In the United States, precision agriculture is being rapidly embraced by the food industry to grow more with less, create the perfect plant and make the food supply chain more efficient while reducing the negative impacts of farming that frequently contribute to climate variability. What makes this time exciting for global food systems is how low-cost solutions and greater connectivity allow these technologies to be accessible across emerging markets. The World Bank actively pursues low-cost sensor technologies and big data
approaches that can help farming communities more adeptly monitor natural resources. Similarly, USAID recently ran a four-part series
examining the potential off sensors to augment crop yields, with an eye towards adoption success in smallholder communities.
Zambia, one of USAID’s Feed the Future countries,
is well-positioned to take advantage of these new technologies, often cited as having “the potential to be a breadbasket for southern Africa”. Compared to neighboring states, it enjoys relative political stability reflected in its rising tourism industry and increasing amount of foreign direct investment. Still, smallholder farmers, which make up the majority of the population, are wary of the exacerbated impacts of a changing climate, and keen to better understand the risks. An NSF
-supported partnership between Zambia Agriculture Research Institute, Princeton University, University of California Santa Barbara, Indiana University and Arable Labs focuses on improving local understanding of nuanced microclimates as they respond to human and environmental drivers over time.“We are trying to understand how agricultural production can be increased, or even maintained, under the incredibly variable climatic conditions that are occurring, and whether this necessary agricultural development can be achieved at much lower environmental cost than conventional modes of agricultural development (in order to avoid further exacerbating climate change and losing crucial ecological services)”, explains Dr Lyndon Estes, a Research Scientist at Princeton University.
Just last week the team set out Arable’s Pulsepods,
a low-cost tool to monitor the microclimate in real-time, allowing both the researchers and farmers to examine data at greater granularity to improve crop models, bias correct meteorological products and connect to and upscale estimates using satellite imagery.