The deeply personal story that inspired pioneering innovation in the promotion of sustainable farming. As Cop 26 draws to an end, the Avast Foundation is joining the global drive to intensify our collective efforts in the battle against climate change and to contribute less to global warming and more to living in sustainable harmony with the world around us.
To that end our Global Executive Director, Shane Ryan, attended some of the events surrounding the COP26 conference, beginning with the British Chambers of Commerce Net Zero Agenda conference last week. He sums up the Avast Foundation’s position on COP26 and climate change like this:
“We are attending Cop26 because we care passionately about a safe and sustainable future. Our focus lies at the intersection between technology, innovation and communities where great work is done for the benefit of us all. We will be exploring additional ways to meet the climate challenge together through innovation, courage and creativity.
“We believe the business community has an enormous role to inspire, resource and empower young entrepreneurs to innovate ground breaking new solutions for the betterment of humanity. We are working on a plethora of exciting new initiatives through our challenge and with our Youth Leadership Board to overcome the threats of global warming, now and in the future.”
One of our Avast Foundation Youth Leadership Board (AFYLB) - Kesevan (Kay) Veloo, is intimately familiar with the Herculean efforts required to combat global climate change - albeit on a local scale. We sat down with Kay a Fulbright Graduate Scholar at Washington State University pursuing Agricultural Automation Engineering, to discuss the journey that’s led him to promoting sustainable farming solutions by merging agriculture with technology.
One problem he is working to address is the issue of rice farmers across Asia who have been overusing herbicides for weed control, to which he is bringing an innovative engineering solution. It’s a project that is personal to him and his story is an inspiring microcosm of the problems we face and how we can find solutions.
“Things changed drastically .... The climate was getting unpredictable, and it was hard to resume our farming. Plants would not grow well, and we had to resort to chemical fertilizers to produce crops. Overusing them had caused the land to be infertile, and we had to abandon our farm, which was once our pride. My family is just one of countless families...we are all facing the same problems.”
When Kay was a boy, his family depended on a small farm in Malaysia where they grew moringas, okras and eggplants which were sustainably nurtured using simply manure and water. But as the climate conditions changed, Kay’s family wasn’t able to rely on regular rain and their crops weren’t growing. Soon Kay’s family had to resort to chemical fertilizers to ensure a crop they could depend upon. In time of course - in a process that is common around the world - the overuse of chemical fertilizers and other pesticides has caused their land to become infertile. Ultimately they had to abandon the farm that had nourished them for so long and had become a source of pride for Kay and his family.
As a result of this experience, Kay is passionate about promoting sustainability to rice farmers in Asia who often do not have the access to the information - or technology - they need to solve their agricultural problems in a way that can sustain them and their communities.
Where these farmers continue to use chemicals in their farming practices, it isn’t practical to ask them to stop unless there are viable alternatives solutions available. To that end Kay is experimenting with a robot that can be used in those paddy fields for weed management, as an alternative method to herbicides. With the push of a button, the robot autonomously travels between the ridges detaching weeds with its wheels.
Kay is also working on a project that uses drones for early weed detection and plant stress monitoring in fruit orchards. Both research projects have been widely presented at agriculture conferences - both physical and virtual - across the region and are currently being taught to farmers in Japan who can benefit from this ingenious solution to the problem of sustainable weed management.
“I believe we can produce more food through agriculture for food security without deteriorating the climate.”
Kay believes the future of agriculture is in technology and innovation. We agree with him, are proud of his work, and look forward to seeing where his journey takes him next.