How to feed more people with fewer resources?
The number of people to feed is increasing rapidly whilst the soil productivity of our earth is in dramatic decline. (read our previous article). How to address this problem? Here is our first idea: AI managed permacultures. The biological diversity of permaculture is hardly manageable for one farmer. But still a doable job for an AI and automated machinery. Here’s why and how:
Modern industrialized agriculture turns out to be quite inefficient after all. The vast monocultures dominating rural areas lack the resilience that biologically diverse ecosystems have to keep pests away and the soil fruitful. The outcome is a fragile system with a high dependency on herbi-/pesticides and fertilizer.
It’s effects on our environment, especially the soil we use to farm on, are severe. The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) predicts we may have only 60 years left before the earth’s fertile grounds are ruined.
“The FAO reckons we might have only 60 years left before the earth’s fertile grounds are ruined.”
Reducing pesticides by employing precision farming technology is only a small step to ultimately just decreases the level of damages.
The urge of the problem at hand opens up room for entirely new thought, to find an approach to farming with a positive impact on our planet. The technological advances of the past decades were important to push productivity and machine capability. Now, for sustainable food production we might need to rediscover the tied-in-to-nature way of living of our ancestors long before agriculture became industrialized.
AI managed Permacultures
Choose biological diversity over toxicity
Permaculture and mixed farming give the opportunity to create agricultural systems that work together with nature, enhancing both environmental health as well as productivity, instead of robbing it of its resources.
Farming must be done more delicately and be mindful of the intricate biological cycles that keep our world thriving.
In the past, this required incredibly skilled and experienced people to analyse the farmland and its capabilities/needs as well as the complex functionality of the natural ecosystem, for example, the interplay of neighbouring plants. This can nowadays be done by machine learning, thereby opening up wide-ranging possibilities to combine sustainable permaculture farming with process optimizing industrialized agriculture.
The close to nature cycle of permacultures eliminates the shortcomings of modern agriculture, such as the need for pesticides or fertilizer, just to name one advantage.
Permacultures, if run properly, need only very little input. The work put into it revolves around the yield, which can be taken care of by robotics.
Weeding and insect pest control are not an issue for the high biodiversity and resilience of mixed culture fields. Even the need for watering can be cut by optimizing the micro-ecosystem.
In the near future, agriculture will revolve around establishing self-sustaining, highly productive micro-ecosystems instead of enormous work-intensive monoculture fields.
Entirely new Platform-Possibilities for versatile machines
The way forward to increased efficiency is not by just making machines even bigger. Our ground is already at its limit, showing signs of compaction and degradation. It’s quite the contrary. Machines must get smaller, smarter, and modular. By having multiple machines that are more versatile, working at a higher capacity, farmers can benefit from the increased productivity and reduced downtime of individual vehicles. Fleet management is a major area where productivity gains can still be made.
This requires forward-thinking concepts for a new era of farm vehicles.
“Our ground is already at its limit, showing signs of compaction and degradation. It’s quite the contrary. Machines must get smaller, smarter, and modular.”
When versatility and agility become the new main criteria for agriculture, the machines for the job have to change radically.
Farmland or Backyard?
What about making farmland more productive but less work-intensive?
Picture this: When our food industry takes a turn towards agroecological practices, as promoted by Olivier de Schutter and the IPBES (Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, UN), the endless coatings of monocultures expanding beyond the horizon can give way to more natural, biologically diverse, and most of all healthy and thriving landscapes while producing even more food than the current industry standard. By making practices like permacultures more popular, farmland could almost be mistaken for a colourful backyard veggie garden.
This is part two of an article series written by Oliver Keller, Creative Director at TEAMS Hamburg, and Reinold Durstberger, Designer at TEAMS Hamburg to analyze the current challenges of the global agricultural industry, and the open possibilities for innovation to create sustainable solutions.
Read now part III from the series: Track your veggies.
We have compiled some additional info sources that can be of interest:
- UN expert makes case for ecological farming practices to boost food production
- Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services
- Agroecology: Do some investments in agriculture contribute better than others to the realization of the right to food?
- UN agency launches new global land cover database