Although data is important for all players in the value chain, the primary end-users are the farmers and they are the most novice players in the big data approach, particularly those in developing countries. Given the increasing population and the increasing growth of farms – about 500 million of which are smaller than two hectares – on ever-decreasing land availability, the challenge raises many questions.
How do we match this growth with increased food production?
How do we drive farming and food production with big data, how do we identify and close the big gap in agriculture with big data?
How do we cross-match data accessibility, uses and efficiency to different categories of farmers?
How do we use big data to integrate the next generation of farmers into sustainable agriculture?
And, finally, what will these big data-driven future farms actually look like?
Agriculture is facing numerous problems, particularly in developing countries, and these problems urgently require solutions that are embedded in technologies such as big data, agricultural machinery, and other modern innovations. There are some common expressions such as ‘agriculture is life’ and ’data is life’, but the drivers of these are the people – farmers, researchers, policy experts, governments, ICT experts, technologists and other players – who contribute to sustaining this life. Persistent concerns surrounding the future of agriculture and food security, as raised in the above questions, are answerable by harnessing the potential of big data.
This potential can be used to implement the interventions needed to reverse worrying trends of food insecurity, increase food production, implement sustainable solutions, bring youth into agriculture, combat malnutrition, and also, to strengthen the overall performance of the agricultural sector. While big data may be the best way to revolutionize the agricultural sector, we have to bridge the gap to better reach and involve the farmers. First, the agricultural policy must be crafted in a way that enhances the availability of quality data, guides new reforms to help farmers increase productivity and informs proper decision-making in agricultural investments. Government and its supporting partners, like businesses, the private sector and donor agencies, need to chart the way to support increasingly data-driven and data-enabled agricultural operations. There also needs to be initiatives in place to ensure farmers are able to contribute to the knowledge and adaptability of the process.
The use of technologies such as smart machines, GPS and GIS applications, and sensors on farms are inevitable. But for there to be an effective growth and application the role of data researchers, scientists, technologists and extension workers needs to be considered. Imagine the growth in farms and the request for information on rainfall pattern, soil diagnosis, weather forecast, pests, diseases, market information and falling commodity prices that such players could facilitate. Obviously, there are big gaps to cover and these identified players ought to work on driving the farming activities with data and with farmers in the picture. Big data is not complete without the farmer.
Although data is important for all players in the value chain, the primary end-users are the farmers and they are the most novice players in the big data approach, particularly those in developing countries. The emphasis on data accessibility, dissemination and usability are as important as using collective efforts from different players to incorporate farmers into the ADU (Accessibility, Dissemination, and Usability) of big data for efficient agricultural production and practices. The realization of this lies in the capacity building of the extension agents and farmers and, most importantly, with the farmers who are already able to see the opportunities that big data holds for agriculture. If we can close the gap between big data and farmers and big data is inevitable in agriculture, only then can we create a sustainable agriculture that is attractive to youths and thus, generations can continuously drive the agricultural sector with big data. Big data is the inevitable next step for agriculture. But if we are to create a sustainable agriculture that is attractive to youths and therefore future generations who will drive future agriculture processes, we need to close the gap between big data and our farmers.