Hungry to find out more about the role of standards on World Food Safety Day, we put questions to Tom Heilandt from the UN’s commission on food safety, Codex Alimentarius.
Most of us agree that humankind is facing serious problems. And while the increasing pace of life may have contributed to those problems, technology is also providing us new ways to fix them. Like capturing the power of connectivity to feed a growing population on a planet whose resources are shrinking.
What are your ideas on the future of farming?
Get involved in the ISO strategic advisory group (SAG) and tell us.
Within the SAG, the ISO members for the USA and Germany are coordinating experts from 21 other member countries. Each ISO member interested in participating has nominated an expert to introduce content relevant to the context and interests of their respective countries.
Reach out to us and find out how you can take part.
The SAG has been tasked with mapping the standardization landscape surrounding smart farming across the entire food value chain situated within the context of the UN SDGs, and assessing the need for future standardization.
The SAG is working with relevant stakeholders to produce an overview and plan for smart farming standards, expected towards the end of 2022.
ISO standards – the ingredient holding it all together
When it comes to fixing joined-up problems, you need joined-up solutions. That’s exactly the kind of approach that is enabled by ISO standards. You can see the enabling role of standards in many situations, like the way we’re helping to advance the development of smart cities. Now, at the other end of the spectrum, we’re focusing on fields and food.
The artificially fast, hyperconnected, always-on digitized world, colliding with the slow swelling of leaves, shoots, grains and tubers. Surely, these are two things that are not supposed to go together?
The fact is that farming has become very data-oriented. As both resources and margins are squeezed and climate change makes the weather less predictable, commercial farmers must collect, interpret and exchange increasing amounts of information to stay in business. But too often the various machines, sensors and software that they use don’t talk to each other very well. Addressing this interoperability challenge is just one area where ISO can help.
Known to ISO insiders as a “strategic advisory group”, the smart farming SAG is a model for how to bring together the different pieces and enable truly smart farming.
One of the group’s priorities is to develop synergies by ensuring that relevant experts from across different sectors are working together.
That means getting agricultural engineers and agronomists around the table with those who may never have set foot on a farm. But if cultivation in an artificially controlled environment is being addressed, then it makes sense that the experts on lighting can share their bright ideas. Likewise, we need the experts on robotics to provide input into the ways in which drones can perform the most repetitive or hazardous jobs on the farm. You get the idea. That’s why more than 30 ISO technical committees (and their highly specialized subcommittees) form the core of the group.
Relevant experts from across different sectors are working together.
ISO technical and subcommittees are brought together to make smart farming a reality.
The ISO smart farming SAG is convened by the ISO members for the USA and Germany, two of the world’s leaders in industrialized farming. The core of the new group brings together 21 ISO member countries, representing the full range of farming contexts and challenges that can be imagined.
That includes giants like China and India (both of which blend family subsistence farming with industrial-scale exports of commodities) to countries like Singapore and the Netherlands (both of which address high-density populations living on high-value land through high-intensity, high-technology production).
We need to find farmland with the equivalent combined area of Italy, Japan, New Zealand, France, South Korea and Germany.
Smallholder farmers also stand to benefit from data standards enabled by the SAG’s work. As smartphones become increasingly affordable, it’s getting easier for these most vulnerable of farmers to access better risk management tools such as crop insurance, to use AI-driven diagnostic tools that can help them take better care of their crops in the absence of trained agronomists, and even to access market data and get the best price for their crops. Beyond these examples, there are hundreds of ways that specific technologies will be further developed by the ISO smart farming SAG.
In 2020, at team of international researchers published a thorough overview of the state of smart farming in the journal Agronomy. In addition to providing detailed insights into the current state and future possibilities of smart farming, the article provides a map of the types of smart farming technologies that will address challenges in open-field farming. It points to a clear role for standards in enabling interoperability and compliance with evolving legislation.
Protecting our planet and meeting our needs
A 2021 article in Nature Sustainability explores some of the problems of farming and their potential solutions. It sets the scene in the following way: “If current agricultural trends continue, pressures on biodiversity will increase substantially; projections based on population growth and dietary transitions estimate the need for two to ten million square kilometres of new agricultural land, largely cleared at the expense of natural habitats.”
Let’s just get that into perspective. Taking the lower figure, we’d potentially need to find farmland with the equivalent combined area of Italy, Japan, New Zealand, France, South Korea and Germany. The upper figure exceeds the size of Canada or China.
The only way to create such farmland would be to clear all the other stuff away from existing terrain. Things like wetlands, forests, parks and wilderness, together with the plants, fungi, bugs, birds, people and other animals that live there.
Whilst the UN Climate Change Conference, and every generation of its offspring up to COP26, has seen “commitments” from governments and “engagements” by corporate actors, we’re still setting new records in global deforestation. We’re destroying unique ecosystems that help regulate the planet’s climate. That makes it even more likely that rising sea levels will submerge low-lying areas and actually reduce the habitable surface of the planet, forcing populations to move and putting additional pressure on the areas where we can grow food.
In 2022, our species urgently requires solutions that adequately address our most fundamental need: growing enough food for everyone to eat. Recognizing the vital importance of farming to our future, ISO is bringing the world’s experts in agriculture, and many other sectors, together in the new smart farming SAG.
For ISO, smart farming isn’t just mixing tech and tillage for the sake of it. It’s about addressing a pressing sustainability problem. Namely, world population and demand for food are going to rise (a lot) before flattening out and becoming manageable. That means finding new ways to define and manage our priorities and our resources, especially when it comes to land and water use.