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AI and Blockchain reshaping the agriculture industry
August 15, 2019 News


The agriculture industry is one of the oldest industries in the world with farming the most important sector. Even before modern technology and machines came about, farmers have always made sure they produced crops that are of the highest quality. Over the years, climate changes have had a major impact on farming. With industrialisation and modern city developments, the changes in the atmosphere, as well as weather patterns, have had a significant impact on farming. And with the growing population worldwide, modern solutions are needed to ensure there will be enough harvest.


Today, technology is able to help farmers overcome some of these problems. Modern data-driven tools and solutions are able to provide insights to farmers on the best methods to increase their productivity. While farming machines help with harvesting, data analysis tools are used to analyse the harvest, the farming area, the quality of the soil, weather and other important factors.


Tech giant IBM is providing a global agriculture solution that combines predictive technology with data and IoT to help give farmers around the world greater insights about planning, ploughing, planting, spraying and harvesting. Some of these solutions are already being carried out in countries like the US and Mexico. Over in Malaysia, the Sarawak Multimedia Authority recently signed an MoU with IBM Malaysia to promote and strengthen collaboration in digital sectors in the state with AI and Blockchain technologies.


IBM AI and blockchain technologies are used across 27 industry segments, including banking, insurance, shipping, retail, telecommunications, aviation and manufacturing. IBM Blockchain is being applied in over 500 client projects, and this includes transforming supply chains, global shipping and cross-border finance.


According to Dr Sachin Gupta, IBM Research SG Program Director, in Sarawak, 50% of the small farmers produce only 15% of the state’s GDP, and many of them have less than an acre of land. IBM’s AI and blockchain technologies are used in the agriculture industry to help farmers and farming communities to make informed decisions. Studies have found that the average far, generates an estimated 500,000 data points daily. The figure is expected to grow to four million points by 2036.


Dr Sachin explained that by applying AI and analysis to the aggregated field, machine and environmental data can help improve shared insights between growers and enterprises across the agriculture ecosystem. With a better view of the fields, growers can see what’s working on certain farms and share best practices with other farmers. IBM’s Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture combines predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, weather data, and Internet of Things sensors to give farmers insights on ploughing, planting, spraying, and harvesting.


“For instance, with data from satellites, weather data and IoT data from soil topography, farmers can monitor crop vigour through remote sensing that is geotagged and using this they can pinpoint crops that need help and do specific intervention.”


In Thailand, for example, IBM recently collaborated with NSTDA and Mitr Phol to provide actionable insights on water and nutrient stress, pest and disease risk, and agriculture production yield and crop quality index. IBM developed an Agronomic Insights Assistant based on the IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture and the IBM PAIRS Geoscope.


The Watson Decision Platform integrates different data sources and extracts insights and presents it to farmers in a single view or dashboard on the smartphone. The platform can provide insights up to two weeks in advance. Farmers can get alerts on pest, disease and weather conditions.


“The impact of insights is tremendous for farmers in Sarawak because farmers can plan, prepare and predict the progress of their crops. Technology will help farmers assess and manage risks early, optimise productivity and ultimately increase their crop yield. To plan specific actions such as irrigation, fertiliser application, and pesticide spray proactively to fight against the threat of yield loss.”


Dr Sachin also pointed out that farmers don’t need to put capital upfront for IBM Watson Decision Platform for Agriculture as a small runtime fee is adequate. Cooperatives or local assistance are some ways small family farms can get access to capital and technical know-how. Once farmers have access to information, they are able to expand their market reach.