Microsoft is a huge believer in the power of innovation – from everyone and everywhere. It’s core to our mantra of helping everyone on the planet to achieve more.
True to this belief, we’ve been holding both online and offline developer events to celebrate the power software developers have in changing lives and to challenge them to do more for society. A key focus is on sustainability, one of the greatest challenges and opportunities on our planet today. The recently completed Build 2020 is a great example of how we’ve found ways to harness the power of developers all around the world to tackle some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Developers play a critical role in society. The past few months, we’ve seen digital transformation accelerate like never before and developers were one of the quickest to act, as first-responders in the digital space. In the Philippines, Developers Connect Philippines and the government recruited over a thousand volunteers to work on technological solutions in the fight against COVID-19 – within just two weeks, developers ramped up a QR code-based ID system to help frontline workers get through checkpoints more efficiently as well as piloted a contact tracing program that also directs people to testing centers. Beyond emergency response, developers are also playing a tremendous role in helping the community and reimagining the world.
With this in mind, I wanted to highlight how we’ve taken a developer lens on key sustainability challenges in Asia Pacific, and share some of the inspirational ideas and successes we have had so far. I also encourage anyone who thinks they can contribute to get involved – these are global issues that affect each of us, and more ideas and energy are always welcome, regardless of level of programming or technical skill.
THE PROBLEM OF FOOD
By 2050, the world’s population is estimated to reach 9 billion. That’s only 30 years from now.
Feeding these additional 1.5 billion people, as well as the 7.5 billion who are living longer and consuming more, will require an approximately 70 per cent increase in food production. All at a time when we are trying to minimize our footprint on resources and battling climate change, which impacts crop growth and makes them more vulnerable to damage.
Further, majority of the world’s food production comes from smallholder farmers, who don’t always have access to advanced production technology and techniques for improved productivity and yield. They are also more financially at risk and more likely to close and stop farming.
With all these, meeting our food needs might seem like an insurmountable goal. However, today there is a tremendous opportunity to apply technology to agriculture.
Beyond improvements to physical machinery, the immense and revelatory insights from big data and AI have yet had the chance to really impact agriculture in the same way it has other industries. But this is changing.
HOW DEVELOPERS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE
In recent years, we’ve grown aware of the need for everyone in the agri-food value chain to be involved – from the farmers and their communities to less-common collaborators like innovators, investors, corporations and developers.
A great amount of capital is being invested: 2018 alone attracted venture capital investments to the tune of USD 16.9 billion globally to Agri-Food Tech startups, a 43% year-over-year increase. And at the //DevCon/ Digital Economy Summit 2020 held in Jakarta back in February – the largest developer conference we’ve ever held in Asia-Pacific – four out of 14 presentations were on AI for agriculture.
Developers and entrepreneurs are on a quest to bring predictability and precision to the agri industry, leveraging insights from data collected to empower decision making, efficiency, productivity and yield.
One such organization is Beehive Drones, an Indonesian startup, as well as the Asia Pacific representative and world finalist in the Imagine Cup 2018. Their signature swarm drone technology built on Azure, brings added efficiency to farming; data from IoT sensors is analyzed and used to program drones for tasks such as the surveillance of crops, pesticide spraying and multispectral analysis.
Another hackathon winner and presenter, Gravicode from the Dicoding AI for Agri hackathon 2019, developed a program that analyzes soil conditions using reflectance data from the Vis-NIR sensor. This data then provides farmers with fertilizer recommendations for crops such as soybean, corn and rice.
Echoing the need for actionable insights driven by data, Microsoft’s Azure FarmBeats uses IoT sensors in the ground to collect huge amounts of data, which can be used alone or combined with drones to provide deep, actionable intelligence on a large scale for farmers, including farm conditions and overall health, soil moisture, recommendations on setup and crop placement and more.
CULTIV@TING THE GLOBAL CHALLENGE
Much like Farmbeats, we’re excited to tackle some of the biggest agribusiness challenges around the world.
Microsoft has partnered with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in multiple developer initiatives that seek solutions for sustainable agricultural practices. Currently ongoing is the Microsoft Azure Virtual Hackathon, which saw close to 1,200 participants sign up to advance sustainable agriculture by assessing the nutrition needs of crops and plants. 56 teams of developers across Asia have progressed onto phase two of the hackathon and they’re in the midst of developing prototypes for their solutions.
Another initiative from UNDP is Cultiv@te, which was first announced at the 2019 Singapore FinTech Festival (SFF) and the Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology as an agritech innovation initiative supported by the Singapore government. Cultiv@te’s focus is on countries from around the world seeking solutions in urban agriculture, rainfed agriculture, livestock farming and aquaculture – including Singapore, Kenya, Uruguay, The Philippines, Gabon, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bhutan, Uzbekistan, Ecuador and Armenia.
Many of the challenges these communities face are centered on increasing yields or reducing vulnerability of crops. This is true for places like The Philippines, Gabon, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Another key area is making the best use of resources. For instance, in places like Indonesia and Bhutan, farmers need more access to credit and transportation to thrive.
All in all, Cultiv@te seeks to improve the lives of people and farmers throughout Asia, Latin America and Africa, and will use developer innovation to get there.
NEW IDEAS AND NEXT STEPS
I’m excited to see the progress these integrated teams will make against these major challenges. While the answers may not be immediate, their ideas and energy can have a tremendous impact on our future.
We’ve already seen some fantastic ideas come out of //DevCon/ and other developer and hackathon events. But even if it’s not //DevCon/ or Cultiv@te, there are so many opportunities to help find ways to use technology to address so many of the world’s key sustainability issues.
As an extension to environmental sustainability, the current climate that we are in also calls for solutions that support business sustainability and the resilience of the region. These, too, are areas that developers have the potential to influence – much like what we’ve seen from the developer community in the Philippines.
Together, we can make a real difference in how we live and feed and protect ourselves in the next 30 years.
So get involved, and help create a better future, for all of us!