Artificial intelligence and the sustainability of agricultural production in the Arabian Gulf

Date: 25 - 07 - 2023

Abu Dhabi

Source: Alittihad Newspaper

Dr.. Ali Mohamed Al-Khouri

Artificial intelligence technologies have the capabilities that enable them to reshape many vital sectors, especially the Arab agricultural sector, which is still one of the files that did not take proper attention on the table of national or regional decisions alike. What has become a reality, and can add to the current scene, is that modern technologies offer promising solutions, especially to pressing issues in the Arab region, such as those related to the increased demand for food, energy and water, and the lack of arable land and quality, among others.

And with expectations of steady population growth in the Arab region – from about 400 million to nearly 700 million people by 2050 – which will inevitably coincide with further deterioration of environmental conditions related not only to natural factors, but also to economic, social and political factors, finding innovative agricultural solutions has become more urgent than ever.

Artificial intelligence in the agricultural industry AI-based tools provide many solutions and benefits for agricultural activities, such as information of interest to farmers about selecting seeds, identifying crops best suited to local soil conditions, and predicting the types of pesticides that crops may need, and thus Improving the use of fertilizers and reducing environmental impact, which means that artificial intelligence acts as an agricultural guide available around the clock.

One of the main advantages of AI is its ability to process data from various sources, such as sensors embedded in the soil, and remote inputs, such as satellite images or even mobile phones. Using image recognition algorithms, AI can examine images, identify types of diseases or insect infestations, or scan seeds to determine their type, quality, and viability. The ability to distinguish between good and bad seeds improves agricultural efficiency, and may lead to improved crop yields and conservation. resources.

In cases of precision cultivation, artificial intelligence can automate the entire cultivation process, as well as machine vision systems that determine the optimal sites for planting seeds, which enhances agricultural growth. According to international reports, innovations in this aspect increase the rate of agricultural crop production by more than 50 percent.

What is striking is the spread of applications of artificial intelligence-powered drones in many European countries to photograph and evaluate crops, and distribute fertilizers accurately, and these applications are only one among a group of modern technologies that are accelerating a revolutionary change in the global agricultural sector.

The technological capabilities in their entirety, based on artificial intelligence, will be like a transition from traditional rain-fed agriculture to the use of “mechanized” plows, tractors, and satellite-guided machines!

Watson platform for precision agriculture The Watson platform – from IBM – is one of the most popular applications of artificial intelligence in this regard, as it helps farmers make “evidence-based” decisions to improve harvests, increase productivity and profitability, and the platform has proven capabilities Transforming the US agriculture sector – which accounts for more than $1.2 trillion in US GDP – through predictive analytics, irrigation management, crop health monitoring, supply chain and logistics improvements, and even local marketability. And global.

The platform analyzes diverse datasets, including weather data and satellite imagery, to predict crop yields, suggest optimal planting and harvest times – especially since 90 percent of agricultural crop losses are due to weather-related causes – reduce waste, and identify causes of pest or disease outbreaks. potential. The platform integrates modern agricultural equipment, such as guiding autonomous tractors for planting, managing irrigation equipment remotely, as well as monitoring crop health, evaluating crop quality, and suggesting targeted treatments. The least that can be said in this regard is that AI applications are in a state of labour, and are poised to revolutionize the agricultural sector.


Environmental impact

Artificial intelligence can play an important role in mitigating the environmental impact of the agricultural sector – which is accused of contributing to global warming – by improving the ways of using land and agricultural areas. Modern technological applications show the possibility of reducing the consumption of fertilizers and pesticides by up to 30 percent through the capabilities of determining the optimal amount of fertilizer required for each plant, thus reducing excessive uses, and preventing environmental damage caused by current practices.


The Arab agricultural area

The total area of ​​the Arab countries is about 14 million square kilometers, or more than 10 percent of the total land area in the world. According to World Bank data, the cultivated land in the region does not exceed 6 percent, which is equivalent to 840 thousand square kilometers, out of 14 percent of the arable area. The agricultural industry in the Arab countries faces a number of broad challenges, including the heavy dependence on natural resources, such as rainwater, non-renewable groundwater and desalinated sea water.

These challenges are exacerbated by climate change, which leads to higher temperatures and lower rates of precipitation, which leads to more frequent and severe droughts. The situation is further exacerbated by improper agricultural practices and ineffective irrigation systems, which increase the stress on water resources.

Many Arab countries lack innovative technology and infrastructure for modern and sustainable agricultural practices that are more appropriate to the harsh environmental conditions in the region. Together, these factors represent giant challenges to the growth and sustainability of the agricultural sector in these countries.


Agricultural Transformation in the Arab Region

Although the Arab region is one of the most water-scarce regions in the world, it is uniquely poised to benefit from agricultural developments driven by artificial intelligence, as its technologies can help it make efficient use of scarce water resources. From rainwater and groundwater to desalinated and recycled agricultural drainage water, which could save about 50 percent of water resources compared to the current situation.

AI can facilitate the shift from traditional farming practices to precision farming, increasing yield and resource efficiency. The use of genetically modified crops – which by their nature require less water and can tolerate arid conditions – could significantly increase the area under cultivation and reduce the region’s dependence on food imports, which currently account for more than 50 percent of its diet.


Public policy recommendations

Government policy makers can play a strategic role in accelerating the adoption of artificial intelligence in the agricultural sector, and from this standpoint we see that the decision table should include the following four axes: – The first axis is related to the necessity of investing in research and development, and giving priority to funding in the field of artificial intelligence technologies In agriculture, to encourage innovations that can address the delicate and unique challenges of the region.

The second axis is related to education and training, and calls for upgrading educational and training programs and applications of artificial intelligence in agriculture, and preparing the future workforce in this important sector.

The third axis requires stimulating building partnerships between the public and private sectors, and facilitating cooperation between public institutions and private entities to accelerate the development and adoption of artificial intelligence-based solutions in the agricultural sector.
The fourth axis relates to regulatory frameworks that require the development of clear guidelines and regulations on data privacy, the ethical use of artificial intelligence, and the responsible implementation of these technologies.

In addition to the foregoing, this does not preclude attention to the ecological environment of agriculture as a whole, especially providing incentives for the expansion of agricultural “mechanization”, especially in the field of machines connected to the Internet and capable of working and self-driving.


The way forward

No one can deny the capabilities of artificial intelligence and its great potential to revolutionize the agricultural sector and provide food security, especially in the Arab region. While the region is facing various challenges, such as high implementation costs and a weak workforce in this sector, it is possible to adopt proactive policies and strategic investments supported by the capabilities of artificial intelligence in the goals of sustainable agriculture, in light of the increasing global demand for food and the dwindling of natural resources. Sustainable agriculture is not only an opportunity, but has also become an absolute necessity to enhance Arab food security by providing food supplies, enhancing local production capabilities, reducing waste, and enhancing food safety and nutrition systems, in addition to facing global crises and potential disasters that may cause disruption of supply chains and high prices.

What is required is to find a suitable environment to embrace the agricultural technological revolution, to bring about a real transformation in the Arab agricultural landscape, and to move towards a more sustainable future.