Home » THE ROLE OF TECH IN THE AGRICULTURAL VALUE CHAIN.

THE ROLE OF TECH IN THE AGRICULTURAL VALUE CHAIN.

by Oyewole Okewole

The Agricultural value chain is defined as the sequence and series of activities engaged in the process of transforming agricultural produce to final products for consumers and end-users.

The history of agriculture has been shaped by advances in technology which have evolved over time. Food production for humans, feed processing for animals, fibre and fuel for industries have adapted to the realities of the time. 

What realities?

Man keeps inventing and reinventing tools through research, science and technology. The major drivers being population growth, economic activities, productivity, climate change, exploration and advancements in other fields. All these have created reverberating effects in the development of agriculture. C:\Users\hp\Downloads\global food system.png

Figure 1: Global food system

Source: Food Systems Thinking

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Agricultural technology generally can be a product, service, or an application used to improve yield, efficiency and profitability as defined by Daniel Mandowsky– an agronomist engineer. Necessities have indeed been the mother of inventions in various agricultural value chains. Challenges and problems in the agricultural value chains have been solved with the aid of technology. This is evident from the use of hands and simple tools like hoes, cutlass to the use of tractors, mechanical systems and structures, to the advent of information technology (IT). When IT was embedded in agriculture, it initially played assisted roles in agricultural activities but gradually played intricate, integrated roles while it defined the operations in the agricultural value chains. Agricultural value chain is therefore the sequence and series of activities engaged in the process of transforming agricultural produce to final products for consumers and end-users as the case may be.

About 30 years ago, I was privileged to visit a large farm where I saw quite a number of farm workers.  There were so many that I could count at least 100 workers but they were obviously more. They were harvesting and we had gone very early to supervise the workers and also participate in the process. It was quite a rowdy day and by evening, the workers completely fatigued completed the tasks. I was particularly tired despite sleeping off about half of the time. Today, the same harvesting task can be completed in hours with so much convenience and perhaps with no one on the farm except for the controlled machinery with sensors operated from a remote centre.

BRIEF HISTORY OF TECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURE

The last eighty years have experienced remarkable transformation through technology in agricultural value chains. However, technology infusion in agriculture dates back to centuries (about 10,000 years ago) where the simple hand tools were being fabricated and utilised for producing food.

However, according to Nelson Tractor Company, the first tractor invented in 1892 and created by John Froelich marked a significant milestone in global food production. With the advent of tractors during the industrial revolution age, many other mechanical equipment and machineries were invented. Operations in production, processing, distribution of foods and other value chain activities rapidly developed. In a few years into the twentieth century, other developments like the development of hybrid varieties; genetic engineering were witnessed. New varieties and more efficient herbicides were also released. In 1975, the first twin-rotor system combine harvester was created by Sperry-New Holland according to Bayer. By the 1980s, precision agriculture was theorised by Dr. Pierre Robert, the father of modern precision farming according to Trimble. His theories were however based on historical precision farming foundations in the early years in the 1900s.  The first genetically modified plant was produced in 1982. In 1994, satellite technology was used in agriculture and farmers could access their farms from aerial view while insights about their farms in terms of mapping, nutrients distribution, plants distribution, and other features were remotely seen.

In 1996, the first genetically modified crops became commercially available after many years of safety testing and performance. By the time we heralded the 21st century, information technology had taken a centre stage with the advent of software applications, mobile devices, and sensors which play significant roles in increased efficiencies, effectiveness and productivity. Drones, Robots and intelligent tractors paved the way into a new vista of opportunities. It could be described like a similar experience in animals called moulting. Moulting of an animal is the periodic shedding of old feathers, hair, shell, horn, skin to make way for new growth. Furthermore, agriculture underwent a fourth and the fifth revolution at this period with the three main elements that form the foundation of digitization in agriculture on display according to Challenge Advisory. They are the Internet of Things (IoT), nanotechnology and digital education development.

In the 2010s, data became extremely important. With the advent of Big data and as a consequence of the technological innovations before the time, it further revolutionised agricultural technology. Years into our current day, beginning from the year 2020, further advancements in data analytics which foreshadowed the use of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and digital modelling to completely revolutionise agriculture became prominent.

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Source: An article by Radhika Kamath

Figure 2: Evolution of Different Technologies in the Agricultural Value Chain.

TECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURAL VALUE CHAINS TODAY

Today, these innovations are growing exponentially with even more rapid changes in agricultural technological interventions as observed.

They are rapidly transforming agricultural value chains, and increasing agriculture’s impact in many other allied industries like energy, health, fashion, transportation, telecommunications and perhaps all other fields of human endeavour.

The technologies, service, product and applications revolutionising the field of agriculture as at today include:

These technologies are opening up immense opportunities in the agricultural value chains like never before. One of the opportunities that readily identifies with this is the production, processing and storage of food in space that is remotely controlled and automated. Furthermore, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is shaping our value chain processes today as it projects into the future.

Block chain technologies are used for food traceability systems in the food value and supply chains. These systems help to track food, instantly checking for food safety, food fraud, and product alteration.  These technologies are transforming agribusiness operations and allied industries in our present day. Further to this, many other technological innovations like the renewable energy technologies, robotics technologies in the agricultural value chain activities like processing, off-grid storage, distribution, and cold chain logistics have defined our current realities in agricultural development.

These technologies have made the stakeholders in the agricultural value chains become more productive and efficient. Agricultural research institutions, food producers/farmers, aggregators, processors, suppliers, distributors, biotechnologists, consumers, and many other actors are more efficient today than they were 100 years ago while achieving feats in weeks that would have taken decades about 50 years ago.

TECHNOLOGY IN AGRICULTURAL VALUE CHAINS TOMORROW

In the near future, most of the advancing technologies mentioned earlier will become more efficient; effective and error-free. The integration of artificial intelligence will play a major role in these value chain activities. Adoption of these technologies will increase across many countries around the globe especially as the challenges to food production increases and the effects of climate change becomes more prominent.

role-of-modern-technology-in-agriculture.jpg
Source: Sehgal Foundation

Figure 3: Uses of Modern Technology in Agriculture.

Furthermore, technologies will continue to refine many other alternative options to build adaptations and resilience in the global food systems. However it should be tailored to promote food safety, nutritious, hygienic products, and sustainability.

Many, if not all of the operations of the agricultural value chains in the future will be integrated with technologies. Technological applications won’t be an option anymore but its interventions (at various scales and intensities) will become the main driver of the global agricultural value chain operations.

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