Connected Agriculture: Smart Greenhouses to Help China Meet its Sustainable Development Goals

June 19, 2019

As Mobile World Congress returns to Shanghai later this month, many will be wondering how this enormous country – which is now by far the most connected country on earth, with 65% of the world’s cellular IoT connections (GSMAi) – plans to impress next.  There is certainly no shortage of ways in which it will – see here for an overview of all the innovations being showcased this year at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre between 26 and 28 June.  But an increasingly pressing question will be weighing too on the minds of many delegates: that is, how China’s innovators plan to use this country’s vast and expanding capabilities in connected technology to address the looming challenges of climate change.

In part to that end, this year’s Congress will review a highly promising agricultural proof of concept developed over the last year at the Dezhong Grape Ecological Park in Quzhou county.  In April 2018, the GSMA began convening collaborative work between a range of organisations, including China Mobile and the China Agricultural University, to develop an agricultural use case based on IoT big data. The resulting innovation is essentially a smart greenhouse – in this use case to enable connected vineyard management, by providing farmers with a smart decision-making tool for resource allocation.  IoT sensors and meteorological instruments measure factors in the soil and atmosphere impacting grape production – such as temperature, humidity, nutrients and soil moisture – and transfer the data to the farmer through an app.

So what are the gains to be made here?  Basing a greenhouse on IoT decision-making has led to just about the full range of results a farmer would hope for in commercial terms: increased yield, higher quality, and reduced costs.  But there are far wider benefits on offer – namely, the contributions technologies of this kind stand to make in the fight against climate change.  China’s commitment to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals means becoming fully self-sufficient in staple foods by the end of the decade, but without increasing resource inputs to agriculture – the Government’s plan includes targets of zero growth in the use of fertilisers and pesticides by 2020, and limiting national water consumption to below 700 billion cubic metres by 2030.  This however comes at a time when consumers are becoming increasingly focussed on quality, and increased consciousness of food safety. Innovations of this kind, therefore, provide a demonstrable means of increasing production while reducing emissions.

The connected greenhouse is just one current example of how operators are rapidly expanding their commercial horizons beyond their traditional role as providers simply of connectivity. Leading operators are already providing end-to-end connected services and platforms to add value far beyond the utility of network access, and we can expect many more to follow suit as the IoT grows. In this instance that’s achieved by China Mobile’s OneNet Platform, enabling access to multiple sensor and data types, which are analysed to provide insights and thereby decision-making tools: a single solution combining connectivity with data management and analysis, which enables maximisation of crop yields in the most achievably efficient way.  There are many such end-to-end solutions to consider this year, a wide range of which will be demonstrated at the Innovation City, in Hall N5, alongside the smart greenhouse.  We hope to see many of you there.

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