Precision agriculture for a sustainable regional future

How did we get here, and (more crucially) how can we change course?

The single biggest problem facing mainstream agricultural practices in the Middle East is that they are simply unsustainable. For example, the usage of water and land are not efficient. Globally, 70% of water goes to agriculture, yet only 24% of arable land is irrigated. And of the land that is irrigated, 75% is irrigated wastefully using traditional flooding methods. This translates into less water for domestic and industrial usage, while the water used for agriculture is partially wasted.

Of course, there are numerous other contributing factors to the unsustainability of agriculture in the Middle East. Yet there’s no question that currently accepted industrial-agricultural practices need to shift towards sustainability.

Yet There’s Hope in Precision Agriculture

Despite the massive challenges the Middle East has, there are many positive trends pushing agriculture towards sustainability. One of the most prominent of these is precision agriculture. Precision agriculture has one overriding goal: to grow more with less. This means not only fewer resources but also less environmental impact.

It’s a very broad term that means a lot of things to a lot of people:

  • For farming equipment companies, it means GPS-guided machinery that leverages GIS data to more efficiently plant and harvest.
  • For data-driven farming providers, it means the fusion of mobile technology, remote-sensing data, distributed computing and even AI to optimize returns on inputs while preserving resources.
  • For greenhouse providers, it’s about leveraging automation and other technology to create a controlled environment that protects plants, increases yields and reduces labor costs.
  • And for irrigation innovators like Netafim, it means using data-driven, AI-powered precision irrigation systems that give each plant the exact amount of water and fertilizer it needs, at scale.
  • Just as renewable energy technology is slowly turning the ship of fossil-based energy towards more sustainable alternatives, precision agriculture is changing the way we grow and harvest.

For example, in our project in Siwa in Western Egypt, we applied the principles of precision agriculture to create an olive plantation spanning 100 hectares in an extremely arid and harsh desert environment. Despite the fact that the soil was almost all sand with no structure, and the low water holding capacity of the field, we managed to achieve impressive tree development with impressive yield potential.

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