How Big Data is Helping Solve World Hunger

Springg utilizes smart meter technology and cutting-edge, big data integration software from Talend to turn dirt into data.
Redwood City, CA


What does it take to feed a world with a growing population? Or lift a family out of poverty and set them on a new path in life?

Sometimes just a few soil samples. That’s what Springg CEO Wouter Kerkhof has discovered.

The Netherlands-based technology company (part of DutchSprouts) has developed an app called SoilCares, which provides farmers in some of the world’s most remote and food-deprived regions with insight on the nutrients and composition of their soil along with advice on how to best fertilize their crops to increase their yield target by up to 500 percent in some cases.

Farmers used to have to wait for weeks, even months for soil testing results to be returned. There are over 500 million farmers in the world, says Kerkhof, but only around 20 million can afford the time or money to test soil samples using traditional laboratories. Testing in these traditional labs, which are located in urban areas hundreds or thousands of miles away, can cost thousands of dollars.

Now, with smart meter technology and cutting-edge, big data integration software from an open source company called Talend, companies like Springg can help all farmers gain access to the capabilities of large-scale laboratories at a fraction of the cost. Based on the insights gathered from the thousands of sensors used in Soilcares mobile laboratories located in rural areas around the globe, farmers can dramatically increase their crop yields, which not only helps them feed more people, but can also mean enough income to send their children to school, for example.

While Big Data has been identified as a critical technology for everything from medicine to the future of advertising, it will likely have some of its most profound, far-reaching effects in agriculture. According to the U.N., global food production needs to double by 2050 if we hope to feed the expected worldwide population of nine billion. Not only are these figures staggering, but this whopping increase will have to be accomplished without substantial additions of water, soil, fertilizer or new croplands. 

Wouter continues, “You can make the biggest change in countries outside Europe and not in the western world, but in places like the middle of Africa. We worked with the Bill and Melissa Gates Foundation to start in Kenya, and then go out to the rest of Africa.”

Naturally, some farmers are initially skeptical of SoilCares’ impact. For example, in rural Kenya one of Springg’s skeptical trial customers saw that after working with Springg for just six month, he reduced fertilizer costs by $100 and, at the same time, quadrupled his crop yields.  Now, over 25,000 farmers use the SoilCares system, and Kerkhof hopes to bring the app to Eastern Europe and southeastern parts of the U.S. to help more family farms.

”This is the best tech job in the world,” Kerkhof said. “You can travel, use high-tech stuff, and it still gives you the feeling that your work is serving a greater purpose and changing lives.”