E-Agriculture

Question 4 (opens 4 Dec.) What are appropriate targets/data to monitor our progress in “e-agriculture”

Question 4 (opens 4 Dec.) What are appropriate targets/data to monitor our progress in “e-agriculture”

Question 4 (opens Dec.) What are appropriate targets/data to monitor our progress in “e-agriculture”, to demonstrate that post-2015 goals (or other development goals) are being met? Who should be responsible for these?

[NOTE: As one example of ICT4D monitoring, see the "Measuring the Information Society" report from ITU. For more about the post-2015 development agenda click here.]
Michael Riggs
Michael RiggsUN-APCICT/ESCAPRepublic of Korea

As an introduction to this question, consider that development organizations, governments and the private sector need to show that their investments are paying off. This includes investment in the ICT4Ag sector. Yet our ICT4Ag sector is relatively new still, and there is arguably much work yet to be done in defining indicators and data that will validate the positive results we believe investment in ICT have.

Consider:

ITU prepares the annual “Measuring the Information Society” report. While full of useful information on ICT penetration and markets, it does not provide urban-rural disaggregated data or indicators related to the impact of ICT on agriculture. (The report can be downloaded here.)

UNESCO has started collecting data on a set of indicators to measure the use of ICT in education in Latin America. Could something like this be a guide for agricultural scenarios?

LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP studies seek to define demand for and use of ICT by people at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). Does this contain the data we need? If so, should it be applied on a global basis?

I look forward to your thoughts and suggestions on this very important issue.

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Thanks Michael for the introduction.

This is definitely a different area and calls for a policy dimension that interaction with the grassroots may not have provided much insights, but yes there is reason to focus more on the measurement or impact of ICT4Ag.

My posts have consistently mentioned weight as the only standard that can provide measurable linkage to agriculture. Weighing, particularly when it is digital provides the foundation on which the assessment of the contribution of ICT to agriculture can be done. By measuring the inputs to the agricultural chain, and comparing that with the productivity or output from the chain using digitized  data from the databases of the aggregators of production, then we have a sure way of measuring agricultural benefits.

In my humble opinion, it is from the digital databases that the other tools - mobiles, radio, cellular communication, apps etc can gain relevance. Critical in the data management is the organizational framework or infrastructure for hosting the digital or ICT platform on which all other devices and processes will gain the reason for their inclusion as contributors to ICT4Ag. I want to submit once more that creating standalone smallholder solutions without this basic organizational foundation is just but sinking sand. This IMHO may explain why so much effort in ICT4D impact has been minimal as no strategic thrust has been implemented, creating the many solutions that have been more donor/investor/sponsor driven than sector or impact focused.

As derived from Sloan's 3Ses, we easily aver that without structure, there cannot be systems and without systems there cannot be strategy. The introduction of ICT4D within the WSIS focus and the MDG focus, referenced in the ITU and UNICEF's documents, many development initiatives never factor in the institutional framework against which to implement measurability. It definitely is not possible to control what you cannot measure which explains why the direction of many development projects where development efforts take place never sustain. Arising from this argument therefore, it is easy to see why the outcome of measuring what is scattered yields as myriad results as there are interventions that stem from as many actors, which beats all sense in sustainable development.

Given this thinking, there is need to right the wrongs that project designers and implementers have made happen. With ICT bringing as many thinkers as it is able to bring as it is itself a unifying framework, let all professions join in, contribute their knowledge set, create communities of practice in a shared platform which deliverers measurable impact. My submission therefore is that we are now moving from data based technologies to knowledge based solutions that call for structural frameworks in the form of agricultural enterprises that are based on agricultural value chains so that the agribusinesses that emerge from these value chain engagements can support the processes that ICT brings, after which crafting strategies on measurable impacts is possible.

Continued...

