Fenice Wang（China Productivity Center Smart Agriculture Promotion Department）
As the primary sector of economy, agriculture is the major economic activity that humans are engaged in with their intelligence to cultivate and propagate animals and plants to produce extended products (food, fiber, etc.) in exchange of income. The earliest agricultural activities of mankind can be traced back to about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago, when hunting and gathering activities were the major means of obtaining food from nature. In the next 5,000 years, human ancestors began to grow plants and domesticate animals as a means of producing food. This drastic change in human history was called the "Neolithic Revolution" or the "first revolution." The change in the way of food production means the change of the relationship between humans and the environment. Mankind has progressed from acquiring, producing, to transforming natural resources and this has accelerated the development of human civilization, economy, and technology. Sophisticated cultivation and breeding techniques have been developed in modern agriculture to achieve unprecedented quality and quantity of products. However, the excessive exploitation and development of natural resources have brought to the agriculture of many countries serious challenges, such as: climate change, global population overgrowth, soil degeneration, insufficient agricultural land, aging rural population, labor shortage, food safety, etc. With the advent of the digital age, experts from various domains have begun to integrate innovative technologies of intelligence and automation to face the above-mentioned crises. This is how the term "smart agriculture" comes into being.
"Smart agriculture" is a management strategy that uses modern information and communication technology to provide, process and analyze data, so that farmers and other stakeholders can better understand crop production conditions in order to track, monitor and make decisions in the production process, and improve the quantity and quality of products. Innovative technologies applicable to agriculture include: environmental sensor systems, information technology (IT), global positioning system (GPS), Internet of Things (IoT), data analysis, etc. These technologies are integrated in smart machines and sensors installed on farms to regularly collect, process, and analyze a variety of data (including weather, crop growth, market conditions, trends, and demands), and provide warnings and suggestions to farmers so they can quickly respond to emerging problems and changes. It is hoped that the introduction of smart agricultural technology can take into account the health of consumers and the sustainable environment, high efficiency, quantity and quality of production, while reducing the use of labor and other resources so as to minimize the impact on the environment. However, the high investment threshold for smart agricultural equipment means the importance of comprehensive evaluation and planning before introducing relevant technologies. With the view to assisting Asian governments in developing comprehensive smart agricultural strategies and promoting the digital transformation of the agricultural production supply chain, the Asian Productivity Organization (APO) published an article "Agricultural Transformation Framework," in which a set of readiness assessment tables before the introduction of smart agricultural technology is proposed based on Cisco Digital Readiness research. The digital readiness scores of APO member states in the Cisco report were also studied. The evaluation items include: technological infrastructure, professional talent development, smart agriculture promotion regulations, penetration rate of Internet and electronic products, etc. It was found that the digital readiness of each member country is positively correlated with its gross domestic product (GDP). APO divides the readiness of its member states into three levels: low, medium, and high, based on the total score of the evaluation, and proposes different strategies to member states on different readiness levels. For countries with low readiness for digitalization, which are still on the initial stage of technology infrastructure and talent development, the suggestions are to invest in the development of reasonably-priced infrastructure, build a digital technology education system, and formulate smart agriculture policies and development strategies to facilitate subsequent agricultural transformation. For countries with medium readiness, those have an adequate technology infrastructure to a certain degree, the suggestions are to enhance digital technology and agricultural skills using the existing digital facilities (Internet, mobile phones and social media) and to encourage innovation and cultivate relevant talents. For countries with high readiness with popular development of science and technology, the suggestions are to raise the economic value of the agricultural industry (including efficiency and productivity) with existing technologies and to incorporate comprehensive considerations such as: food safety, encouraging youth and women to join agricultural production, comprehensive assessment of the relationship between agriculture, society and the environment, including the adaptability and resilience to climate change, etc. in order to achieve sustainable development.
Smart agriculture is the definite trend of agricultural development. The importance of digital technology does not mean we should be limited by it. Before introducing relevant innovative technologies, countries should go through a complete process of evaluation and planning, complete the infrastructure for the development of smart agricultural technology and business planning, gradually improve hardware facilities (such as network speed and monitoring facilities, etc.), organizing a complete talent cultivation system and related programs, and regulations of subsidization. The information technology and smart agriculture technologies are then integrated to develop effective solutions based on local conditions, so that the application of smart agriculture is no longer a slogan, but the best strategy to facilitate agricultural innovation and achieve sustainable operation.