Our planet is potentially on the cusp of a global food supply crisis as humanity’s population swells towards a projected 10 billion people by 2050 while the amount of arable land available for us to produce food on is expected to decline due to global warming and drought.

The results could be devastating, with food shortages striking all over the world and food prices rising dramatically, with the globe’s poorest people suffering the most. Africa, which already has many of the world’s hungriest and most destitute people is particularly susceptible, as the continent’s population is expected to double by 2050.

The continent does have two potential aces up its sleeve though, says successful entrepreneur and businessman Sanjeev Mansotra: the agricultural power of AI and having over half of the planet’s uncultivated arable land. 

Mr, Mansotra says that one of the core challenges facing African agriculture is attracting global investment to help finance infrastructure growth and getting more smallholders working the land. The other is to greatly improve the yield being generated by African crops, which he believes can be achieved through a combination of better education and access to technologies like AI.

How AI is Changing Agriculture

The number of variables and data points that play a role in the success or failure of a crop is staggering. The amount of sunshine, wind, water, and light a plant receives all play a major role, as do a myriad of other factors like atmospheric humidity, soil fertility, and the presence of pests or disease.

Sensors are other devices like drones are now capable of monitoring and recording all of these data points, all of the time, says Sanjeev Mansotra, providing mountains of invaluable data that artificial intelligence programs can then scan for insights that allow them to make accurate predictions related to weather and other variables. AI can also be coupled with other programs or even robotics to automatically maintain optimal farming conditions.

In the case of weeds, which are becoming a growing menace to farmers as more than 200 varieties have shown the ability to develop resistance to herbicides, an AI bot has been developed by Blue River Technology that can precisely identify and spray weeds. The result is herbicide usage and costs being reduced by as much as 90% and a much better chance to  avoid weed resistance. 

A separate AI program called Plantix can generate similar benefits when it comes to pests and soil quality, being capable of scanning images of soil and foliage and detecting patterns as they pertain to specific pests, diseases, and soil defects with up to 95%  accuracy.

AI bots can also greatly reduce labour requirements and boost crop harvesting efforts, which will be important for improving yields and maximizing arable land in developed nations, where the agricultural workforce is expected to decline over the coming years. 

That particular aspect of AI will not be as important in Africa, as Sanjeev Mansotra notes that the continent’s burgeoning young population will be hungry for work and more than capable of providing all of the core labour necessary to get food from African fields and onto dinner plates.

If we’re to eventually feed 10 billion-plus human beings and prevent the kind of global instability that would result from mass food shortages, we’re going to need to fully capitalize on both the massive food -growing potential of Africa and the impressive yield optimizing powers of AI.