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

To address the question at hand more clearly therefore, the targets of data to monitor from ICTs include the following:

  1. What investments have ICTs attracted to a community, a neighborhood, region, country?
  2. What new knowledge can be inferred from the way people do their work out of using the ICTs?
  3. What level of efficiency in time reduction in carrying out tasks can there be out of engaging with ICTs?
  4. How much has ICTs promoted the inclusion of marginalized communities - youths, women, the poor into the mainline economic mainstream?
  5. Have ICTs promoted the creation of new enterprises that enable more investment in new technologies? and,
  6. How much have ICTs influenced policy shifts at the macro level planning?

The mere introduction of MPesa in Kenya created vast readjustments in the way people related. Savings at the national level has been rising, the velocity of money movement has increased and general wellness can be avered to be associated with this innovation that uses the mobile for money transfer. BUT it influenced the Central Bank of Kenya to change and influenced banks to change. Out of the technology that has been championed by a marketing telecom company, many youths have gained entry into the mobile apps development and many other services have become possible including doing business selling air(time).

Going forward, the adoption of technologies needs what has been well argued in my previous post - create organizations that can invest in technology platforms. AND of course no one would appreciate this to be my post if I do not remember to integrate all this to the value chain...so it is necessary to ensure that all the potential opportunities that the various value chains present are the force behind which technology is adopted by all. Let those who have land resources use them with inputs from those who have them whether they are physical or non-tangible like knowledge, let those with money invest as chain actors to provide a service to those lower and let those that can consume also feed the producers with the payment and promptly so that the movement of financial resources fuels growth.

Kiringai

Hillary Miller-Wise
Hillary Miller-WiseUnited States of America

Kiringai, I appreciate your thoughtful response, but I am struggling to determine what your key message is regarding the question of "What are appropriate targets/data to monitor our progress in “e-agriculture”?"

When it comes to monitoring and evaluating the impact of our work in e-Ag, I think it is critical to be very clear about the indicators, and to ensure that we are looking at outcome indicators as well as proving causality. Many initiatives that I have seen focus on output indicators (e.g. number of people registered) rather than outcome indicators such as increases in productivty and income. I fully recognize that establishing causality is very difficult in this case, but that tends to be an issue of resources more than anything. If we could conduct RCTs on most e-Ag initiatives, we would have a more solid fact base on which to establish causality. However, RCTs are costly. Donor partners who are increasingly (and rightly) demanding better impact data need to acknowlege the cost implications involved.

Just because it's hard and costly doesn't mean we shouldn't do it, but we need our partners to walk that path with us.

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Hillary,

My approach is value chain driven. I seek to see business indicators that are linked to the use of a centralized information system that aggregates measurable parameters like the farmer demand for inputs..depending on what value chain. This should again be matched against the sales by the supply chain. With an organization buying from the suppliers and individuals making individualized orders, its possible to use the farmer organization to tell the individual picture of how much impact the ICTs have supported through the database queries.

Similarly all parameters associated with knowledge that can be captured through digital learning sessions can be captured and documented. Radio call ins can also be used to collect respoinses to the use of various agricultural initiaitves.

When farmers are paid through their organization, the wealth formation can easily be ascribed and with credit being possible through the payment supported procurements that derive their force from the sale of produce, productivity and wealth formation can be assessed and impact measured. Suffice to say that all begins with measurable farm outputs that comes from digital weighing then others are easy to measured and digitally controled.

The cost of the survey is not necessarily high, it is based on how the system is designed. We work with multinationals that pay their smallholder suppliers and have to respond to their Fair Trade and Green Forest Alliance engagements. They do that using systems we have developed and are able to provide since we measure everything from the weights of the produce delivered by farmers. They payment to farmers is again from one pot and can be ascribed to the use of our technology.

As a business model, the design of the trials complies with this thinking and can be as empirical as there are possible areas of focus that one seeks to address.

 
thank you, Mr Kiringai about your interesting thoughts.

