It is estimated that, over the next thirty years, developing countries will need an additional 120 million hectares of crops to meet the needs of the population. This implies an overall increase of 12.5% in production combined with lower growth in arable land and greater water scarcity due to the effects of climate change. In this context, the use of technologies, and in particular the Internet of Things (IoT), is contributing to the development of sustainable production that guarantees the future of the agricultural sector.
Telefónica is aware of the reality and, within the framework of the institutional partnership between Telefónica and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) signed in 2018, we have launched initiatives for innovation, digitalisation and data analysis in the agricultural sector to enhance the development of agriculture, food security and nutrition.
One of these initiatives is made up of water efficiency pilots based on "Smart Agro" technology that are being implemented in several Latin American countries. This project consists of installing sensors in the crops to detect factors such as soil moisture, irrigation and water consumption in the field. The sensors, in turn, incorporate IoT connectivity to send the information they collect to the cloud enabled platform that is accessible via smartphone or tablet. Then, farmers receive irrigation recommendations alerts when detecting values outside the established ranges and weather forecasts in the exact location of the field.
All this allows them to make decisions to optimise irrigation and improve the yield of their crops. In particular, the pilot projects that we are carrying out in Peru, Colombia and El Salvador show very significant results. In Peru, cotton crop yields increased by more than 70% compared to neighbouring plots where no water efficiency technology is applied. In Colombia, farmers using this technology observed an improvement in the quality of the potato crop, leading to an 86% increase in profitability compared to farmers who did not apply it.
Projects such as "Smart Agro" promote the digital transformation process which is so necessary in this sector, as well as revolutionising the efficient use of scarce resources such as water, in addition to helping significantly in decision making. These initiatives include IoT solutions for sensing and connecting, thus capturing data from any process – and Artificial Intelligence or AI technologies – to extract information and knowledge from the data, by enhancing the decision-making capacity of farmers in this case. Connectivity, basic to these technologies, is provided by Movistar through rural connectivity networks, such as those being deployed through the Internet para Todos project.
At the same time, partnerships such as Telefónica and FAO contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that promote more efficient and effective solutions in the use of natural resources in agriculture. The results are being shared with local governments to help promote these changes from the administrations, where the agri-food issue is becoming increasingly important and appears as one of the priorities on the agendas of many countries in Latin America and Europe.
The alliance between Telefónica and FAO has an initial duration of three years and is aligned with the key role of the private sector in achieving the UN's sustainable development goals. It is an example of the role that companies such as Telefónica can play in FAO's strategic activities, facilitating the digital transformation of productive sectors such as agriculture, livestock, and/or the forestry sector, as well as the management of natural resources and climate change, among others.