At Bengaluru Tech Summit experts pin hopes on technological interventions for a sustainable future
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Panellists who took part in the discussion say the efficient application of technologies such as blockchain, IoT and ML could ensure food and water security

December 01, 2023 09:00 am | Updated 09:00 am IST - Bengaluru

Bengaluru Tech Summit.

Bengaluru Tech Summit. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRAGEMENT

Climate change has been one of the biggest threats of this era posing major challenges to food and water security to not just human beings, but all species. But can science and technology address some of these issues, if not all, and offer a glimmer of hope of a sustainable future? Experts say yes.

“The very basis of global climate action is based on data and technology. Science has given us very clear data estimation that if we follow this path we are not going to survive. That’s how all the action related to climate has started,” says Guruprakash Sastry, head of climate action at Infosys.

Mr. Sastry was moderating a discussion on ‘Tech interventions for a sustainable future’ at the Bengaluru Tech Summit.

Importance of data

Technologies like Blockchain, IoT and AI are not often discussed in the context of agriculture or water treatment. However, panelists who took part in the discussion that the efficient application of these technologies in such sectors can bring about drastic changes.

In India agriculture is the largest consume of freshwater resources, using around 70 to 80%. However, technologies that try to solve the water problem, often leave out this piece of the puzzle.

“We are producing a lot of wastewater. But, what is thought of as ‘waste’ is nitrogen and an input for crops. So, can we connect this wastewater directly to the farmers and reduce the load directly? Even if we impact one to two percent of agriculture that would be huge in terms of the absolute number,’ said Sagar N. from Farm & Field crop and digital solutions.

A major challenge in farming has been the deteriorating quality of soil. Mr. Sagar noted that the organic content in soil has reduced by 80%. This affects the water retention ability of the soil which in turn result in increased consumption of water for the same amount of yield.

“Even if we increase organic content in soil by one per cent we can reduce water consumption by 30-35%. It is huge,” said Mr. Sagar, adding that there are sensors to measure properties like temperature and moisture of the soil and it is important to have an integrated network where all of them are connected.

“They say an apple a day keep the doctor away. But the nutrition of an apple has gone down so much that we need probably five to six apples a day to keep the doctor away,” he quipped.

Jokes apart, he pointed out that there are no measuring equipment for things like seed quality.

“We need data on all things such things and then take informed decisions. We need to do soil mapping, we need blockchain for transparency.

Efficient use of technology

Santosh Subramanian, regional CIO – SA, SEA and Oceania at Veolia, a French water and waste water treatment company, pointed out that using a technology in a responsible and efficient manner is critical to achieving breakthroughs.

“We have an IoT-enabled asset performance monitoring systems. World over these systems are designed from an asset point of view – that is how to optimise the efficiency of an installed asset. If you rethink the design in terms of the value stream right from sourcing of water, treatment of water, consumption, waste water, recycling and so on using technology that brings transparency,” he said.

Mr. Subramanian also spoke about the potential of digital twin technology. A digital twin is a simulated digital model of a product or service.

According to Mr. Subramanian a digital pilot plant where properties such as pH, corrosion and so on could be tested without having do large capex investments could be a big game changer.

While he agreed that the technology could be used to address issues like power and water crisis at a city scale, he pointed out that it comes with challenges in terms of modelling the data.

No one size fits all

While the adoption of technology has led to some key transformations in sectors like agriculture, panelists pointed out that the kind of transformation differs from place to place.

Mr. Sagar noted that the European agricultural sector is into precision farming and already use sensors to improve the efficiency.

“For them now the key aspect would be to get better data, better insights, and ways to improve yield, nutrient efficiency and so on. So, those are the technologies which we are working on there. For larger farmers there, we have tractors that have sensors that use imaging and scanning technology. They do real time estimation of the required nutrients and fertigation. So, we are trying to get scanning technologies which can do it even faster and more precise,” he said.

Whereas in India, the case if different. The fertilisers are added to the fields manually. Therefore, the technology also has to start from the basics.

“We are starting with precision farming and helping farmers to understand what are the best practices, what is the baseline, what is the amount of yield they can get if they do all of these. Basic sensors that can measure soil moisture, temperature, pH and so on are getting installed,” he said.  

Blockchain for a sustainable future

While data is paramount to ensure the efficient use of technologies like IoT and Machine Language for sustainable future, Prof. Claudio J. Tessone from department of informatics at University of Zurich pointed out that blockchain and distributed ledgers could be used to augment it.

“One thing that blockchain is very good at is bringing in transparency. For example, we can store supply chains in blockchain and try to trace the journey of the food produce. It also introduces accountability and allow us to understand who are responsible for specific things,” he said, adding that storing data locally ends up in siloing of data and prevention of the formation of a larger data ecosystem that would allow stakeholders to make informed decisions.

Seconding the potential of blockchain, Mr. Sastry of Infosys pointed out that the technology could be used to prevent cases like double counting renewable energy certificates (RECs.)

“A lot of people are double counting REC and thus claiming higher percentage of renewables in their operations. Those kinds of things can be addressed with blockchain and distributed ledger,’ he said.

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