I think that in agriculture we don´t have to do nothing different from what previously have been done in  other sectors with more experience implementing ICT into their processes , like industrial or services bussiness. During the last 40 years implementing ICT they have learnt how to  measure anything important related with their bussines, even from all perspectives (human resources, tecnically, financiallly, marketing, merchandising chain etc)) and the key question for all their advances have been to find out and to use the appropiate indicators. An example could be  the Balanced Scorecard – BSC, created in 1992 by Kaplan and Norton, which is a method to measure the activities of a company in terms of its vision and strategy and provides managers with a global view of business performance. This new way of  measurement have change how we see our organizations and have created a lot of different ERPs solutions to implement this philosophy in each sector and bussines.

We only have to do benchmarketing with other sectors and this has been the focus in my work for the last 15 years once i realized that we were working in practical agriculture without any indicator or very few measurent devices. I agree with your phrase that " is not possible to control what you cannot measure".

If our focus is to improve agriculture bussines, then our first target has to be how technically we can improve the profits for the grower. We have to measure it and without succeed in this,  will fail.

Then we will need other problems to be solved, like gender, culture etc which i agree that should be included in each project perspective if we want to have succed. I agree with Mr Boyera that says that we are facing a holistic problem, and this is the reason  because to solution is so complex, because we are not only facing technical problems, but humans too (more complicated to be measured).

My perspective is that the first target is to have a common lenguage to measure agri-bussines results and processes. Lets imagine how was bussines in the world before we had a General Accounting Plan. At least any enterprise can measure its balance, but in agriculture we have the lack that we are not able to measure our key processes properly. This processes are the one that could give help growers to get profits if we able to help him  using ICT, and there is a big confusion how to use new technologies to help growers solve daily problems. In last 15 years have appeared a lot of new technologies and we have realized that using each one "alone" we don´t solve the problems and we are starting to get success integrating them. 
(continued)

 (continued from other post)

In my company we have moved from developing an expert system from data from our patented sensor to measure plant stress to realize that we needed first a more simpler and holistic approach: create a list of indicators that should be used in any commercial crop where we include from very simple to complex ones from different origins:

  • from sensors to describe processes(plant, soil moisture, soil nutrients, weather, irrigation system)
  • from remote sensing
  • from manual data by a pen or a digital pen to describe any interesting plant performance (like physiological or economic results or using your weighting digital devices  ,photography..)
  • from weather forecast that learns from farms microclimate

We will calculate this indicators from the raw data from the database. We must identify the "cost" involved to have each indicator, so depending in the project and the add value of the crop we should recommed more or less indicators to be used. At the same time we have done several projects to create new indicators that integrates different data to simplify diagnosis (as an example to calculate daily plant photosynthesis work from different sensors etc)

I agree with you that "it is from the digital databases that the other tools - mobiles, radio, cellular communication, apps etc can gain relevance". What i have been doing this previous years is to understand that we needed that approach working with real growers problems. We have to create the "data base" of each experience, and teach the technitians how they can do it using different tech.  I agree with your sentence "what we are now moving from data based technologies to knowledge based solutions that call for structural frameworks". Thats what we are doing. The first step is create the database in each farm. Then we will start to learn. Even only with inference analisys, because we have all perspectives that affects our plants dily performance.

In our company we have moved our interviews with our customers from talking too much about a technology from asking them "whats your problem?. Our new approach:

  • fist point: identify the problems to be solved in each crop
  • Second point: To define a mid term plan of learning process and investment to identify which indicators they could use and how much it cost to get it. So depending of the investment we could get different targets and we must know this since the beggining of projects desing. If we work in a systematic way we will be able to explain them the final target and how they could get it.. if the invest money and time. it is similar to to process to implement an ERP in any enterprise.

So i think we have to push to understand how all new technologies could help us to solve real crops problems. What we have done in Spain is to promote different research projects but with a very practical perspective to test in real commercial conditions how we could test this new technologies to solve problems in the most important spanish crops (olive, citrus, tomato, viticulture, stone fruits). Thats the way we have learnt last 6 years and we are still doin so. We have learnt from experience and failure...

Kiringai Kamau
Kiringai KamauVACID AfricaKenya

Alvarez,

Your thoughts and mine have some resonance that can help mold a solution to the practical data collection end. Having the ability to isolate the various layers in the production to consumption continuum is critical to creating wealth and identifying clearly which parameters are critical when measured.

