The increased frequency of natural disasters and our response
Fabio Domenico Vescovi is an agronomist and Earth observation specialist. He is currently Senior Data Scientist and Technical Lead at Cropin. Fabio develops applications of satellite technologies in tropical countries for the insurance sector (drought and floods). He studies the biophysical parameters of crops to inform an index-based insurance system and develops AI algorithms based on DataCube and Machine Learning. Fabio has had an international career spanning Germany (University of Bonn), Italy (OHB) and the UK (Airbus). He has also been deeply involved in various African countries, working with different stakeholders to facilitate data-based access to microcredit and microinsurance for farmers. Fabio holds a PhD in remote sensing applications in agriculture.
You use satellite data to track droughts and floods to farm more efficiently. What other companies are doing this globally?
At Cropin, we use satellite data as well as other types of data such as weather data, soil information, agro-climatic conditions, seed genetics, global crop sowing and harvesting patterns, agronomy, etc. to create AI models that bring predictive intelligence to agriculture and make it more efficient, productive and sustainable.
There are a host of organizations in this industry offering services that target this difficult area. We believe that the challenges facing this sector are many and complex and that no one player can solve them all. Therefore, a thriving global agrotech ecosystem is a great catalyst for truly accelerating progress in the agricultural ecosystem. The industry itself is at a stage of evolution and the adoption of technology in the global agricultural arena is still a long way to go. Arable land across the planet is estimated at 1.4 billion hectares and in terms of the ability to digitize and impact the planet’s agricultural value chain, the agritech sector is still miles away, but we are certainly going in the right way.
Why are you passionate about the agricultural sector? What inspired you to become part of this field?
My family and ancestors were all Italian farmers and despite growing up in an urban environment, I have always had a passion for environmental science, agriculture and the socio-cultural connections between our environment, our people and myself. .
Technology services for farmers may be unaffordable for many farmers in a country like India. Do you think India can implement them on a large scale?
We are keenly aware that farmers will face challenges affording themselves high-end digital and predictive intelligence solutions that will make a meaningful difference in their lives. This is why Cropin operates through a B2B and B2G business model. We work with large food processors, food retailers, seed and agricultural input manufacturers, agricultural lenders and insurers, governments and development agencies who in turn work with a large number of farmers and large tracts of agricultural land. Thus, the cost of the technology is borne by our customers and the benefits of increased efficiency, improved yields, lower input costs and better sustainable operations benefit all stakeholders, including the farmer. Another important benefit of our B2B and B2G approach is that it also helps us create impact at scale in global agriculture compared to working directly with individual farmers.
What is Carbon Culture? In which countries is it implemented?
Carbon farming is a new term but an old practice. I think people have been doing carbon farming since the days when agriculture was invented. One of the simplest examples of Carbonculture is the movement of organic matter in the form of manure from the barn to the ground. In turn, the soil provides food for the animals in the barn. There were many similar carbon cycles and sub-cycles across peoples and cultures, where organic matter was recirculated and eventually regenerated.
Today, this circularity in carbon has been slowly destroyed by a mix of industrial and commercial processes that, while highly productive, are not environmentally sustainable. Just to give you a negative example, Europe is a big importer of soybeans, sunflowers and cereals from Brazil, which is now clearing its forests and depleting the organic matter in its soil to grow these products. However, there is no process in place to return this carbon from Europe to Brazil in the soil from where it was taken. Only the money comes back. We were able to set up a perfect system economically but ecologically unsustainable. As in a bank, what the soil gives us is a loan, not a gift.
How can AI be used for sustainable agriculture?
Digitalization and AI can be harnessed at scale to increase efficiency, productivity and sustainability in agriculture. To leverage AI for agriculture, Cropin undertakes the complex process of “agricultural asset calculation” which brings together satellite imagery, historical and forecast weather data, information on soils, agro-climatic conditions, seed genetics, global sowing and harvesting patterns, agronomy and other agricultural information under one umbrella to create knowledge graphs for hundreds of crops and crop varieties around the world. This data is then used to create AI models for any agricultural plot, region, country or crop in the shortest possible time. This provides information and recommendations on various aspects of farming operations – from selecting the right crops and seeds, the right time to sow and harvest, the optimal use of water resources and the adoption of good agricultural practices, etc All this allows for much more sustainable agriculture. .
At Cropin, we have already calculated 0.2 billion acres of farmland in 12 countries, and we have an ambitious goal to calculate and develop predictive intelligence “on the fly” for 1/3 of the planet’s farmland. by 2025. In doing so, we help solve global challenges such as food security, environmental sustainability and better livelihoods for farmers.
How can farmers be empowered globally?
Farmers are supposed to be the most powerful category in the world, they should even dominate the kings, as for example in the American and French revolutions. But the world has become oblivious to it. People forget agriculture and the role of farmers, especially smallholders. Nowadays, if you ask a European child: “Where does this milk come from?” the answer you might get is, “Well, from the fridge! “. Thus, milk is perceived as an industrial product and, ironically, this is not wrong, as the number of industrial processes occurring on every drop of milk, from milking to consumption, is overwhelming. Thus, behind a common agricultural or dairy product, we no longer see a natural environment but rather a complex system of industrial processes.
Farmers can only be brought into the political arena if they speak the language of marketing, behave like industrialists, have the knowledge of engineers, act like politicians and talk like salespeople! How to understand the role of farmers in a complex society that has forgotten the importance of agriculture?
Even in the context of climate change, the only ones empowered to bring about significant change on millions of hectares are smallholder farmers. They can play a key role in agroforestry and carbon sequestration, far more than any other industrial process. But they are not aware of the processes and their potentials, and neither is society. We need an educational process involving both the agricultural and industrial sectors to raise awareness of their potential.
Finally, a personal question – Is doing a doctorate and a life as a researcher fulfilling?
Yes, but I have to accept that the academic context of a PhD and the way of life of a researcher moving through different countries to attend congresses are so different than the cultural context and environmental conditions of a farm. I can’t just mix the lifestyle of a farmer with that of a researcher. Anyway, whenever I try to do this or spend a few days on a family farm in an African context (for example, currently I am writing from a small farm in Mwingi, a rural area of central Kenya, not even fully electrified) so I get the best results from my research and grow in knowledge of what the agricultural world is really about, when it comes to agriculture, even Carbon starvation. My dear farmers and I dream of making our common voice heard and raising awareness of the real role that agriculture and research can play together: my doctorate is not a barrier, it is the way to open my mind to their culture and learn more.
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