According to the World Bank, the global poverty rate is lower than it has ever been in recorded history. More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1.90 per day) over the past 25 years.
This is surely one of the greatest achievements of our time, but there is so much more to be done. There are still billions of people living in poverty around the world. In some regions, the gains we have made are reversing. And with the world’s population on track to grow by 82 million people per year, there will be additional strain on our global resources.
To reach the goal outlined by the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to end poverty and hunger by the year 2030, many policy, economic, social and organizational actions must be taken. Fortunately, emerging technologies – such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G wireless technology, blockchain and other tools – can help us achieve this goal. Let’s take a look at a few examples:
1. IoT-based Smart Agriculture Lifting Smallholder Farmers out of Poverty
According to the World Bank, up to 78 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely on farming to put food on their tables and make a living. Improving the efficiency of agricultural practices is one of the most effective ways to raise incomes of the impoverished. Innovative, new IoT technologies and the data they generate can help rural farmers optimize their operations, from increasing crop yields to reducing the use of fertilizer and water.
For example, Zenvus, a Nigerian startup, is equipping farmers across sub-Saharan Africa with smart soil sensors that collect data such as humidity, temperature, pH, moisture and nutrient levels, and automatically upload it to the cloud for analysis. A mobile app provides tailored advice to the farmers on what, when and how to plant, and connects them to electronic marketplaces to sell their crops.
By providing real-time data and analysis that helps improve farmers’ decision making, IoT technologies reduce the risk of crop failure, decrease production costs, increase yields and provide market access – all of which lead to higher profits and more secure livelihoods.
2. 5G Wireless + IoT Connects the Rural Poor to Education
While IoT technologies can provide tremendous benefits to farmers, they can only do so with reliable connectivity to high-speed Internet. Yet today, approximately 4 billion people, many of whom live in rural areas, still do not have access to the Internet. But this, too, is beginning to change. As low earth orbiting (LEO) satellite constellations are enveloping the globe and 5G wireless networks are rolled out, they will provide high speed Internet access to more than half a billion farms in even the most remote corners of the world.
With its promise of ultra-high bandwidth and super-low latency, 5G will open up new educational opportunities for people in rural communities. Live streams of online classrooms will help educate their youth while adults will get access to online education and gain professional skills, such as computer networking. Much research has shown that access to education is one of the most effective tools for lifting people out of poverty.
3. Blockchain Helping Secure Land Registry and Economic Access for the Poor
In many developing countries, poor recordkeeping practices make it nearly impossible for people to prove they own the land they live on. Without the ability to verify a title or deed, people cannot buy or sell their property, establish creditworthiness, or access loans or other financial tools necessary to improve their economic standing. In India, lack of legal land ownership is a bigger cause of poverty than the caste system or illiteracy.
Distributed ledger, or blockchain, technologies are being piloted in novel new ways to address this problem. In Ghana, for example, the non-profit Bitland introduced a blockchain-based digital registry of land ownership that combines transactions with GPS data and satellite photos to help guarantee property rights. Because blockchain records are virtually impossible to alter, they can also be used to establish credit, allowing land owners to open bank accounts and conduct financial transactions, thus enabling greater financial inclusion and paving the way to sound economic futures.
Although these examples barely scratch the surface of what’s possible today, I hope they underscore this important point: The life and work conditions of billions of people are improving, in part, because of advances in technology. Technologies such as the IoT, 5G and blockchain, combined with sound economic and social policies, are helping break the cycle of poverty around the globe by connecting infrastructure, communications and people, thus paving the way for us to achieve the UN 2030 goal.