Emerging Technological Innovation Triad for Smart Agriculture in the 21st Century. Part I. Prospects and Impacts of Nanotechnology in Agriculture

Linus U Opara


Successful transformation of agriculture into a modern industry and the remarkable
increases in factor productivity have contributed to improvement in human wellbeing.
From an engineering perspective, agricultural mechanisation (as symbolised by the farm
tractor) represents both a technology-push and technology-pull factor in the successful
transformation of subsistence agriculture into market-oriented agribusiness. The
availability of huge power units and related electromechanical systems for land
preparation, cultivation, crop and livestock protection, harvesting and postharvest
handling enabled humans to expand cultivated areas, convert otherwise marginal lands
into productive units, and free up surplus farm labor to engage in non-farm service
sectors that are equally rewarding. Particularly in developed economies, the percentage
of population directly engaged in agriculture continues to diminish while outputs per
farm labor continues to rise. Despite the tremendous advances made in increasing
agricultural productivity through the application of modern technology, certain sociopolitical
and economic factors contribute to declining terms of trade affecting
agriculture in comparison to other blue-collar industries. The number of tertiary
students choosing to study agriculture and related disciplines continues to decline.
In a recent article, we identified a technology triad (biotechnology, information and
communication technology/ICT, and nanotechnology) which are poised to revolutionise
agriculture in the 21st century (Opara, 2004). In the present article, we begin with an
overview of the impacts of technological innovation on global agriculture and the socioeconomic
and technological challenges facing the industry. In the second section, we
examine the meaning of nanotechnology and the potentials of nanoelectromechanisation
in modern agriculture. We conclude by espousing some of the social, policy and ethical
dilemmas facing the miniaturisation of eletromechanisation of agriculture
(nanoagriculture). In future articles in this series, we will examine the remaining
technologies in the triad (biotechnology and ICT) and their potenital impacts on future
practice of agricultural and biosystems engineering.

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