The promise of tech in delivering circular smallholder farms

Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are just a few examples of technologies that are popping up in the news. But what will be their impact on agribusiness in the coming years? This was one of the topics on the agenda of The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam, one of the biggest tech conferences worldwide. I had the pleasure to attend with the over 300 other speakers and 17,500 participants last week. We shared views on the future of technology and how, when it comes to agricultural supply chains, realities are changing fast.

New techniques continuously improve the way we grow, process and transport agricultural products, while data collection and analytics are changing management of complete supply chains. With each of these developments, a circular economy – that doesn’t deplete the earth’s resources –  becomes more of a possibility.

At the Next Web Conference, James Cameron from SYSTEMiQ explained circularity in manufacturing as ‘re-engineering businesses’ going from selling limited-life products, to providing services with the assistance of new age data capabilities in pricing those services. This approach could be applied to smallholder agriculture as well.

However, circular economy initiatives are currently limited to developed countries and some industries. We are, unfortunately, miles away from thinking about circularity in smallholder farming in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. And what a loss, as food crops produced by smallholder farmers are roughly 50% of the world’s food supply and up to 80% in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, essential for the world food supply. But, are we making sure that these 475 million smallholder farms are not just harvesting the earth, but also investing in it? The answer is a BIG NO. Land around the world is abused with overuse of fertilizers & chemicals, over-tilling, and pollution. The responsibility lies now with the farmer to make wise choices to protect the planet and food source for future generations, while she is also burdened with ever increasing pressure to further maximize production.

Smallholder farmers need circularly minded options! But few companies are providing soil health service/ farm soil management rather than just selling fertilizers or pesticides. Few are providing irrigation services, rather than just selling pumps and tubes. More businesses need to provide solutions for year-round food production (so that forests do not continue to be cut down for agriculture) More governments need to subsidize sustainable services to farmers, rather than just inputs.

That’s where IDH comes in. We help move this forward. We help business profitably integrated bundled services, such as farmer financing, farmer climate resilience, farmer entrepreneurship, and savings into their offerings for farmers, and we do this with the latest technology. But we cannot do it alone, achieving circularity in smallholder farming, requires complex partnerships and business models, from cross-industry actors, research institutes, governments, and CSOs.

Curious to learn how your smallholder business can lead in the circular revolution? Let’s get in touch!