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This project provides a means for tackling the problem of the surplus of agricultural produce, in particular, fruits and vegetables in rural communities going to waste. The project applies appropriate innovative technology that will be beneficial to farmers in rural communities. This creative software will enable these farmers to utilise available technology to manage the quantity of crops produced, and provide information that will enable the farmer to make predictions on the best crops to cultivate, thus reducing the quantity of produce being wasted.
Agriculture can be divided into two main parts: that is, the growing of crops, and the rearing of animals. As animals somewhat depend on crops, or other animals for their source of protein to facilitate growth, this paper will discuss agriculture mainly as the growing of crops including fruits and vegetables. The growing of crops is especially interesting as plants can generate and store food from chemicals and water in the presence of sunlight and carbon dioxide – a trait that is unique to crops.
The earlier humans were more collectors of food other than producers of food. It was not until the nomadic settlers discovered that they could not only collect food, but have their own garden , with a collection of fruits and vegetables that agriculture started amongst humans.1 However, with a settlement and a garden comes the complexities of agriculture, as a garden that is left unattended will be overcome by weeds and produce plants that is inedible.
These nomadic settlers or early farmers grew food mainly to provide for their families, providing a direct link from the farm or garden to the consumer, which in this case was their family. In the modern era the process of food getting from the garden to the consumer takes a longer time, as the food often times have to be transported across states or even shipped to other countries. The result of this is food having a short life span by the time it gets to the consumer, therefore, the consumer must use these goods within days of purchasing.
It was the biblical character King Solomon, fabled to be the wisest man who ever lived who is believed to have said, “go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise…”.2 The ant, one of the smallest species living on the earth, is noted to collect food during periods of abundance and save it for times when there is less. Another remarkable feature of the ant is its skill at agriculture, producing not only mushrooms but also digging trenches to create irrigation system.3 As a matter of fact agriculture are more indigenous to ants than it is to humans.
The population of human beings on earth is growing exponentially. In the year 2000 it was estimated that there was ten times (10x) the amount of people living on the earth, than there was living on earth in the year 1700: that is, three hundred years before. Two important factors that account for population growth are birth and death rates. Given these factors remain fairly constant, it is predicted that the world population would reach seven billion by the year 2015. One may argue that for the population to increase there must be an availability of food, water, and the other resources that are necessary to facilitate life. However, it is shown that the rate of growth of population of the world has declined from 2% in the 1960s to 1.5% in 1990 and the estimated rate of growth in 2015 is down to 1%.4
Data released from the World Population Clock, which is said to be the most accurate population clock as it gets data from the United Nations, estimates the rate of growth of the world population is at 1.10% in the twenty first century, and at this rate the world population would have reached seven billion in October 2011.5
A population may grow as long as there are the necessary resources available to support that population. However, the population of the world is growing, food consumption is increasing, the price of food is rising, and the concern arises whether or not the supply of food would sustain its population.
Food Distribution System
In the old days food would be supplied to a local community by a farmer. Mostly a farmer will grow food to support his family and if there is excess then the produce would be traded to the local community. Therefore, there was a direct link between the farmer or food producer and the food consumer.
The introduction of Agricultural goods on the stock market meant that the rules of the market had to be adhered, in that if the price rose or fell to steeply meeting the maximum or minimum selling or buying price the market will have to be shut.6 This poses the problem of ignoring some of the key players in the situation, which in this case happens to be the farmer with an stock of perishable goods, and the consumer who needs food to survive.
The report by Sir Beddington addresses problems both on the demand side and the production side of the global food system. The problem on the demand side is the predication that many individuals will increase in wealth demanding a more varied, high-quality diet which would require more resources to produce, and on the production side the problem is the competition for land, water and energy, which would cause the effect on climate change to become more apparent. Hence, the need to reduce greenhouse gases in the effort to minimise global warming will be peremptory.7
There are five major challenges prioritised by Sir Beddington, there are:
Balancing demand and supply to ensure that food is affordable.
Ensuring stability in food supplies and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility occurring in the food supply.
Achieving global access to food and ending hunger, that is, ensuring food security for all.
Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
According to the report the current food supply system is failing in two major ways, there are:
Hunger is still widespread, with nine hundred and twenty five million people experiencing hunger and another billion experiencing ‘hidden hunger’ through unbalanced diets.
Decline in Agricultural Produce
The report entitled “The Future of Food and Farming (2011):Challenges and choices for global sustainability”, by Sir John Beddington highlights the vulnerability of the global food system to climate change and other threats. The evidence presented in the report emphasizes the need to build greater resilience to future food price, as the actions of food producers can provide raw materials to the global food system, including crucial environmental services and are themselves a source of economic growth in both developed and developing countries.
