E-Agriculture

Gerard Sylvester

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Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

The simplest answer to this question is that UAV imagery overcomes the cloud cover problem associated with satellite imagery. Moreover, UAVs are able to give a provide orthomosaics with resolution as high as 3cms/pixel which are impossible with publicly available satellite imagery. The ability to integrate various sensors onto drones are one of the key advantages over satellite.

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

While theoritically, Open Data would bring in great benefits not only for family farmers but for everyone involved in the agriculture/nutrition value chain. The growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the last decade has made implementing and harvesting the benefits of these initiatives much easier. However, the big question is the necessary ecosystem needed to sustain this open data revolution. To begin with, we need to discuss data hygiene - is the data that is collected good enough for consumption? If analytics are inferences are built on data that is not reliable then the advisory that comes out would be useless. Second, data privacy issues - what data can be shared, with whom and for what period of time etc., These are in many cases beyond the purview of the agriculture ministry (and the health ministry if we bring in nutrition). Data interoperability standards if not implemented would prove to be a major stumbling block into realzing the benefits of open data. These standards and policies are mainly decided through the country's eGov (e-government) initiative. 

The next major concern after data interoperability is of platform interoperability. Systems are developed in isolation. Sharing data across applications and across platforms are exteremly difficult at the national level as of today.

Hence, a multi-stakeholder engagement is necessary at the national level to realize the full benefits of Open Data for agriculture and nutrution. Extending it further, are regional or sub-regional understanding should also be estabilished as data related to transboundary disease/pest and trade would greatly benefit from having access to reliable data based on which actionable information/advisories could be deduced. 

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

The previous contributors have identified a range of e-Agriculture services, models and approaches. A few things to be considered -

Firstly, Who are the key stakeholders that needs to be enaged at the national level when e-Agriculture services are to be designed, implemented and made sustainable. Is it only the agriculture ministry?

Secondly, If there are various stakeholders - how do we engage meaningfully with them (with respect to implementing and sustaining e-Agriculture services)? Remember, expectations are diverse between different stakeholders.

Third, who "owns" the e-Agriculture service. We see mobile-lending platforms, mobile payment systems, financial inclusion functionalities being discussed as key e-Agriculture services. Do these services also have to be "owned" by the ministry of agricuture?

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

A Strategy is a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. 

The growth of ICTs in the last decade has been phenomenal - from the reach of mobile connectivity to the increase in speed of broadband, low-cost sensor, computing networks to cloud computing facilities. For agriculture, this has tremendous potential in increasing the capacity and livelihood opportunities of small-holder farmers and rural communities.

We have seen the introduction of many e-Agriculture projects/initiatives in many countries aimed at increased the efficiency and effectiveness of agricultural processes by using ICT in agriculture. However, a conservative estimate would note that only 20% of such initiatives move from the pilot stage to the sustainable phase. Mainstreaming many e-Agriculture initatives has been a major challenge faced by many countries. The reason for the this are many-fold - a lack of clear strategy and failure to take note of synergies in other sectors together with overlooking linkages with other parallel developments are often the reasons for that initative not being sustainable.

It is in this milieu that the need for an e-Agriculture strategy is strongly felt. An e-Agriculture strategy is developed taking the national agriculture strategy as a guiding framework.

Once a National e-Agriculture Strategy is developed in partnership with key stakeholders, it prevents ad-hoc creation/development of unsustainable e-agriculture initiatives and streamlines implementations at the national level in a much more sustainable manner.

 

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

Today, the 3rd December, is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities (http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=1607) with the theme “Break Barriers, Open Doors: for an inclusive society and development for all”

Coming back to the forum question, we see that in most countries, especially in rural areas, patriarchal society is prevelant. While the point flagged by David, eariler and also in Q2, on the lack of capacity by  the actors to identify and integrate gender in all stages of work is very true, we see that a lot of changes have been seen in the last few years with regard to gender and designing inclusive ICTs.

The year 2014 is designated as the International Year of Family Farming by the United Nations and during one of our recent regional dialogues on a question on 'How to make family farming more "attractive" so as to retrain/attact youth' it was mentioned that the introduction of emerging ICTs for agricultural development could be one of the key 'attractions' to brining in youth back to farming.

Hence designing appropriate ICTs ensuring equitable access to all is of paramount importance. This involves  both policy interventions and product design.

Trying to bring in gender equality & equity has to be carefully handled and very strategically introduced into program as this may go against centuries old deep-seated cultural traditions, ideologies and societal systems.

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

Yes, the key to successful initiatives lies in making effective partnerships. Take the instance of Public-Private partnership, and mobile agricultural information systems (MAIS) in particular - while the private sector has a completely different objective (business model) of scaling up fast, the public sector likes to trend carefully for obvious reasons. These creates a unhealthy partnership, one that cannot be sustained in the long run.

IMHO, the key challenges lies in

* Clear Policies need to be formulated by governments and the public sector that define the principles for their involvement in the development of any ICT4D initiative, this should take into account of national communication policy or ICT policy. This would necessities the collaboration between agriculture and telecommunication sectors of the governments. This is something that FAO and ITU are working together on.

