About the “smartification” of agriculture and territory

The most remote and severe territories are a challenge to the technological and digital imagination

The “smartification” of the territory is part of the general movement towards the digitalization of objects (natural and cultural). Therefore, our urgent question: and when the digital apparatus takes over the territory, what will the occupation of the territory look like, with more stock or more population flow?

This is a truly intriguing question for the near future. Here comes the connected objects industry. From now on, we can create sensory plantations to connect these objects, that is, everything will be smart, sooner or later: the city, the house, the factory, the hospital, the airport, the university, the shopping center, but also the agricultural field, the livestock company, the forest, the natural park, etc.

Today, in the field of agriculture, technological advances are unstoppable, sensors and agribots are everywhere. Here are some examples linked to precision agriculture, the agricultural company 4.0:

– Remote irrigation management;
– Monitoring crops using aerial images (obtained with drones);
– Algorithmic calculation of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI);
– Surveillance cameras in stables and cowsheds;
– Milking and feeding robots;
– Chips in animals to monitor their life cycle;
– Robots to carry out work in the vineyard (winebots);
– Autonomous vehicles such as agricultural machines and tractors;
– The sensing of the forest (the eyes and ears of the trees);
– Thermal cameras (firefighters’ night eyes);
– Drone images of areas with the greatest accumulation of bush;
– Robots to attack fires;
– Collection and processing of raw information: farming data and cloud computing;
– Computational models for developing intervention scenarios;
– Creation of applications on smartphones for use by farmers and firefighters;
– Artificial intelligence (machine learning) for various simulations, etc.

This short summary illustrates well what the field of the future and the future of the field could be, according to a certain technological determinism. If we add to this digital connection plantation the technological constellation formed by nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, life, soil and water sciences and the food industries, we will certainly have an occupation of the territory very different from the current one, with fewer people , and more people ex situ busy in surveillance, programming, planning and remote control tasks.

Having said that, the big question for society then seems to be the following: after a first agricultural exodus promoted by industrialization and urbanization (the 1st rurality), we are on the verge of triggering a second agricultural exodus with the "smartification" of the territory, worsening all conditions relating to depopulation and desertification of so-called low-density areas or, on the contrary, is there a virtuous low density that «smartification» can help to design and build?

This question is all the more pertinent as we now discuss the impact of climate change and forest fires, as well as the models of agricultural and forestry exploitation that must occupy the territory in an orderly manner, as taught by architect Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles. , when referring to the organicism of the global landscape (TELLES, 2011). Our fear is exactly this, that is, that “casuistic “smartification” does not know how to respect the organicism of the global landscape”. Three questions are very relevant.

Firstly, the “smartification” of the territory allows, let's say, the bioproductivist versus agrosystemic bifurcation, that is, it depends on our productive options, but the bioproductivist logic is clearly hegemonic and is the one that best suits the smartification algorithms. In any case, it is important to state that “smartification” is not incompatible with agroecosystemic logic, in addition to allowing a rationale for rural employment that is much more favorable to territories. Furthermore, there is a huge scope for progress here in terms of action research.

Secondly, I have many doubts that the phase of “smartification” of the territory, and of agriculture in particular, through the capitalization and technical knowledge it implies, is a task for owners, tenants and traditional agricultural holdings to use the current euphemism. The “smartification” of agriculture is already underway, in a diffuse and selective way, but agribots do not sympathize with traditional agriculture, but rather require much more capitalized bioproductivist agriculture.

Most likely, this investment will be carried out by agents outside the territory in question. Furthermore, it is not just an investment, but also a new conformation of the production system to new users, which could have some ecosystem implications.

Thirdly, the "smartification" of a territory goes far beyond the "smartification" of agriculture, it is a very demanding task in terms of programming and regional planning and involves the construction of an intelligent ecosystem not only to attract a new generation of entrepreneurs but also to create a more collaborative and cooperative mesoeconomy oriented towards new territorial configurations, for example, the creation of network territories and network actors with certain structural characteristics.

Following the previous topic, the technological determinism of a "smartification" of the territory made of geographic information systems (GIS and GPS) and a series of applications on smartphones is not enough to run agribots and drones to monitor the state of crops , although that may essentially be it at this stage. The organicism of the global landscape, the harmony of its constituent elements and the well-being of the resident populations are beyond artificial intelligence and only seem possible within the framework of network territories desired and administered by a dedicated network actor endowed with capital sufficient knowledge for this purpose.

The global landscape of Gonçalo Ribeiro Telles (TELLES, 2011) is a complex multifunctional mosaic where nature conservation, the production of fresh food, agritourism amenities and the management of protected landscape areas fit, according to technical criteria, but, also, aesthetic and ethical.

This means that, in terms of processes and procedures related to agroecological systems, "smartification" can also contribute to a profound revolution in the integrated management of landscape units and protected landscape areas, agricultural and forestry companies and environmental amenities and services which, together with population centers, form the basic structure of territorial and landscape planning.

The great challenge of this new phase is an intelligent smartification of the territory as a global organic landscape, as a territory-living being, as we are convinced that “smartification” is not incompatible with agroecosystemic logic.

Furthermore, the actor-network is an intelligent actor who will not confuse tree plantations with forests, forestry engineering with forestry, transgenic crops with agriculture, cloned animals with livestock farming, land operations with biophysical engineering, green design with landscape architecture, greening of crops with the provision of ecosystem services and management of the product system with management of the system's products.

This list is, in itself, a great action research program to be carried out by future distributed digital networks that are, today, the fundamental instrument for the “smartification” of the territory and the future collaborative economy and society.

Start-up companies that create technological platforms and computer applications are, in the dominant narrative, the main agent of these distributed digital networks and here imagination has no limits.

The most remote and severe territories are, in this context, a challenge to the technological and digital imagination and we are constantly waiting for the most daring start-ups to be able to bring us new ways of occupying these territories.

However, for the new immaterial economy, to prove its existence, online communities created spontaneously in coworking spaces or municipal fablabs are not enough. Start-ups generated in incubators and accelerators are also not enough, like solitary runners in search of a safe path that guarantees them a minimum of sustainability.

There is, in fact, a long way to go between the comfort of a digital network managed by an online community and the discomfort of a real problem managed by a real, municipal or associative community, not to mention the talent of the actor-network that manages the distributed digital network.


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