Life as we know it

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Watching my grandchildren play with toy cars, I sometimes think about the day when they grow up and ask me: “Lolo, did you really drive cars when you were young?”

Even now, some of the world’s biggest automotive companies as well as a few small players are competing in the development of driverless cars. In an online report last January 12, Business Insider said there was no question that self-driving cars were coming.  The report listed 19 companies that were racing to produce the driverless cars in the next five years.

These include German automaker BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Toyota, Volvo, Nissan, Ford and General Motors. BMW, according to the Business Insider report, would test self-driving cars on public roads in the second half of this year, and plans to launch self-driving cars in China in 2021. Toyota hopes to introduce Level 4 (fully self-driving in specific geographic locations) in 10 years.

Several cities, including Boston, Atlanta in the United States and London in Europe are planning to test self-driving cars in designated areas.

Paul Brubaker, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Transportation Innovation, was quoted by phys.org/news as saying self-driving cars “should be a national priority.”

Transportation, as we know it, will be different in 10 years or earlier. The driving force is technology, probably the biggest game changer in human history.

In the energy area, the world is becoming less and less dependent on oil, as technology paves the way for the development of new energy sources such as the sun, wind, geothermal springs, and even waves.

Advances in communications technology have struck down the borders between countries and continents, allowing people separated by great distances to talk to and see each other in real time.

Even agriculture, as we know it, will be different, as technology brings new ways to produce crops with more efficiency and productivity without expanding farm areas, or sometimes even without land.

I believe we should harness technology to increase productivity and achieve the goal of self-sufficiency, particularly in rice, our country’s staple grain. This means maximizing production from the same farm areas while allowing other uses for our land resources.

There’s no need to hurt other industries that provide shelter to our people, generate millions of jobs, promote manufacturing industries and contribute significantly to economic growth.

With technology, we can significantly increase productivity several times over without increasing farm areas. In reality, many countries are already promoting hydroponics to produce crops without land. I have seen this in Israel, Netherlands and Japan. In fact, even the Philippines has a number of hydroponic farms. Under the hydroponic system, plants are grown in nutrient-laden water instead of in soil.

The Economist magazine said in an online article, titled “The Future of Agriculture,” that agriculture should become more like manufacturing if it is “to continue feeding the world.”

With technology, farmers in developed countries are now practicing precision agriculture or smart farming. According to The Economist, maize and soya beans, some of the major crops in America’s Midwest, “are being teched up, too,” in addition to high-value fruits and nuts. “Sowing, watering, fertilizing and harvesting are all computer-controlled.”

“Even the soil they grow in is monitored to within an inch of its life,” the magazine said. “Farms, then, are becoming more like factories: tightly controlled operations for turning out reliable products, immune as far as possible from the vagaries of nature,” according to The Economist.

The article cited a 2009 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), which estimated that global agricultural production must increase by 70 percent by 2050 to meet projected demand. The increase must come from higher productivity because most of the world’s lands suitable for farming was already being cultivated.

Mechanization was introduced before the Second World War, followed by the introduction of new plant varieties and chemicals. Farmers in developed countries have gone beyond these innovations, and are now relying on technology to continue improving crop yield and quality.

In the Philippines, measures to increase rice production includes further mechanization and promoting new varieties with high yields that are resistant to drought or floods.

The government also continues to expand irrigation facilities. According to the International Rice Research Institute, rain-fed areas account for only 26 percent of total rice production.

I have been toying with the idea of developing a 100-hectare farm, which will demonstrate how to increase production by harnessing technological advances in agriculture.

We should continue introducing innovations, including new technologies, in the agriculture sector because it enables us to achieve sufficiency while allowing other activities like manufacturing and housing to grow the economy and provide other basic needs of the people.

(For comments/feedback e-mail to mbv.secretariat@gmail.com or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph)