World Food Forum spotlights role of technology in soil and water management
A confluence of experts and policymakers gathered at the World Food Forum’s Science and Innovation Forum last Thursday to underscore the potential of emerging technologies in integrated soil and water management. Organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the event aimed to explore techniques that could substantially impact the livelihoods of small- and medium-sized farmers.
During the forum, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu emphasized the necessity of establishing robust information systems that could be accessible to all stakeholders, particularly farmers. He added that the FAO is committed to using science and technology to transform agrifood systems and address the multifaceted challenges posed by climate change.
The event illuminated the increasing threats climate change poses to agrifood systems. Soil degradation, diminished water quality, and water scarcity are aggravating factors that limit access to essential resources, thereby exacerbating food and nutrition insecurity. Amid these challenges, the forum highlighted the crucial role of climate-smart technologies and practices in soil and water management to improve efficiency and increase land and water productivity.
For instance, efficient water and judicious fertilizer use, coupled with reduced pesticide use and soil health improvements, have the potential to increase average crop yields by up to 80 percent. Sustainable management of ecosystems in source areas like mountains, grasslands, and forests is also considered vital for ensuring a reliable water supply.
In addition to technologies like precision agriculture and remote sensing, governance actions were discussed to bolster the management of natural resources and water scarcity. The forum explored the possibilities offered by big data analytics in enhancing the effectiveness of these integrated approaches.
Among the experts present was Rosa Poch, Chair of the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, who shared insights from a recent FAO-hosted Global Symposium on Soils and Water. The symposium’s key recommendations included increasing public awareness and adopting sustainable practices.
Malin Lundberg Ingemarsson, Programme Manager at Stockholm International Water Institute, and Axel Schmidt, Technical Advisor for the Water-Smart Agriculture program of Catholic Relief Services, also shared innovative approaches for restoring degraded soils and real-time soil and water information systems.
Federico Truco, CEO of Bioceres Crop Solutions, discussed how technology and business model innovations are contributing to regenerative agriculture. Amarjit Basra, Director and Chief Scientist at OCP Group in the USA, highlighted the emerging paradigm of achieving more with less, focusing on efficient fertilizer formulations to improve nutrient use.
The FAO, in its mission to ensure global food security, is harnessing artificial intelligence, machine learning, and big data. For instance, its Global Soil Partnership supports advanced technologies for soil health assessments, while its Global Agro-Ecological Zones framework provides a comprehensive database to facilitate informed decisions on crop suitability and sustainable practices.