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AI, Agriculture & Climate Change

Updated: Mar 22

This is a recap of the TED Circles: AI, Agriculture & Climate Change workshop held on Sat Jan 15, 2022, 10-11:30 am ET. transform this hosted TED Circles are a free, online, safe and inclusive place to connect with innovators from all over the globe. This workshop included representation from at least 8 diverse countries including Nigeria, India, Canada, US, UK, France and others.


We were incredibly honoured to have the celebrated author and Data Scientist, Serg Masís, co-host this workshop. Serg also guest authored the workshop summary below, along with an epilogue from Maram Taian, who also edited this TED Circles summary.


Workshop Goals


We live in the age of AI and climate change. Agriculture is one of the most important industries to humans and is ripe for innovation. It also has a large impact on climate change. We met to discuss:

  1. How does AI in agriculture affect climate change?

  2. What other factors affect climate change during food production?

  3. Are there any ethical issues at the intersection of AI, agriculture, and climate change?


Team:


For inspiration, here are a TED Talk and an article that represent the topic:

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Workshop Summary by Serg Masís


One fine Saturday in mid-January 2022, Gunjan Syal, Serg Masís, and over two dozen other global attendees met to discuss the cross-section of agriculture, climate change, and artificial intelligence. The attendees hailed from Vancouver to Luxembourg to Nigeria and had varied backgrounds from Agronomy to Business Technology Management to Public Policy.


It was a lively discussion with the following main threads:

  1. How climate change will unequally impact the poorest parts of the planet more, making them also less food sustainable while having less access to technologies that will help mitigate risks so cost is an important factor in driving adoption where it's most needed.

  2. Precision agriculture can minimize the use of greenhouse emitting chemicals and gasses, thus potentially providing a net gain once factored in the energy consumption of AI. However, if farmers aren't educated in the importance of being more precise, then there's no point, but economic incentives could align if fertilizer and chemical costs were high enough.

  3. Trust is a big factor. After all, many people still don't believe in climate change, especially in rural areas. Agriculture is very traditional, and information is often shared and promoted by word of mouth by trusted community members.

  4. Solutions that engage or leverage the local community will be more trusted, especially small-scale farmers that depend on their communities.

  5. Beyond thinking of just AI, we have to think of low-tech solutions because rural areas, and in developing countries no less, might not even have cell phone coverage.

  6. We have to watch out for negative externalities from AI-driven gains in crop yields, such as runoff producing algae blooms and killing marine life or oversupplies collapsing a crop financially in the commodities market.

  7. Some agricultural practices are ancient, almost religious traditions such as stubble burning in India. Educating farmers on changing these kinds of traditions would be a considerable challenge. On the other hand, perhaps regulation-driven culture change can nudge people in the right direction as Greece did when it entered the EU.

  8. Smart farming and vertical farming might not be scalable solutions to every crop and geography, especially in developing nations.

The following word cloud depicts those words that were mentioned the most during the session.


Maram's Epilogue


I was honored to have been in the company of so many knowledgeable experts during this transform this hosted TED Circles. We gathered to discuss the use of AI in agriculture and how it is related to the climate change crisis.


I was inspired as a minority woman to see the TED Talk featuring the work of Dr. Catherine Nakalembe, a female BIPOC scientist from Uganda, whose work addresses the food insecurity problem in Africa.


The attendees were highly engaged, and they shared a variety of information explaining how various parts of the world will be impacted differently due to the development state and the geography of the countries and their locations. Everyone proceeded to assure the importance of providing the farmers with the technology tools, information, and data needed for them to make the best decisions.


Many attendees shared thought-provoking ideas such as taking into consideration that the farmers are usually from tight-knit communities which are connected closely and their needs are deeply connected. They share very deep trust and they depend on each other in gathering the needed information. Breaking this trust has severe consequences for the technology.

Nicole: "Adoption of technologies for farmers has to be customized and must demonstrate real value to the farmers."
Abdulwaheed: "As it is an established fact that food insecurity is highly pronounced in developing countries where agriculture practice is more cultural, and small-scale farmers tend to trust cultural and traditional structures."

I enjoyed the critical discussion that took place introducing the viable solutions that can help the farmers pivot their way of approaching things and spread the use of innovative technologies. It is remarkably interesting the different perspectives that everyone brought to the table which indicated that a collective approach to assist farmers in the future of AI and agriculture is essential to ensure the ultimate success for the implementation of any solutions.

Gunjan: "We will need to ensure we approach agricultural solutions that address all stakeholders with an unbiased mind and while addressing the conflict of interests that often are recognized too late."
Yuting: "AI could be detrimental and I think that's connected in some ways to the credibility of AI and how do we ensure it does not harm?"
Kimberly: "a number of different opportunities are rising actually for people to come up with local relevant solutions that might have a technology where you can read the ground by putting something into it and then tracking that data."

Unfortunately, there is no easy and simple solution that we can implement around the globe that can solve the climate change crisis due to the unique effect that each geographic area is experiencing.

Bill: "I think two important things in digital agriculture: sustainability and business. Sustainability is about this broader effort of climate change is real and we want to figure out how within our business."
Serg: "Change is possible and there has been more change recently than 8000 years in Agriculture."

Personally, this workshop was inspiring because many people expressed their interest in finding solid solutions to the climate change crisis and they were also interested in finding ways to enable farmers in innovative ways.

Raj: "The session for me was more like brain tickling. It gave me a good perspective of AI, Climate Change and Agriculture! I loved how we directly try to solve the problem and AI is not always about solving."
Brandon: "Another thing that I think would be important is the inherent biases in AI and the models… like AI and Racism."

Once again, our gratitude to the global transform this community for returning week-after-week and bringing their diverse perspectives for inclusive and responsible innovation to flourish.


We hope you will join us in taking specific actions as stakeholders to drive inclusive, measurable, and ethical changes aimed at enabling circular economy. Join us at one of the upcoming conversations, below, to learn more.



Upcoming Workshop

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