The Smart Agriculture Competition is the flagship event organized by Pinduoduo to promote technology in agriculture.
The competition, held annually, has attracted agricultural researchers and data scientists from leading universities and research institutes around the world, as well as startups and commercial growers from the private sector, to participate in this precision agriculture contest.
The competition aims to develop practical, cost-effective technological applications that raise productivity for smallholder farmers without compromising environmental sustainability.
Since the inaugural contest was held in 2020, the Smart Agriculture Competition has served as a test bed and launching pad for agricultural technology innovations.
Now in its third year, many participating teams have gone on to implement the technology developed during the competition in commercial farms, while others are working on large-scale pilots with the view of scaling the solutions.
For instance, greenhouse technology developed during the first Smart Agriculture Competition is currently used in several major strawberry-growing regions in China to manage growing conditions.
We believe technology is a force for good in agriculture. We hope to do our part in sowing the seeds of innovation by increasing market opportunities, encouraging youth participation in agriculture, and advocating the adoption of agricultural technology. — Chen Lei, Chairman and CEO of Pinduoduo.
Pinduoduo is the event’s lead organizer, together with China Agricultural University and Zhejiang University. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and Wageningen University & Research in the Netherlands serve as technical advisors.
The Smart Agriculture Competition plays a unique role in fostering innovation usable by smallholder farmers, who produce around 80% of the food in China. It is an important platform for the different stakeholders in the agri-food ecosystem to come together to develop practical, cost-effective, and environmentally sustainable solutions for working farms. — Wang Hongqing, Professor of the School of Horticulture at China Agricultural University
The Yunnan Academy of Agricultural Sciences, National Plateau Yunguo Industrial Park, and representative agencies from the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Denmark have also provided strong support. Leading agritech companies, including Bayer Crop Science, Ridder Group, and Omron, have lent their industry expertise and advanced solutions to the competition.
Our global agri-food systems need innovative solutions to nourish people while nurturing our planet sustainably. The Smart Agriculture Competition provides a unique platform for engaging young people, technologists, innovators, the private sector, and research institutes together, to incubate tailor-made practical solutions to address the real-life problems faced by smallholder farmers. — Carlos Watson, FAO representative to China.
Registration for the 2022 contest opens in August. Participating teams must submit detailed technical proposals and present their plans to an international panel of experts.
The teams that make the cut will then implement their proposals in the finals at the Pinduoduo Smart Greenhouse Base in Kunming, Yunnan. Winners are selected after the conclusion of the cultivation phase.
The judges will choose the winner based on how they score against a basket of criteria that balances output, cost, and sustainability.
2020 Contest: Human vs. Machine
In the competition’s inaugural edition, the organizers designed the challenge so that teams of data scientists competed with experienced growers to see who was better at growing strawberries.
The results: On average, the technology teams could produce 196 percent more fruit by weight than the traditional growers.
They also beat the farmers with an average 75.5 percent higher return on investment.
The technology teams had the advantage of being able to control temperature and humidity through greenhouse automation.
Using technology such as intelligent sensors and decision-making programs powered by machine learning algorithms, the technology teams were also more precise at controlling the use of water and nutrients.
The traditional farmers had to achieve the same tasks by hand and experience.
The results demonstrated the positive impact that precision technology can have if applied at scale in traditional agriculture.
But the more far-reaching impact may lie in changing the mindsets of the people involved in agriculture.
In agriculture, traditional farmers distrust data scientists, thinking they are flashy yet useless; data scientists also look down on farmers, thinking they are too old-fashioned. Through this competition, we realized the importance of combining both sides’ advantages and working together.” — Cheng Biao, the leader of the winning technology team in 2020.
The competition helped Sun Yuqing, a member of Yanjiutian, one of the top strawberry-growing teams in the province of Anhui, change her view of technology.
“For agriculture to advance, we need new techniques, new talent,” said Sun.
The two rival teams have since gone into business together, combining their respective expertise to help other smallholder farmers.
One offers strengths in cultivating seedlings, while the other provides algorithms that can analyze conditions and recommend the best course of action.
2021 Contest: Bigger Gains for Smaller Farms
If the inaugural competition in 2020 was about proving the effectiveness of precision technology in agriculture, the second edition was more about figuring out how the technology can be tailored to the specific needs of smallholder farmers to boost their productivity. Instead of strawberries, the teams were challenged to grow tomatoes.
One of the key aspects of the competition is its emphasis on commercial viability in addition to productivity and sustainability.
To ensure they are developing applications relevant to agricultural businesses, all four finalists included commercial growers in their teams. TomaGrow, made up mostly of alumni from Wageningen University & Research and China Agricultural University with industry experience, won the 2021 competition.
It developed an easy-to-use greenhouse management model that integrates algorithms and sensors, which farmers can use without special training.
The team was able to go one step further in developing a disease prediction model that gave farmers a one-week window to intervene and prevent loss.
Overall, the finalist teams managed to deliver yields that were about double the yields typically achieved by traditional growers. The nutritional value is also registered in the top range of the industry.
2022 Contest: Launching Soon!
The 2022 edition of the Smart Agriculture Competition is slated to launch later this summer.