Addressing Food Supply Inefficiencies With IoT Solutions
26 May 2021 / by Marc Pégulu
Hunger Decimates Communities Worldwide
World hunger is a catastrophic issue facing millions of people, and it is on the rise. Globally, around 690 million people go to bed hungry each night, and this figure is expected to increase to 840 million people by 2030.
Hunger, a complex issue driven by social, political, demographic, and societal factors, is closely linked with poverty. People living in poverty often have reduced if any access to clean water, sanitation, health services, and education, all of which contribute to hunger.
Climate change plays a significant role in world hunger. Extreme weather-related events associated with the warming of our planet affect food availability for millions of people globally. Climate change also increases violent conflict at many levels, which is a major driver of food crises: hunger becomes much more severe when conflicts are prolonged.
However, despite hunger’s reach, there is more than enough food produced in the world to feed everyone on the planet, but many challenges need to be overcome in order to better allocate food resources.
Farm-Level Food Waste
The wasting of food crops is a significant issue: according to a study on farm food loss from Santa Clara University, over a third of edible produce remains unharvested and is therefore wasted. ReFED, a group of nonprofits, businesses and government agencies working to fight food waste, estimates that in the United States, 21% of water, 18% of cropland and 19% of fertilizer in the U.S. are used for food that is never eaten. Given that growing food requires significant resources, food waste contributes to climate change via unneeded use of fossil fuels to produce these resources.
Many different forces drive farm-level food loss. Crop stability (defined as how long a crop can stay unharvested before spoiling), weather, pests, disease, labor availability, and various market factors all play a role. More accurate monitoring of these factors can reduce waste.
Livestock and Food Waste
Animal husbandry has a substantial impact on our environment. Livestock cultivation accounts for between 20% to 33% of the world’s fresh water usage in the world. Livestock and the feed required for it utilizes around a third of the earth’s arable land. In addition to land and water usage, livestock produce greenhouses gases, which contributes to climate change: cows, for example, produce between 35% to 40% of the overall methane emissions of our planet. Studies have demonstrated that more efficient land use by farmers is one of the best strategies to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming.
As with crops, livestock is affected by waste issues. Livestock loss to various causes including health issues, environmental conditions and predation is substantial, with death loss in cattle and calves, for example, costing $3.87 billion in 2015. Respiratory, digestive and calving problems, along with weather related events, caused 64% of cattle mortality that year.
Combating food and animal waste depends on improving the efficiency of our food system. Achieving greater food security in a sustainable manner requires improved food system oversight. Numerous studies have established that reducing food losses and waste play a key role in achieving global food security and mitigating against climate change. Sophisticated monitoring of crops and livestock, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT) can notably improve food system efficiency and guard against waste.
IoT for Cattle Ranching
End devices operating the LoRaWAN® standard can help farms and ranches operate more efficiently and reduce waste, increase yield and minimize expenses. For example, itk’s FarmLife® smart agriculture service monitors cattle health, utilizing such end devices to detect cattle estrus, contribute to improved nutrition and predict disease onset, which helps ranchers closely monitor their herd, mitigating against livestock death and also boosting birth rates.
As a second implementation for cattle ranching, lar.tech, a Russian smart technology innovator, has developed an IoT cattle monitoring solution with sensors tagged on a cow’s ear that wirelessly transmit data in real time via a LoRaWAN gateway. A GPS tracker and biometric sensor closely monitor cattle’s vital signs and location, ensuring livestock safety and guarding against wandering or theft. The tag also monitors animal activity, body temperature and estrus, providing immediate notification should an abnormality occur.
IoT Optimizes Farm Water Usage
IoT devices can also improve efficiency in farming. Oizom, an IoT solution provider, leveraged Tata Communications’ infrastructure utilizing LoRaWAN network connectivity for its Agribot smart agriculture solution. This solution allows farmers to closely monitor their irrigation systems, providing farmers with the data they need to optimize water usage, resulting in more efficient and profitable farms.
Technology company, Sensoterra, also leveraged an IoT solution for its soil moisture measurement system. Their low-cost, wireless offering provides farmers with real-time data regarding the moisture conditions of crops, the data is then forwarded by the LoRaWAN network to the Sensoterra backend to be decoded and calibrated, which can reduce up to 30% of commercial farm water usage.
Most recently, Semtech collaborator, SAS, announced its commitment to developing IoT solutions that help field crop and livestock farming organizations enhance quality and maximize yield so the world’s food supply is safe and abundant. The data analytics technology leverages LoRaWAN connectivity to create a sustainable, smarter planet.
Further explore how LoRa® facilitates smart agriculture practices here.
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