ITU launches focus group to drive digital agriculture

22 November 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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New standards are required to stimulate the deployment of "cyber-physical systems" in agtech to feed a fast-growing global population.

That's the basis for a new focus group, established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in collaboration with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The group will explore "emerging cyber-physical systems as groundwork for standardisation to stimulate their deployment for agriculture worldwide", including AI and IoT.

“The projection that our planet will host 9.7 billion people by 2050 necessitates significant technological progress to sustain so many lives," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. “This new focus group is the beginning of a global drive to ensure equitable access to the new capabilities emerging in agriculture with advances in digital technology."

It's a topic Capacity covered in the October/November issue, with input from North America's Rural Cloud Initiative (RCI).  RCI is a coalition of rural telcos and tech providers – and it is bringing digital transformation to rural US.

“We need to more than double food production in 28 crop cycles – that isn’t a long time,” says Nancy Shemwell, COO of coalition member Trilogy Networks. “There is only one shot per cycle and it’s complex work.”

Trilogy takes the necessary cloud capability to the rural edge. And when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was looking for somebody to head its US$1 billion Precision Agriculture Task Force last year, it recruited Trilogy CEO George Woodward.

On its new focus group, ITU said AI, IoT and autonomous systems can "improve the precision and sustainability of farming techniques" and enable farmers to make decisions at the level of a single square metre or individual plant or animal, rather than entire fields or all livestock.

Such precision allows well-informed interventions that ultimately improve agricultural sustainability by helping farmers produce more with less.

Although there was no mention of how the group will tackle the associated infrastructure piece its focus will cover "new capabilities to discern complex patterns from a growing volume of agricultural and geospatial data". It will also look at improving the acquisition, handling, and analysis of these data; enabling effective decision-making; and guiding interventions to optimise agricultural production processes.

Dejan Jakovljevic, chief information officer and director of FAO's digitalisation and informatics division, said: “New digital capabilities offer us a unique and immediate opportunity to transform food systems and accelerate impact towards zero hunger. The new focus group will significantly contribute towards these efforts, bringing together AI and IoT as key enablers behind new capabilities for digital agriculture."