Bangladesh

Towards smart farming: Bangladesh and the world

With the help of artificial light, necessary water-nutrient supply and other advanced agricultural inputs, vegetables and salad crops are growing in the greenhouse. Civilization has entered the Fourth Industrial Revolution, also known as Industry 4.0. At this time of the 21st century, such revolution has started with the combination of artificial intelligence, robotics, machine learning, the internet of things (IoT), and automation technology. With the advancement of this revolution in technology, we are witnessing a world entirely entering into the most modern farming system. The course of the planet earth has completely changed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Everyone is struggling to survive, create something sustainable and affordable for the farming sector. If you want to survive, you have to eat and move forward, embracing the progress of science and technology. 

Sixteen years back, I went to Japan and saw crops being planted 30 feet under the ground. An organization called Pasona 2 was doing it. I moved down, using elevator, a few floors and entered an agricultural super-structure. I felt I had come to one of the most sophisticated agricultural field, where crops are grown in artificial environments. That was when I thought the world would be even more comprehensive with the entry of newer technologies in the future farming sector.

Thousands of companies have now sprung up in Europe and America to install state-of-the-art agricultural technology, commercially. GreenQ, in the Netherlands, is an ideal institution of this genre. I also visited their exhibition house in 2015 and saw how they brought agriculture under maximum control. They kept the right balance between technical excellence and crop production. The country has long been using wind turbines which effectively contribute to the farming sector. South Korea is also moving very fast with an extended dream in smart farming which I saw in Seoul back in 2018. By 2022, they want to bring 20 percent of their farming work under smart technology. For next year, they are planning to invest USD 203 million in smart farming, and by 2025, they want to earn USD 3,000 million from agricultural products, grown by the smart technologies. South Korea has fantastically moved onward to the indoor farming system, and they will be the world's most influential of contenders in this field.     

I spoke with Park Suu-Jin, director general of the Department of Agriculture and Organic Industries under the Ministry of Agriculture in South Korea. She says, by 2022 they want to add another 10,000 hectares of land for farming, and 75 percent of those will be run by smart technologies. Their goal is to complete everything with ICT intervention, especially the greenhouses, which will give them nutritious, healthy and plenty of food. Every day, new agricultural technologies are being invented in China, and most of those are equipped with automatic and artificial intelligence. They are also making a variety of drones and choppers, ranging from driverless tractors, fertilizer sprayers, cutting the need for physical labour. They are putting strong efforts behind as many as smart technologies they can introduce in farming.  

To know what our government is thinking about the issue of smart farming, I have talked to the Minister for Agriculture Dr Abdur Razzaque. "Many young people have joined the farming sector, and we'll try to make them understand that how smart farming would give them more benefit," said the minister. Technology is like a tidal wave that is spreading all over the world, but we are not able to take it to our farmers in the right manner. Public and private companies have some mobile apps on farming in the country. There are legitimate questions about how effective they are in reality. We talked about it with ICT State Minister Zunaid Ahmed Palak.

"We're working hand in hand with the ministry of agriculture. There are farming clubs, union digital centres, and also a farmer database where more than three crore farmers and entrepreneurs have registered their names. We need to aware the farmers first so that all the available technologies, such as the mobile apps would come into real impact. It is true that the apps should go under screening before they start their commercial operation," said the minister. There is an app for the official employees of the Department of Agricultural Extension (DAE) itself. This is a platform where farmers can easily communicate with agriculture officials. But farmers are not benefiting much and how far the service has improved the farmers, is also a concern. 

I have also seen the sincerity of the government in expanding use of ICT in agriculture. Sophisticated and speedy tabs have been given to 15,000 sub-assistant agricultural officers (SAAOs) across the country recently. But the question is how much we have been able to increase the use of ICT in agriculture? In this regard, I spoke to the DAE Director General Dr Mohammad Abdul Muyeed. "The agriculture sector has advanced a lot, I would say. Giving the tabs to the officers is also a good initiative, and of course, there are limitations. We'll get over those, and everyone will see an even better result in the farming sector," said the director general. ACI Agribusiness has a mobile app in the Google Play Store, known as 'Fosholi'. Managing Director and CEO of ACI Agribusinesses Dr FH Ansarey says, through the coordination and analysis of ultramodern satellite imagery, advanced farming method, modern agriculture technology and weather-related information, this app will help farmers by providing overall information. There are also some hopeful images in case of dairy and livestock farms. To increase the productivity of cattle, Grameenphone has launched an app called 'Digi Cow.' Renowned entrepreneur and eminent businessman MA Sabur has used the technology and made his cattle farm the country's first digital livestock farm (Masco Dairy Farm), and he's getting outstanding results.

Cow management is made very simple using bolus. It is possible to keep track of cow fertility and health. Bolus allows dairy farmers to monitor cow health, fertility and lameness with ease. By measuring temperature and activity levels, it can flag up numerous issues that might otherwise go unnoticed under visual supervision, says Asaduzzaman Afsar, entrepreneur of Century Dairy Farm in Narayanganj's Ichhapur. Surjomukhi Prani Sheba has given support to dairy farm with livestock technologies, insurance and other services. The Dutch Dairy Farm at Satgharia village in Munshiganj's Louhajang upazila is a consequence of such innovative thought for the development of local dairy industry. Mohammad Gias Ahmed, director of the farm, said his farm is well-equipped with the combination of smart technologies for livestock management.

Dear readers, smart farming would be much safer amid Covid-19 outbreak. The whole world is thinking again how to reduce the human resources in agriculture and ensure agricultural production using automated technology. We must remember few things: state-of-the-art technological solutions for farming would be the finest and more complete. Future agriculture systems should adopt a more holistic approach, where I would love to see Bangladesh's farming sector at the forefront. Belated and best wishes for Eid-ul-Azha.

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