* Partnership with the private sector has proven to be an established mechanism for the public sector to develop ICT4Ag (or D) sustainably. The roles and responsibilities for the private and public sector has to be clearly defined in each case. In most cases however, the content is provided by one and the delivery mechanism is handled by the other

* Trustworthiness and reliability (as mentioned earlier by Stephane) is of paramount importance to people whose livelihoods depends on actions influenced by what they receive through the imitative. Validity and accuracy of the technical information/content and advice provided have to be thoroughly vetted before being disseminated. This also includes quality control.

* Accountability for quality (correctness and accuracy) should be formally recocognized by the respective partners.

* Multi-modal delivery platforms/methods should be targeted.

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

Megan, your point on the relevance of Radio as a dissemination media is also true in the context of the Pacific island countries.  As seen from inputs of ICT4D practitioners in the Pacific (extracted from a yet-to-be-published FAO publication on Status and Strategies on ICT4D)

Radio remains a viable and cost-effective medium for disseminating information on agriculture and rural development to the Pacific’s remote and geographically challenged islands. Radio provides up to 90 percent coverage in most Pacific island countries, and is the most common way that most rural communities receive information. However, lack of funds for programming and poor reception in very remote islands can hinder the use of radio for communication.

Fiji and Kiribati at a recent meeting in Nadi in 2010 clearly indicated in their country presentations that radio is the ideal medium for communication, given both countries’ many scattered outer islands.

The case for continuing to use radio for mass communication is made because of its portability, inexpensiveness, accessibility, extensive reach (even in remote areas) and longevity. It is especially effective in rural and remote areas where television and print media have not been able to penetrate.

Radio and other forms of media play a key role in bringing agricultural information to poor, rural communities. Vanuatu has five radio programmes every week on agriculture ranging from market information to talk-back shows covering agriculture, fisheries, livestock and quarantine. Kiribati airs an agricultural radio programme fortnightly and Tonga has three agricultural radio programmes each week. Similarly Samoa has a twice-weekly agricultural radio programme airing in the evenings, and repeated on the following day.

‘Walkabout’ radio was a very popular format in the 1990s in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. As the name indicates, the programme hosts visit the farmers’ fields and chat with the farmers going about their daily chores such as fixing a broken-down tractor, discussing symptoms of a pest problem or transplanting seedlings. Listeners are taken on an audio experience of the farm work with a real-time soundtrack as the farmer goes about his business. Staffing and equipment constraints forced this popular format to close down.

Community radio with a specific focus, uncommon in the Pacific, has a targeted audience and is usually an extension of the special interest group it represents. Strictly donor funded it has limited coverage of development issues and a narrow audience base. But it is very effective in disseminating knowledge on special interest groups and serving their information needs. By broadening its focus, community radio can reach a wider spectrum of the rural audience with development information.
 

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

The FAO’s Avian Influenza information system used in Bangladesh extensively uses mobile technology to track the outbreak of the deadly avian (H5N1) virus in a resource deficient country. Short message services (SMS) were used to collect and manage information from a large number of grassrootslevel volunteers, thereby enabling a coordinated and real-time response to contain the outbreak. This showed how mobile technology could be used for active surveillance systems.

More information is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEj0gVV44V0

Mobile phones are not only used as a delivery medium but also as a node to collect data, which is then processed by a centralized unit to produce information services. Examples also include the system in the Philippines for price and stock information gathering by the Bureau of Agricultural Statistics using an open-source system from Nokia.

Similarly, the Govi Gnana Seva NGO in Sri Lanka uses mobile phones to collect price information
that is recorded and made available in real time. The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention set up a mobile phone emergency reporting system that takes about two to three minutes for a trained person to report a possible epidemic-related case.

Generally, the limitations of mobile phone displays in terms of size and textbased systems restrict the collection of advisory types of information. However, text used in combination with voice-based information seems to offer effective options for an advisory information exchange.

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

"Though there have been significant gains in ICT capacity and physical infrastructure, further development is limited by a lack of an infrastructure backbone. This is compounded by a lack of literacy and numeracy skills, diminishing the accessibility and impact of many existing ICT systems." - from the ICT in Agriculture sourcebook's report 2 on ICTs in the Agriculture Sector (http://www.ictinagriculture.org/content/ict-agriculture-sourcebook)

Again, all you need is a 'smart' farmer. There has been projects done in rural India where applications were developed with pictures as inputs for items like seeds, fertilizers and other inputs and the farmers  were able to interact with that application and get the necessary advice/information through audio/video feedbacks.

Gerard Sylvester
Gerard SylvesterFAOThailand

There has been a tremendous increase in the adoption of mobile phones for delivering agricultural information services. A few case studies have been documented during the FAO's regional workshop on  "Mobile Technologies for food security, agriculture and rural development" (http://www.fao.org/docrep/017/i3074e/i3074e00.htm).

It is estimated that there are almost 6.8 billion mobile connections for a world population of a little over 7 billion. It has been mentioned the last 1 billion connections have been predominantly added at the BOP - people living below 2 USD $/day. People involved in agriculture and allied fields form a majority of these rural poor.

The opportunity that this provides in delivering information services to the people involved in agriculture is phenomenal. Access to the right information at the right time helps make informed decisions, especially for small holder resource poor farmers this has a enormous bearing on their livelihoods.

An in-depth insight into the growth of mobile phones is documented here : http://www.atkearney.com/documents/10192/760890/The_Mobile_Economy_2013.pdf