Is Philippine Agriculture Ready for Industry 4.0?

Is the country’s agriculture sector ready for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0 (ID4)? So far there are no clear answers, but let me explain what advantages ID4 can offer to the country’s farming and fisheries industries. ID4 offers a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, thus impacting businesses, economies and industries, including agriculture.

One of the best examples today of ID4 is the “smart factory,” where machines are augmented with web connectivity and connected to a system that can visualize the entire production chain. Also, the system can make its own decisions, which could lead to wider application of artificial intelligence.

ID4, however, can build on the technologies and systems of Industries 1.0 (ID1), 2.0 (ID2) and 3.0 (ID3). But there are also technologies from ID1, ID2 and ID3 that are already outdated or obsolete for these times.

ID1 is much about mechanization, steam power and the weaving loom. It is very clear that steam power is obsolete, while the weaving loom can still be utilized in the weaving of indigenous or native garbs.

Meanwhile, ID2 is about mass production, assembly lines and electrical, all of which are still in use today. Even ID3’s components, which are automation, computers and electronics, are still very much in application today. Finally, ID4 is largely about cyberphysical systems, the Internet of Things (IoT) and networks.

So how do we take advantage of the unprecedented innovation accompanying ID4 to rethink and transform our food systems?

Laser Levelling Technology being utilized in a farm. (Image Credit: www.agricultureph.com)
Laser Levelling Technology being utilized in a farm. (Image Credit: www.agricultureph.com)

Working Together 

To make ID4 take root in the agriculture sector, all agricultural and biosystems engineers need to work together to create a more sustainable food system that achieves solutions that are integrated and holistic, focused on local impact, innovative, and collaborative.

For solutions that are integrated and holistic, we should push for land, water and energy use efficiency, and ecosystems and biodiversity management that are interrelated and need to be considered holistically in developing solutions.

For localizing impact, solutions must support local communities, enhance livelihoods, and assure social and economic value to those connected to the food system. These should also lead to inclusive growth.

To be innovative, all products, technical, process and business model innovations should result in a more sustainable food and agriculture system.

Finally, to be collaborative, we must look at food and agriculture as a system, so we need to take a value network approach. So, collaboration among all stakeholders is essential if we are to bring sustainable, scalable solutions to the market.

Challenges Agriculture Faces

The sustainable and scalable solutions are necessary today as the agriculture industry is facing several challenges — among these being the use of our natural resources is now highly stressed.

Based on the research of InangLupa, which I founded and head, 25 percent of farmlands worldwide are already degraded, while 80 percent of global deforestation is driven by concerns related to farming.

Also, a $1-trillion investment is necessary until 2050 to manage irrigation water in developing countries alone.

Experts also estimate the world’s population reaching 8.6 billion by 2030. But as the years would go by, there would be less and less arable lands to plant crops.

The approaches using ID4

I suggest four approaches in “technologizing” agriculture under ID4: producing differently using new techniques; using new technologies to bring food production to consumers; increasing efficiencies in the food chain; and incorporating cross-industry technologies and applications.

In producing differently using new techniques, we can apply hydroponics, produce feedstock from algae, use the desert for agriculture and the seawater for irrigation/farming, scale up use of bioplastics, and tap into the power of genetic modification.

Hydroponics is a subset of hydroculture wherein the method of growing plants is without soil. Instead, mineral nutrient solutions are mixed with water to grow plants, usually resulting in higher yields compared to soil-based cultivation.

Hydroponics uses 95 percent less water, and less fertilizer and nutritional inputs compared to traditional farming. And most hydroponics systems do not use pesticides.

Hydroponics also makes it more possible to undertake vertical farming although the traditional approach of using soil to grow food in containers and “verticalizing” it is still a common practice. The advantage of vertical farming is it uses less space and can be done in an urban setting, helping supplement the food needs of city dwellers.

Hydroponics (Image Credit: www.unliph.com)
Hydroponics (Image Credit: www.unliph.com)

On the other hand, farmed algae can become a substitute for feedstock and fishmeal. Algae is a more reliable source of feedstock, given that its availability is not dependent on catching fish. Research and development efforts have also been made to increase the yield of farmed algae, also for use as a renewable energy source.

With ID4, it is also possible to grow food in deserts and use seawater for irrigation, but we need the combined brainpower of agricultural and biosystems engineers to realize those on a wider scale. Growing crops in deserts is already being done by countries like Israel, while in Australia the use of seawater for irrigation is already practiced although not yet on a wider scale.

As for bioplastics, these have been around for about 20 years and must be upscaled in application to avoid the massive dumping of plastics into our oceans and seas. Modern agriculture should also start using bioplastics.

For genetic modification, there are already various approaches the latest of which is the clustered, regularly interspaced, short palindromic repeat (CRISPR) technology, where genome editing allows for greater selectivity, reducing the element of chance.

Genetically modified organisms have also seen more application worldwide, including in the Philippines.

Cultured meat is also a cutting-edge technology that has a lot of potential but is not yet a matured technology. However, this technology has enormous potential as it can protect consumers from animal-borne food-related diseases. Consuming cultured meat also addresses animal welfare issues.

In the next installment of this column-series, I will discuss applying 3D printing technology to food, drone technology, food sharing and crowdfarming, blockchain, and nanotechnology and precision agriculture. Most importantly, I will tackle the institutional setup to help establish Agriculture 4.0 in the country.

(First of two parts)

 

Written by Dr. William Dar in The Manila Times. Read original article here.