Old Problems Require New Solutions

Meera Singhal
6 min readMar 16, 2024

Imagine a world where fresh, locally-grown produce reaches everyone’s table without significant spoilage or inflated prices. This reality exists for many, in fact, most above the poverty line, but unfortunately in developing countries like India, this isnt the case.

While their numbers may boast about being the world’s largest producer of milk and pulses, and the second-largest producer of fruits and vegetables (according to the World Bank), a staggering 25–30% of these fruits and vegetables spoil before reaching consumers (as per CIPHET studies). This translates to lost income for farmers, limited access to fresh produce for communities, and a heartbreaking waste of potential nourishment. This not only furthers the malnourishment and food inequality rates but sets them back months of work.

But why? Why is this a problem?

Developing countries face a complex web of challenges in their agricultural sectors. While agriculture employs a significant portion of the workforce (70% according to the World Bank), yields are significantly lower compared to developed nations.

Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, averages a mere 1.6 tons per hectare of cereal compared to a staggering 7.1 tons per hectare in East Asia (FAO). This disparity translates to a harsh reality: hunger. The World Food Program estimates that nearly 690 million people around the world go to bed hungry every night, with a disproportionate number residing in developing countries.

However, the consequences of a broken food system extend far beyond hunger. Spoilage due to poor storage and transportation infrastructure leads to economic hardship for farmers who lose their crops. Additionally, a lack of access to fresh produce contributes to malnutrition, impacting children’s development and overall health. The World Health Organization reports that malnutrition is a significant underlying cause of death in children under five, with developing countries bearing the brunt of this tragedy.

Increasing agricultural productivity through advancements like AI and IoT has the potential to lift millions out of poverty. Studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute show that a 10% increase in agricultural productivity can reduce poverty by 7% in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not just about economic growth, it’s about creating a future where every child has the opportunity to thrive.

What does this all mean? How can we fix it, thousands of miles away?

Im glad you asked.It means that by increasing agricultural productivity through advancements like AI and IoT, we have the potential to lift millions out of poverty. Studies by the International Food Policy Research Institute show that a 10% increase in agricultural productivity can reduce poverty by 7% in Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not just about economic growth, it’s about creating a future where every child has the opportunity to thrive.

We arent there yet. The technologies exist, just not everywhere. While the rest of the world is moving forward with an AI revolution where no one has to do anything more than know basic prompt engineering, farmers in developing countries are stuck solving the same problems, over and over again, day after day, with no clear end in sight.

Not for long though. Not after the agricultural revolution.

How the AI revolution can lead to the agricultural revolution.

Agricultural Revolution

While agriculture has been the backbone of civilization, it’s has remained untouched by the AI revolution. This lack of integration hinders progress and creates limitations, more than the ones that they already face. Traditional farming methods struggle to adapt to the harsh realities of climate change, optimize resource use, and connect farmers to valuable market information.

Agriculture in developing countries is threatened by rising temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, and increased frequency of extreme weather events. These changes disrupt traditional growing seasons, lead to water scarcity, and create ideal breeding grounds for pests and diseases. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that climate change could reduce agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa by up to 2% per year by 2050.

The problems in the world are getting harder, but we are getting smarter too. Why is it that we arent all moving forward?

Farmers in developing countries often lack access to real-time data on market prices and crop demands. This makes it difficult to make informed decisions about what and when to plant. Imagine a smallholder farmer in a remote village, unsure of whether to invest in cultivating tomatoes or peppers. Without access to market data, they might choose the wrong crop, leading to oversupply and a drop in prices, risking their livelihood.

Traditional irrigation methods often rely on guesswork and can waste precious water, a limited resource in many developing countries. Additionally, a lack of soil health monitoring can lead to the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, harming the environment and potentially contaminating crops.

Problems, problems, problems. Sometimes it feels like the only thing we see is problems, get discouraged, and give up. But thats not the case. Despite these issues , the global precision agriculture market, powered by AI and IoT, is expected to reach a staggering $11.2 billion by 2025 (Mordor Intelligence). This signifies a growing recognition of the potential for technology to address the complex issues plaguing developing countries’ agricultural sectors. More specifically, IoT has tangible solutions like smart sensors, smart tracking, and predictive maintenance.

Smart sensors continuously monitor temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels within trucks and storage units. This real-time data allows for early detection of spoilage before it becomes visible, potentially reducing food waste by up to 30%. Imagine being able to proactively adjust refrigeration power or reroute deliveries based on real-time conditions — that’s the power of smart sensors in action.

Moreso, GPS trackers provide real-time location data for trucks, which is then fed into route optimization software. This software analyzes traffic data and suggests the most efficient routes, minimizing travel time and fuel consumption by up to 20%. Timely deliveries become the norm, further reducing the risk of spoilage caused by extended travel times.

IoT sensors embedded within vehicles monitor various health parameters like engine temperature, tire pressure, and vibration. By analyzing this data, potential issues can be identified before they lead to breakdowns. This allows for preventive maintenance, reducing the risk of breakdowns by up to 50% and ensuring uninterrupted deliveries that protect the quality of perishable goods.

But these arent just simple ideological technologies anymore, they are trackable realities. Take Microsofts FarmBeats Initiaive, ICRISAT, and Flux.ai for example; they are technologies and initiatives that are changing the world as we speak.

Microsoft’s FarmBeats initiative shows a new path for Indian farmers. By utilizing AI to analyze satellite imagery, weather data, and soil conditions, FarmBeats provides farmers with personalized crop advisory services. These services include recommendations on fertilizer application, irrigation schedules, and pest control. The results have been transformative, with farmers experiencing income increases of up to 60% by optimizing resource use and crop yields.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) partnered with a company called Esoli to develop a network of IoT-enabled soil sensors. These sensors collect real-time data on moisture levels, nutrient content, and soil temperature. Farmers can access this data through their mobile phones and use it to make informed decisions about irrigation practices. This has improved water management by up to 30% and increased crop yields by 50% for participating farmers in Kenya (World Economic Forum).

While not yet a large player, Flux.ai is a company to watch in the developing world. Their focus is on creating low-cost, open-source sensor nodes that can be used to collect data on various agricultural parameters. This data can then be integrated with AI platforms to provide farmers with valuable insights. Their collaboration with Seeed Studio on a project in Kenya demonstrates the potential for their technology to empower small-scale farmers in developing countries.

All in all, there are problems in our world. A lot of problems. But we are on the edge of a new revolution, the agricultural one. Technologies pop up every other day, and those are exactly the types of new solutions we need for these old problems we have.

~Meera Singhal