J.B. Penn – Technology and Smallholder Farmers

How is technology impacting agriculture today?

We’re seeing another technological revolution in agriculture today and it’s proceeding at different paces all around the world. In advanced countries we’re seeing the use of computers, guidance systems, monitors and sensors—what’s generally labeled as precision farming. That requires a whole new skill level, either in IT, agronomy and different aspects of food production. We’re no longer dependent on one person—the farmer—to do all of the tasks on the farm that traditionally has been the case.

What’s the impact of technology on smallholder farmers?

For smallholder farmers, the technical revolution is just beginning. In many parts of the world, it’s begun with cellular phones to obtain market information such as prices in nearby locations to help the farmer get the best return.  You are already seeing smallholder farmers in some parts of the world use handheld guidance systems, GPS systems. Soon, we’re going to see more advances in mechanization for these farmers.

In the mechanization sphere, for example, more and more machines are being engineered for smallholder farmers or small plots to do the tasks that smallholder farmers have to do, and new technologies are being embedded in those machines and in the software that runs them.  We’re on the cusp of seeing lots of new developments for smallholder farmers.

How are farmers themselves continuing to innovate?

Farmers are great economists and they’re also among the most enterprising people you’ll find in the world. In many cases, they have survived for centuries, mostly by their own wits—producing their own food and doing so in a sustainable way. We travel all over the world to look at what farmers are doing with machines and with their farming practices. We try to learn. We analyze the most advanced innovations and then try to build them into our products and make them available for everyone. Farmers are great innovators, largely because they’ve had to be.

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