure in rural communities where food is produced.

ii. Agricultural policies and operating frameworks: Agricultural policies are not solution-centric, and the operating frameworks remain unattractive to farmers. In most cases, specific constraints within the frameworks make many producers conclude that the associated risks far outweigh the benefits that may be derived. Specific constraints include cost, inadequate information on the use of technology, poor market access, and inadequate supporting infrastructure like energy and transportation.

iii. Low public investment in agriculture: Limited support and investments in agriculture give an inflexible approach to exploring new technologies and undergoing further research and development. The needed financial resources to accommodate the appropriate technologies specific to agricultural ecosystems in sub-Saharan Africa are not available.

Other factors that limit the adoption of these technologies in different regions of the world are:

  1. Size and capacity of farm production area.
  2. On-field variations.
  3. Potential adopter’s educational exposure.
  4. Potentials for profitability and healthy returns on investment.
  5. Alternatives to these technological innovations from competitors and demand for new technologies by potential users.
  6. Weak technological drive and affinity.
Adoption rates of advancing technologies are lower in sub-Saharan Africa. Image from the UNA-NCA on Medium

According to a World Bank report, the adoption of these technologies by farmers will serve as a key driver for increases in agricultural productivity and revenue. The report further gave recommendations on the part of the government for the speedy adoption of these technologies. They include:

  1. Repositioning current public support for agriculture through increased investments in research, education, and private sector-led research and development.
  2. The government should take bold steps in strengthening innovations by enhancing public and private research and technology transfer strategies.
  3. Creating a private sector-led ecosystem to stimulate rapid access to new technologies.
  4. Encouraging competition.
  5. Reducing restrictions on market participation.

[Read also: NetZeroNitrogen (NZN) Biotech raises $1.6m Pre-seed to Develop Alternative to Synthetic Nitrogen Fertiliser (SNF)]

ADOPTION SCENARIOS FOR ADVANCING TECHNOLOGIES

There are significant differences in the adoption of advancing technologies across various geographies. According to the 2022 research conducted by McKinsey, where 5000 row- and specialty-crop farmers across Asia, Europe, North America and South America were surveyed. Their responses revealed that adoption varies considerably across geographies. The research further explained that North American and European farmers lead global agtech adoption. 

61% of these farmers were currently using or planning to adopt one ag-tech product in the next two years from the time of the survey. North American farmers cited costs (52%) and unclear return on investment  – ROI (40%) – as their biggest challenges to adopting farm-management systems. 62% of farmers in Europe adopt technologies such as farm management software and remote sensing for use. Also, they were mostly concerned about high costs (48%) and reported complexities in the setup and use as an additional barrier to adoption (32%). 

Farmers in South America (50%) are also adopting the technologies, with differences in adoption observed between different countries within the region. In the study, South American farmers showed more trust in the purchasing process through online platforms (33%). Ag-tech product adoption is lowest in Asia, with only about 9% of farmers using or planning to use at least one agtech product; adoption varies between countries in this region as well.

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Global Agricultural Technology Adoption. Source: McKinsey and Company.

ADOPTION SCENARIOS FOR PRECISION AGRICULTURE

The global adoption of precision agriculture according to one report, indicates that North America is considered the pioneer of this technology. Precision Agriculture Policy and Adoption Outlook 2023 revealed that 15-40% of large farms in the USA currently use some form of precision technology. However, small farms in the USA that make up 85% of the total farms do not use any precision technology. 

Canadians and 20% of Australians with big farms are also the next largest adopters of the technology.  Western European countries began adoption a decade after the USA, and 68% of their small farms adopts the technology. In Europe, the United Kingdom is the largest adopter. Scotland leads with 85% while 43% of the Irish farmers adopt the use of the technology. 

In Denmark, 80% of wheat and barley farmers and 30-40% of oil seed growers use the technology. 30% of farmers in Germany use precision technology, while in Hungary, it is 9.9%. The report further explained that in the global south, countries like Argentina, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa have started their precision application. Adoption generally remains relatively low in African and Asia countries.

ADOPTION SCENARIOS FOR BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY

Blockchain technologies are increasingly being adopted in various regions of the world. According to PwC, the biggest barriers to blockchain adoption are regulatory uncertainties, followed by a lack of trust among users, the ability to bring networks together, separate blockchains not working together, the inability to scale, intellectual property concerns, and audit–compliance concerns. Nevertheless, the technology is advancing in its applications in agriculture, especially for food supply chains. 

One conducted research indicated that the United States of America leads with the most advanced BCT, and continues to lead its adoption. According to the research, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, made a statement promoting the adoption of BCT in 2019. European countries have also experienced an increase in the adoption rates of BCT. Damoska Sekuloska, an associate professor at the University of Information Science and Technology explained that the global market value of BCT in the food and agriculture sector was expected to increase from $ 2.2 million in 2017 to $ 1.4 billion by 2028. It anticipated an increase of 42.85% in Europe between 2018-2028, 40.42% in North America, 7.85% in Asia-Pacific, and a 48.33% increase in the rest of the world.

(Read also: ADQ and Safe Haven Solutions Launch Innovative Greenhouse Project to Boost UAE’s Agricultural Self-Sufficiency)

ADOPTION SCENARIOS FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY

Producers around the world are generally adopting genetically engineered crops according to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA). While the report was captured for the year 2009, the ISAAA has been tracking its adoption since the technology’s inception in 1996. The report showed that in 2009 alone, biotech crop area grew by 7% or by 9 million hectares, to reach 134 million hectares. Another report that also indicated the area covered by biotech crops from 1996 to 2013 revealed that farmers in 29 countries worldwide planted more than 1.25 billion hectares of biotech crops. It grew till 2018 and declined slightly in 2019 to 190.4 million hectares worldwide. The adoption rates of the top five biotech crop-growing countries (USA, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, and India) are close to saturation according to ISAAA. 

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Image: Global overview of where biotech crops are grown. Source: ISAAA

In summary, the adoption rate of these technologies is different by region, and Africa remains the continent with the lowest adoption rates. The general adoption rates are increasing, howbeit slowly. Ultimately, region-specific interventions will uniquely define the adoption level while every continent will have to develop these technologies at their adoption pace. 

Oyewole Okewole is an agricultural project development specialist.

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