Labour in Agriculture
Agriculture as a sector is highly dependent on labour for most stages of production. High quality and quantity of agricultural produce require effective labor systems and management to remain sustainable. The multi-stage process of agricultural production means that the demand for labour in agriculture is seasonal and thus differs from the other labour markets. In more developed countries such as the US, most food production is industrialized while less developed countries still rely largely on manual labour processes. The percentage of a country’s labour devoted to agriculture also depends on how much of that country’s land is used for farming and food production.
Before the turn of the century, agriculture accounted for most of global employment. According to the FAO, the percentage of the global workforce employed in agriculture was 27% in 2019 as compared to 40% in 2000. The share of agriculture in global GDP has been stable at about 4% since 2000. Reduction in the percentage of labour concentrated in agriculture has been attributed to various factors:
i. Migration away from rural areas where most agriculture takes place to urban areas has reduced the amount of labour available for the agricultural sector.
ii. Conflicts in less developed countries due to land disputes and political instability also create a volatile and unstable environment unfit for a steady supply of labour.
iii. Another factor is the rise of more private sector jobs which are considered more dignified and profitable by younger workers leading to an aging workforce in agriculture.
More developed countries are already making efforts to combat these problems by making agriculture more capital intensive and less reliant on fluctuations in the labour market. Far-reaching effects on the shortages are however still felt in less developed countries at different levels of production. Labour shortages result in scarcity of foods due to reduced planting as well as reduced harvesting and wastage of cultivated produce. The shortages also result in shadow markers where vulnerable people are exploited for labour.
AI Solutions to Labour Shortage in Agriculture
Already, technology is playing a huge role in solving the problem of labour shortage in agriculture. High labor saving innovations that involve machine learning and robotics are being proposed to improve output on farms. These solutions combine mechanical engineering with artificial intelligence to develop labour saving practices for cultivating a wide variety of crops. The possible roles for AI vary across various stages of production.
i. Mechanical solutions are present in the use of robots that can perform multiple tasks including weeding and harvesting at higher speeds than humans. Beyond these basic tasks, such robots are optimized to identify diseased crops and plants during harvesting and sort produce according to quality.
ii. AI can also be useful in predicting efficient irrigation patterns and ensuring sustainability of farming practices in ways that human labour can not. Use of AI based systems in irrigation can ensure delivery of water to farmland more efficiently than manual methods.
iii. AI-based applications that can identify nutrient deficiencies in soil have been developed. These apps use image-based techniques that visualize the crops and identify signs of deficiency that may be present in the soil. Using this, farmers are better able to assess soil quality and determine the need for fertilizers before planting.
iv. AI algorithms also outperform humans in identifying diseased crops and pests for prompt attention.
v. Drone-based technology has also been used to monitor crop health. Algorithms are used to analyze images and provide details about the health of a farm.
vi. Predictive analytics can also be used in line with detecting weather patterns and crop stability more accurately than traditional methods.
vii. It has also been proposed that AI technology be used in the storage and transportation process to avoid road-blocks and other delays in transportation in order to combat the problems of food wastage.
In conclusion, the roles of AI in managing the labour shortage in agriculture appear to be multifaceted, with the multiple stages of production providing several opportunities for integration of new technologies. AI development and incorporation on farms will go a long way in improving the current situation and providing sustainable solutions in agricultural labour.