Surplus of Agricultural Produce
Popular belief states that there will not be enough food being produced to feed the world population in the next two scores of years. It was discovered, however, that in some places especially rural areas, there is often a surplus of goods which ends in the spoils. The reason for this surplus could be because of rural – urban migration, that is, people moving from rural communities to urban areas or cities.
Society on its quest for modernization through technological, scientific and computational advancements as means of improving living conditions and standards, has provided many solutions to everyday problems in the area of health services, communication as well as domestic. The spread of these modern innovations and its present and futuristic opportunities, is mostly confined to urban cities, whilst just a trickle reaches the rural communities. This leaves the rural dweller longing a taste of the city life creating a psychological and social epidemic. This epidemy results in an increase in growth in urban population, and in some cases even over population, whilst rural communities are abandoned.
Rural communities depend on agricultural produce as the main source of income and with its population decreasing, farmers are left with a surplus, which often ends in the spoils, resulting in less people in rural areas wanting a career in farming. This is more apparent in third world and developing countries. The issue was addressed in the ‘Young advocates for Agriculture Debate’ as participants urged for a greater interests in Agriculture in the UK.
On an even grander scale a population of a third world or developing country will move to more developed country. This not only slows the economic growth of the country, but directly affects the food producers, as a farmer may produce food and not find market for that food, this discourages the farmer from farming and in severe cases may result in the farmer lacking the finance to continue farming.
The Apparent Solution
The solution for the global food system it appears is the sustainability of the agricultural sector, as humans most significant quest even before the quest for shelter and clothes, is the quest for food12. However, agriculture is a complex science with many variables affecting production.
Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to HM Government, summarizes the situation well, “The case for urgent action in the global food system is now compelling. We are at a unique moment in history as diverse factors converge to affect the demand, production and distribution of food over the next 20 to 40 years.”13
The need has arise for technology to reach out to communities in rural areas where a surplus of vegetables can be directed to other areas as needed. This technology should not only assist in keeping the food prices down, through the provision of a direct route to the growers, but also provide a means of income for farmers in remote villages.
The solution to the problem is three fold, first one must be able to manage the quantity of goods produced following known methods of cultivation, enabling the production of goods that is of high standards, based on the climatic regions and the amount of land that is available to produce the goods. Secondly, minimizing the risk associated with agriculture through the provision of data, such as weather information, and quantity of goods available on the market, which allows the producer to make predictions on the best crops to be produced. Finally, the provision of a market that enable farmers in rural communities to add their product product using SMS technology, thus preventing surplus goods from going to the spoils. This in turn will encourage the farmers to practise sustainable agriculture by providing for their family and local village with surplus of goods sold to external markets.
There are numerous technologies that have been tried within the agricultural sector, from the production of genetically modified goods, to the introduction of robots that can carry out tasks associated with farming.
A useful technology and probably the best suited for the implementation of a technology to meet the proposed solution is FrontlineSMS15 – a technology targeted for communication between parties working in developing countries. The platform is open source and built using java. It uses text messaging as a means of communicating information between individuals and organisations in rural communities. FrontlineSMS has been used to provide information to doctors and farmers working in the field where there is no access to a computer, by enabling the retrieving of data from a database or the by updating a website through text messages.
4Math in Daily Life – Population Growth. Available online: Http://learner.org/interactives/dailymath/population.html [Accessed 30/01/2012]
5World Population Clock : 7 Billion People – Worldometers. Available online: http://www.worldometers.info/world-population/. [Accessed 06/02/2012]
6Investors Can Now Buy Agriculture Through the Stock Market. Available online:http://www.dailywealth.com/773/Investors-Can-Now-Buy-Agriculture-Through-the-Stock-Market. [Accesssed 10/11/2011]
7Foresight.The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London. Available online: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report. [Accessed 06/02/2012]
8Foresight.The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London. Available online: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report. [Accessed 06/02/2012]
9Foresight.The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London. Available online: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report. [Accessed 06/02/2012]
10Foresight.The Future of Food and Farming (2011) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London. Available online: http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report. [Accessed 06/02/2012]
11Young Advocates for Agriculture Debate 2011. Available online: http://youngadvocates.co.uk/2011debate.htm. [Accessed 10/11/2011]
13Compelling Case for Urgent Action in the Global Food System :: The Market Oracle :: Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting Free website.http://www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article31034.html. [Accessed 30/01/2012]
14Dorhout R&D LLC – Home. Available online: http://www.dorhoutrd.com/home. [Accessed 02/02/2012]
15FrontlineSMS. Available online: http://www.frontlinesms.com/. [Accessed 19/01/2012]
16Groups – FrontlineSMS. Available online: http://frontlinesms.ning.com/groups. [Accessed 25/01/2012]
17Project agro. Available online: http://frontlinesms.ning.com/group/agriculture/forum/topics/project-agro. [Accessed 25/01/2012]