How technology can help address challenges in agriculture

Article by Xin Yi Lim, Executive Director, Sustainability and Agricultural Impact at Pinduoduo

When agriculture first took root around 12,000 years ago, it triggered a change in how people lived. Dubbed the “Neolithic Revolution”, the promise of a reliable food supply enabled humans to give up their nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Out of these first settlements grew cities and complex civilizations, shaping the world as we know it.

Agriculture has allowed the human population to grow explosively, and its industrialization over the past two centuries fuelled the jump from 1 billion to nearly 7.7 billion people. As a result, agriculture in its modern form has tested the limits of our environmental resources.

Agriculture causes about 23% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and uses up to 92% of the world’s freshwater. According to a report by the WWF and British food retailer Tesco, around 40% of food grown goes uneaten. China loses roughly 35 million tons of grain before retail each year, or about 5% of the 685 million tons of grain produced in 2021.

With a projected 2 billion more mouths to feed across the world by 2050, agriculture needs to simultaneously become both more productive and sustainable. That requires increased investment and adoption of productivity-boosting technology and participation from young people and smallholder farmers.


Technology can transform agriculture

Human ingenuity, scientific breakthroughs and technological advances have given the world an unprecedented array of tools to transform the food system and mitigate its impact on nature and climate.

In precision agriculture, real-time weather forecasting helps farmers with day-to-day decisions on when and how much to irrigate, fertilize and apply pesticides to their crops.

Controlled-environment agriculture promises to further reduce the impact. Some smart greenhouses are completely automated, run by algorithms that ensure optimal conditions for plant growth by adjusting inputs like roof ventilation, artificial lighting and heating.