Saturday, 1 October, 2022

Tackling Challenges of 4IR in Agriculture

Dr. M. Jamal Uddin

Tackling Challenges of 4IR in Agriculture
Dr. M. Jamal Uddin

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina urged that preparations be made from now to face the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution (4IR). Speaking as the chief guest at the Virtual Inauguration of the 24th National Conference and 43rd Council of the Institute of Diploma Engineers, Bangladesh (IDEB) at the Osmani Memorial Auditorium in Dhaka on September 1, 2022, she further said that due to the Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war prices of all essential commodities rise in worldwide. She added everyone should be frugal. People of the country should be very careful as the global economic situation is deteriorating day by day. From now on we all have to be frugal, save and never overspend on anything. And production should be increased. We have to take measures so that we can always be self-sufficient in our food production. Repeating the words that not even an inch of land should remain uncultivated; she also said that the production should be increased by cultivating vegetables and fruits as much as possible. We have to move forward in a planned way and if we do that the global economic recession cannot hurt us.

Bangladesh, like other countries, has to take a leading role in taking challenges of 4IR and we need to move forward by creating skilled human resources. Technical and agricultural education across the country is witnessing massive technological change. It is difficult to move forward in a technologically dependent society without skilled human resources. It is difficult to keep pace with global competition without adopting appropriate strategies to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the 4IR in agriculture.

The 4IR is a digital revolution. It is the product of the excellence of the first, second and third industrial revolutions. Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and three-dimensional printers on billions of smart phones, laptops and computers have ushered in a new era around the world, which is called the 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'. World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab first spoke of this revolution in 2016. At present, there are various thoughts, analysis, challenges and assessment of needs of 21st century going on around the world.

The fourth industrial revolution is a challenge for us but it is the direction of another new renaissance. The challenges of this revolution are as daunting as they look promising. Therefore, increasing preparedness should be given more importance to face the challenges and move towards success. To remove the obstacles of this revolution, the institutional structure is not being developed equally in all countries and, as a result, it is becoming difficult to keep pace with the world. Therefore, large foreign investment is needed in this sector.

Challenges to implementing the fourth industrial revolution in agriculture include lack of technical education, knowledge, skills and facilities, aversion to technology, financial crisis, motivation complexities in technology transfer, fear of job loss, coordination and adaptation complexities with rapidly changing technology, technology decentralisation issues, insecurity in using technology, fear of cyber crime etc. The greatest challenge to implement the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution in agriculture is the availability of high-tech technical knowledge, skills and opportunities to the poor farmers.

Let's talk about high-tech technical education. Most of the people involved in agriculture have little to no technical education. The common farmer of the village is still far away from this issue. In order to educate in technical and modern education in agriculture, the new generation of farmer families should be targeted. They should be made familiar with all these technologies. For example, they must be taught that in agriculture, drones, robotics, artificial intelligence, internet of things can be used to get information. In the context of our country, these things seem like a pipe dream but the agriculture of the future will move in this direction to match the world.

To make these dreams a reality, it is necessary to include in the curriculum about the technologies of the fourth industrial revolution and its benefits. Preparations for building teachers and imparting knowledge on those subjects should be taken from now. It will be difficult to get the benefits of 4IR, if ancillary facilities and environment, including broadband internet connection, are not provided in educational institutions in remote areas.

However, if the power shortage continues in the future, it will become more of a challenge. As an alternative, the use of solar power can be considered. Inclusion of high technological subjects in schools and colleges would generate interest among students. Through various campaigns, people should be made aware of the usefulness of high technologies. The new generation of educated farmers or their family members should be inspired.

Along with that there is no alternative to make the field level agricultural workers skilled and trained through extensive training. This will take time, but if we do not prepare now, future agriculture will become more vulnerable. It will become difficult to keep pace with the world. Ensuring food security for an increased population will also be difficult.

Over 70% of the country’s farmers are small and marginal. These farmers are economically weak. They may not have the mindset or financial capacity to spend money behind high technology. So, we must target the large and middle-class capable farmers first. The future agricultural technologies should be kept in mind for the expansion of farmers' organisations. At present, the initiative of CIGs (Common Interest Groups) formed with the farmers at the field level across the country through the Directorate of Agricultural Extension under the NATP-2 of the government is very encouraging.

If these organisations can sustain even after the completion of the project, it will be easy to impart knowledge about high technologies. Preparations should be made for that purpose from now. These techniques should be introduced gradually in various trainings. Motivating farmers to transfer these technologies may emerge as one of the challenges. Many people fear losing their jobs when high technology will be introduced in agriculture. This is true but truer is that traditional methods of work will disappear and many fields of work will be created for high-tech management.

According to a study conducted by Oxford University, 47 per cent of human jobs will be automated by artificial intelligence machines in the next two decades. Now is the time to prepare our young generation for the new high-skill labour market that will be created as a result of the 4IR, which will eliminate labour-intensive and relatively low-skilled jobs.

What needs to be done to meet the challenges of implementing 4IR in agriculture is to sensitise the farmers about its benefits by adopting integrated mega projects on ICT, taking initiatives to transform the unemployment problem of the working people into possibilities, facilitating the use of agriculture-friendly apps, carrying out extensive campaigns in various media to make these apps easy for farmers to use online and offline, creating funds for innovation in agriculture, strengthening practical research on how to utilise high technologies, opening open ICT wings in agriculture departments or organizations and developing agricultural experts.

Above all, it is expected that the challenge of implementing the fourth industrial revolution in the future agriculture will be easier if we can decide on an appropriate action plan aimed at turning cyber fear into cyber love at the farmer level.


The writer is the Principal

Scientific Officer, BARI and

Former Consultant of FAO & UNDP