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How Ai Could Feed The World’s Hungry While Sustaining The Planet

Nigeria Student Forum / General Discussion / How Ai Could Feed The World’s Hungry While Sustaining The Planet

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Sani Ibrahim
Abubakar Tafawa Balewa,University
Agricultural economics and extension
100Level, Nigeria.
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A new crop of startups are developing AI systems to tackle
challenges from climate change to COVID-19.
While the risks posed by AI dominate the headlines, behind
the scenes there is a quiet revolution underway as AI systems
are used to tackle the greatest challenges facing humanity,
from climate change and COVID-19, to world hunger.
Improving the food system is critically important to achieving
several SDGs, but it is just one of many ways that AI is helping
to usher in the more equitable, sustainable world that the
SDGs envision.
Artificial Intelligence is transforming the world at a rapid and
accelerating pace, offering huge potential, but also posing
social and economic challenges. Human beings are naturally
fearful of machines – this is a constant. Technological
advancements tend to outpace cultural shifts. It has taken the
shock of a global pandemic to accelerate the uptake of many
technologies that have been around for at least a decade.
Unsurprisingly, much of the public discussion on AI has
focused on recent controversies around facial recognition,
automated decision-making and exam algorithms. Job losses
due to automation have further underscored the need for AI
systems to become better regulated and more ethical.
But while the risks posed by AI have dominated the headlines,
behind the scenes there is a quiet revolution underway as a
new crop of startups are developing AI systems to tackle the
greatest challenges facing humanity, from climate change to
COVID-19.
A new cohort of purpose-driven innovators has entered the AI
space, and ‘AI for Good’ is emerging as one of the most
powerful tools to achieve the SDGs and improve lives and
livelihoods worldwide.
The agricultural sector employs over 25% of the world’s
working population and is responsible for sustaining 7.5 billion
people. Despite decades of efforts by governments and
industry, more than a quarter of those people – a staggering
1.9 billion – remain moderately or severely food insecure, and
roughly 820 million do not get enough to eat on a daily basis .
SDG 2, Zero Hunger, aims to “end hunger, achieve food
security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable
agriculture”.
The challenge is staggering: with global population projected
to expand to almost 10 billion by 2050, experts estimate that
feeding the planet will require farmers to grow 69% more
calories than they did in 2006 . At the same time, our existing
agricultural systems are already wreaking havoc on the planet,
contributing to over 10% of global carbon emissions and using
up to half of the world’s habitable land, with devastating
consequences for biodiversity, fresh water supplies, and
natural ecosystems.
How can we expand food supply to meet SDG 2 while
continuing to make progress on SDGs 6 (Clean Water and
Sanitation), 13 (Climate Action), and 15 (Life on Land)? Enter
AI, which is beginning to transform virtually every aspect of the
agriculture and food system.
Here are 4 ways AI is helping to feed the hungry while saving
the planet:
1. Some agricultural AI startups are focused on the field ,
training powerful algorithms on vast new datasets to improve
the efficiency and performance of traditional farms. Tel Aviv
based Prospera, for example, collects 50 million data points
every day across 4700 fields, analyzing them with AI to
identify pest and disease outbreaks and uncover new
opportunities to increase yields, reduce pollution and
eliminate waste.
2. Others are focused on building entirely new approaches
to farming from the ground up, enabled by AI technology.
Plenty and Aerofarms are pioneering vertical indoor farming,
using computer vision and AI algorithms to optimize nutrient
inputs and increase yields in real time. Root AI is also using
computer vision, but combining it with advanced robots to
detect when fruit is ripe and harvest it at its prime.
3. While AI-driven indoor farming is unlikely to feed the
whole planet by 2050, the more of it we can do the better: the
most advanced, AI-enabled operations are estimated to
produce over 20 times more food per acre than traditional
fields, using roughly 90% less water .
4. AI is not only being used to improve agricultural
productivity, but to take on one of the most environmentally
damaging parts of the food sector: industrial meat production .
Chile-based NotCo and Brazil-based Fazenda Futuro have both
developed AI tools that analyze vast amounts of plant data to
identify the best approaches to replicating the taste and
texture of meat using only plant-based materials.
The market is clearly paying attention: over the last two years
sales of refrigerated plant-based meat have grown 125%, and
both companies have secured major investments from leading
venture capitalists. With meat production accounting for
almost 50% of agricultural emissions globally, and a great deal
of local pollution, the growing shift to AI-powered plant-based
meat alternatives is poised to yield enormous environmental
benefits.
Governments too are realizing the value of AI in feeding their
citizens and improving their agricultural productivity. To help
realize these opportunities, The World Economic Forum
recently launched a partnership with the Government of India
and the State of Telangana to identify high-value use cases for
AI in agriculture, develop innovative AI solutions, and drive
their widespread adoption.
Speaking at the project’s launch event, Telengana’s IT and
Industries Minister voiced the increasingly common view
amongst government officials: “We feel that AI will offer
immense possibilities for farmers, governments and all other
stakeholders of the ecosystem”.
Improving the food system is critically important to achieving
several SDGs, but it is just one of many ways that AI is helping
to usher in the more equitable, sustainable world that the
SDGs envision.
No one technology is going to solve all of the world’s
problems, and achieving the SDGs will require ambitious
government policies, corporate commitments and individual
actions in addition to new technologies. We will need to use
every tool at our disposal, and with AI becoming more
powerful every day we should encourage more innovators and
entrepreneurs to focus on new ways to use this technology to
address our biggest societal challenges.

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