Putting digital services to work for sustainable agriculture
The environmental impact generated by the agricultural sector has placed sustainable farming at the heart of efforts to combat climate change. For this reason, the European Commission has adopted, via its Green Deal, a series of proposals with a view to reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030 (compared to 1990 levels). In order to achieve this, among the measures included in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the stipulation that farmers must have access to a digital tool enabling them to optimize their use of nutrients in order to align their operations more closely with environmental standards – a requirement that has led to the creation of the FaST project.
This digital tool aims to streamline and control European funding for farmers, while also raising awareness about precision agriculture practices. Following a feasibility study carried out in 2019, the FaST project was tested in four regions: Andalucia and Castilla (Spain); Piedmont (Italy); and Estonia. PwC France and Maghreb partnered with Orange Business to deploy the solution in Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Wallonia (Belgium) from 2021 onwards.
Performance and scalability through the Flexible Engine–sobloo pairing
The PwC France and Maghreb audit and consulting firm was selected to support the European Commission in delivering the scheme via its Insights from Space program, which aims to help companies get to grips with the latest developments in geospatial observation. In order to compile its technical bid, PwC France and Maghreb partnered with Orange Business and its sobloo platform, which enables the use of Copernicus satellite data and can be coupled with Flexible Engine, the secure public cloud solution provided by Orange Business. This technology provides access to a high-performance and scalable cloud infrastructure managed via an API (application programming interface) or via a technical console. It is aimed at European businesses of all sizes and enables them to create virtual machines on demand, to host databases and to innovate directly within the cloud using containers, in fields including machine learning and artificial intelligence. The FaST platform developed by PwC France and Maghreb currently operates on sobloo, with infrastructure based on 25 Gb of geospatial vector data (agricultural parcels, ecologically vulnerable zones, hydrology, etc.), combined with other data sources, such as soil composition, agricultural land registries or local environmental restrictions and requirements. The solution is also used to upload secure photos of farming operations to the authorities, in order to unlock access to European subsidies.
“The sobloo-Flexible Engine combination came out on top of our benchmark study in terms of functionality, technical performance, price and flexibility,” comments Luigi Scatteia, Head of the FaST project. “We decided to use an application developed in open source: 70% of the app constitutes a shared module used across all regions, with the remaining 30% being adapted to specific local requirements and legislation, and an interface for local authorities and farmers,” Scatteia explains.
The feedback from both local authorities and farmers has been highly positive: they appreciate the ability to easily visualize the full range of data pertaining to their operations.
Luigi Scatteia, Head of the FaST Project, Global Space Practice Leader at PwC France and Maghreb
Cutting-edge, user-friendly technical solutions for farmers
“We’re extremely satisfied with the innovative functionalities offered by Flexible Engine. The containerization aspect has clearly contributed to the success of FaST, as this has enabled us to implement a cloud-native architecture – something that is of critical importance in the digital transformation being undertaken by the European Commission,” explains Scatteia. The same levels of satisfaction have been reported by the local authorities and farmers who trialed the solution and praised the user-friendly interface, which enables them to optimize their crop yields and reduce the cost of fertilizer application, all while improving their environmental performance levels. “Users can easily visualize the full range of data pertaining to their operations, and they’re already talking about adding further modules and functionalities,” comments Scatteia.
The ambition now is to pursue the implementation of FaST in other Member State regions and also to develop new modules to upgrade the solution with additional functionalities. The architecture and philosophy behind the solution could also be applied in other geographical regions (Middle East, Asia and South America) and to other fields, such as Environmental, Social and Corporate governance (ESG).