When dealing with smallholder farmers who do not have the wherewithal to own the technologies that can provide the data, the challenge can bring even a well designed assessment model down. The structured organizational model that farmers need has to be factored in as a measurable outcome of the cohesion of members. Their ability to create nodes, or collection centers, from where produce is collected is critical. If the organizational framework is created, such tools as the value chain, as thought through by Porter or the Balanced Scorecard that you make reference to, from Kaplan and Stratton, will make sense. If you do not have an organization or enterprise, then mapping the models from these researchers will be impossible.

The case for Africa, where we just want to own land, dividing even the very small uneconomical units, even when such ownership does not mean much to you, has been a serious challenge in implementing systems or processes to manage agriculture. There is serious need therefore to think through the models that may be difficult to implement the kind of testing systems that you may have the ability to do in Spain. It may mean that as we develop in Africa,  need emerges to aggregate the uneconomic land units to ones that can make economic sense and where processes can be introduced. To help out, we have to think around land and produce aggregation or aggregating inputs (in all their shades as you have well referenced them) as well as outputs (as demanded by the market) to gain economies of scale. With this, you then can understand why weighing is critical as it measures individual production (delivered to the aggregation point/Centre/sore), helps assess the outturn (production per unit of crop), and supports proportional payment for the proceeds from the market, if the farmers are organized into marketing groups/units/entities, etc.

In a nutshell the knowledge dissemination at the production chain will be different depending on the level of knowledge of the farmer; or their workers. It can therefore become more complex managing this scenario in places where land fragmentation is a challenge than it is in some of the agricultural environments that seem to flow from many of us in this forum.

I seem to therefore notice a very clear divide in our thinking on the technologies that can work for some areas like those twhere high end technologies as you seem to describe make sense . The measurement systems and processes will therefore be different and may call for more focused consideration depending on where they are domiciled.

Kiringai

My perspective is that we have to "understand" and learn how to use each of the new technologies that are available, even if they are used alone or integrated. Best if they are integrated. We will go faster if we have the chance to design the best practical experiences that will lead us to understand how to use them to solve problems in each kind of "agriculture", in less or more developed countries. I fell that we should have at least some critical indicators in any experience, to compare and to learn.

In Spain we have the luck that last 6 years we have been testing this technologies in field conditions with more than 16 companies and now we have "our" experience adapted to our conditions. In africa, we could use our experience of how to use the technologie but we will fail if we don´t consider the human perspective of all the things that have been said this days in different post (gender problems, training etc)  or what you have just commented about smallholder farmers and its organizations...

I think here in Africa or in less developed countries problems to be solved are more complex, as working with an spanish cooperative of small farmers... were the solution is more involved in a "human resources" problem than a technical one, but if we find leaders that want to "change" things, and we have a "field organization" that help him to promote it, then we could help them because we will let him to "measure" the results and profits of the "new strategie" that will convince rest of the growers...

best regards

stephane  boyera
stephane boyeraSBC4DFrance

I think the question is key, but the challenge is how to have a measurement process scalable and trustable?
I don't want to hurt anybody, but i feel that the measurement process of the MDG as done in the past is close to a joke. Government are reporting about heir evolution of the different MDGS, but this is usually disconnected from the field and from what is happening on the ground.
Here again, i'm a great fan of bottom-up approach: I'm convinced that the definition of a new measurement process is possible through the aggregation of data from the different initiatives in the ground. This is where a revolution is possible: if each and every initiative would have a simple and easy way to share their data, ala open data, it would then be possible to use the collective intelligence to extract interesting trends and evolution. Unfortunately we are still far from this, mostly because all the popular tools, while often free and open source, are not making easy the release of anonymized data in open formats.
There is a new initiative just launched few weeks back called GODAN (Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition godan.info) that looks promising in that regards.
I would be happy to hear what people would feel about a measurement process based open data & data sharing?

steph