Biodiversity and the future of food served by the cloud | Greenbiz


This article is sponsored by AWS

Healthy planet, healthy people

Biodiversity, the variety of life in an ecosystem, forms the foundation for the world’s food systems. Biodiversity supports global food security, as well as the ability of our agricultural systems to defend against pests and pathogens. As just one example, more than 75 percent of food crop types around the world depend on animal pollination — this includes fruits, vegetables and coffee, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Research from the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) outlines how ensuring biodiversity in diets also supports human health.

As climate change and population levels continue to increase, there’s an even greater need to protect biodiversity and produce food sustainably. And with nearly 800 million people undernourished today and food demand projected to be 70 percent higher by 2050, according to the World Economic Forum, ensuring agriculture technology is founded on science is critical.

The global community came together at the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) in Montreal in December to strategize how to pursue these endeavors in a unified way. With 200 countries signing on, the resulting agreement presented by the UN Environment Programme aims to protect 30 percent of the planet for nature by 2030.

Making the invisible visible

Biodiversity is an integral part of a stable natural ecosystem and not a silo unto itself. The world’s environmental ecosystems are complex and interconnected; focusing heavily on one area can impact another. For example, as food production expands, air and water quality may be impacted. Adjusting our agricultural practices helps keep forests, groundwater and animal habitats in a healthier state.

Today’s technology makes it possible to see how and where challenges are happening. Specifically, it allows us to view the very complex, interconnected, immense amounts of data used for research. Seeing that data — understanding what we are working with — is a critical first step to knowing how to solve these challenges.

From a research perspective, cross-disciplinary programs — such as the work Amazon Web Services, Inc. (AWS) is doing with the Natural History Museum in the U.K. — can also yield results, underlining why multi-sector collaborations are so important. Together, AWS and the museum are looking to drive science-led nature protection and regeneration by creating a digital twin. By building this digital version of the U.K.’s physical biodiversity, scientists can leverage the digital twin to analyze and compare datasets in search of environmental solutions.

Another collaboration, with engineering firm Arup, is considering ways to facilitate sustainable city design, with an eye on biodiversity management. Using Amazon SageMaker, and with plans to incorporate additional AWS technologies such as AWS SimSpace Weaver, Arup is working to mitigate the impact of urban heat islands.

In addition to looking at ways to change land and sea use, it’s important to address waste. So, another tactic is to shift from a linear economy — extracting materials, making products and creating waste — to a circular economy that reuses materials and prevents waste from being produced. Examples abound, such as panels in a solar project used to protect crops, and the crops in turn helping to moderate panel temperature — or using offshore wind turbines as homes for new biodiversity zones for coral.

Biodiversity as a data challenge

Currently, half of all habitable land is being leveraged for food production. The bulk of that land is used to feed and house livestock to produce meat and dairy, leaving only 23 percent of the land to yield about 82 percent of all human calories.

Food production is responsible for 26 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and the EPA has estimated that food accounts for the largest category of everyday waste in landfills in the United States alone, which ultimately becomes methane. All this is to say that climate change, biodiversity and food security are inextricably tied.

Data can point toward a best course of action. There are endless data streams to capture, integrate and analyze — from satellite feeds to handheld devices. And the cloud offers an answer to help make sense of all that data in an efficient, scalable way. Moving data to the cloud and applying tools such as artificial intelligence (AI) allows us to understand what the data is telling us and act faster.

AWS Partners are doing tremendous work in this area. For example, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) worked with customer Rallis to apply TCS’ Digital Platform for Next Generation Agriculture (DNA) to farmlands in India.

When first deployed, DNA was able to cover about 14 million acres. Later, moving DNA onto the cloud significantly increased the amount of land monitored and the speed at which real-time data could be leveraged — providing farmers unique insights about their land and helping them to better monitor seed plots, crop coverage and crop yield.

No organization can address the challenge alone

Now, let’s consider the collaborative advantage. The scale and complexity of environmental challenges require cooperation to succeed. With efforts such as COP 15 and other work by organizations around the world, we are making progress together. It takes organizations of all sizes.

At AWS, sustainable stewardship is a primary focus. AWS is working toward environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals by designing data centers that deliver the benefits of the cloud while minimizing carbon footprint. Amazon’s newest Leadership Principle, Success and Scale Bring Broad Responsibility, acknowledges that although everyone has a role in protecting the planet, big organizations have a bigger obligation and can make the biggest impact, together. This is why collaborations between companies, customers and communities are so critical.

Private and public sectors can get involved to solve the biodiversity crisis. For example, in the financial arena, data can help support financial investments and better outline sustainable opportunities such as optimized crop rotations. AWS Partner GeoPard is another company working to deliver scalable analytics on the cloud in support of sustainable food production.

Turning ambition into action

There are many global components to align to make an impact, including companies, governments and communities. In determining metrics and measures, it’s imperative to define what meaningful progress looks like.

But we can’t wait. And we must act together.

The progress we make together can help secure the future of humanity’s food systems and conserve nature for a happier and healthier planet.

To learn more and get involved, take a deeper look at what AWS and its partners are doing and consider where you might be a critical part of the solution.

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