A SECOND Green Revolution is sorely needed. Evidence shows that the productivity gains from the first Green Revolution will begin to plateau amid accumulated environmental problems, as the effects of climate change and the expansion into marginal lands take their toll.
For instance, a well-cited study done by the International Rice Research Institute found that heat stress can cause significant reductions in the quantity of rice production in South and Southeast Asia.
Warmer night temperatures have a negative effect on rice yield. A +1°C increase above the critical temperature (more than 24°C) may lead to a 10 per cent reduction in both grain yield and biomass. To counter this trend, new technologies, credit and sustainable agricultural practices must be effectively disseminated among farmers.
SERVICES AND FINANCIAL
The first Green Revolution enabled developing countries to experience large increases in crop production through the use of fertilisers, pesticides and high-yield crop varieties.
Between 1960 and 2000, yields for all developing countries rose 208 per cent for wheat, 109 per cent for rice, 157 per cent for maize, 78 per cent for potatoes and 36 per cent for cassava.
This success was most felt with rice growers in Asia and lifted many out of poverty.
In Asia, it has been estimated that every 1 per cent increase in crop productivity reduced the number of poor people by 0.48 per cent. However, a focus on development through industrialisation has led to an overall decline in investments and public interest in the agricultural sector. Capital investments and agricultural extension services are key for farmers to properly adopt new technologies and raise their farms’ productivity.
Mobile banking and informal mobile-enabled information networks case studies are proving that mobile networks can meet these needs. For instance, mobile banking can allow smallholders to access microfinance, digital payments and financial markets. In Indonesia, Sygenta and Mercy Corps have collaborated to provide microfinance for corn farmers. Mercy Corps uses an Android application and SMS (short mesaging service) platform to collect data and develop farmer credit profiles for local banks.
Increasing the availability of individual farmer information enables the banks to extend loans at more favourable interest rates. In the second phase, the project reached 640 smallholder farmers.
Mobile networks have also been used to circulate farming advisory services and market information. For example, Reuters Market Light services over 200,000 smallholder subscribers in 10 states in India at US$1.50 (RM6.40) per month.
The farmers receive four SMS texts per day on prices, commodities and advisory services from a database with information on 150 crops and more than 1,000 markets. Preliminary evidence suggests that the service may have generated US$2–3 billion in income for farmers and over half of them have reduced their spending on agriculture inputs.
MOBILE NETWORKS AND EARLY
During the first Green Revolution, farmers experienced a period of high productivity followed by plummeting yields due to water shortages and unprecedented pest and disease outbreaks. Sustaining crop production was a serious challenge as they lacked the knowledge to adequately prepare for these risks.
But, with today’s technologies, weather conditions can be predicted and mobile networks can send early warnings to farmers so they can prepare for pest and disease outbreaks. For instance, in Colombia, smallholder farmers faced periods of drought that resulted in a decrease in rice yields from six to five tonnes per hectare over the past five years. This allowed them to predict that farmers in some regions could save themselves from crop failures by not planting at all. The 170 rice growers who followed the recommendation to not plant ended up saving US$3.6 million.
Yet another is FarmerLink in the Philippines, an early warning system for pest and disease outbreaks. It combines both satellite and farm data to predict and detect potential outbreaks.
When threats are identified, farmers receive warnings on their mobile phones. A year after the first pilot launch, nearly 7,500 farmers have joined this network.
GREEN REVOLUTION 2.0
Mobile-enabled agri-technologies are proving to be key enablers for a Green Revolution 2.0 by overcoming many of the challenges associated with the remote locations of many smallholder farmers and the exclusion of these smallholders from financial and agricultural extension services. But, many of these rural areas are not connected, despite regional efforts to expand mobile and fixed broadband infrastructure.
In the Asia and Pacific regions, 42 per cent of the total population have mobile broadband subscriptions, and the majority of them live in cities. As countries in the region implement master plans for fixed and mobile broadband infrastructure, the rural areas must not be left behind. Alongside overall economic and social benefits of such connectivity, the tangential impact such changes can have on food security cannot be overlooked.
During the first Green Revolution, farmers needed capital investments to acquire new technologies, agricultural extension services to learn how to use them correctly, and early warning systems to prepare for pest and disease outbreaks.
As smallholders tend to live in remote areas, it was challenging to spread information and deliver these services in a timely manner. Early case studies of mobile-enabled agricultural technologies demonstrate their potential to help farmers overcome these challenges.
The next Green Revolution can be launched by a Connectivity Revolution that helps fix market inefficiencies and manage farming risks. However, as countries in the region create and implement fixed and mobile infrastructure master plans, rural areas are beginning to lag behind urban areas in connectivity.
Getting the Asean region connected has been lauded for its innovation, social and economic benefits, but ensuring that pro-gress is equally achieved in rural and urban areas can have food security implications by spurring a much needed Green Revolution 2.0.
The World Agricultural Forum 2017, co-hosted by S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies that will take place today and tomorrow in Singapore, discusses these issues and the impacts of technologies on agriculture and food security in the region.
The writer is a visiting US Fulbright Research Fellow at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This is part of a series on the World Agricultural Forum 2017.