E-Agriculture

Simone Sala

This member participated in the following Forums

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Dear Andre,
happy my comments resonate with you!
I also agree with you when you say that innovation goes forward.. no matter what. As the saying goes: instead of wondering why it rains let's pick up an umbrella and let's get ready for it. :)
s.
 

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Dear all,
let me try to break the ice by playing the devil's advocate role and focus on the negative side of open/big data.

In a world of power asymmetries it is rather obvious that the strongest/richest organizations are going to benefit first and foremost of open datasets. Technology - every technology- has historically been uptaken by the elite first, so I don't see how this could be different with data. :)

On one hand this means that big companies would be able to create services out of data through which better monitor crop production (and related dynamics) to gain market insights that may strenghten their bargaining position with smallholders when it comes to buying their produce. 

On the other hand, there are already organizations proposing to farmers to share their data in exchange of services. Data can thus become a bargaining chip for farmers to receive some forms of technical advice/assistance or to access to credit/markets. This is the case of NGO like this one or companies like GroVentures and FitUganda.

I think we will see this kind of business models mushrooming over and over in the future. The question is how do we help governments regulate this environment and how do we strengthen (smallholder) farmers' capacities in order to be able to better leverage this asset. Personally I am particularly interested to learn more by the experience of some farmers' organizations (such as the East African Farmers Organization's eGranary project) in managing their own data could be the best way forward.

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Coming to this Forum on Friday I can only but build on the interesting reflections the community did. :)

As Amparo said, open data can happen because of ICTs - meaning that these tools do actually provide the opportunity to record, store and share the data among different communities.

ICTs are making data generation easier and cheap. Our smartphones actually generate useful data without us even noticing: every farmer with a smartphone in his/her pocket is a small weather station, as smartphones have a built-in barometer to calibrate its GPS that can generate data. To me, the most interesting disruption ICTs can produce in this field is thus making farmers become data active generators.

ICTs does also provide the opportunity to agriculture and nutrition stakeholders to share datasets, even when small and coarse, which can be extremely helpful in developing insights about the status of communities and their territories. mWater, for example, is an open data platform allowing anyone collecting data on water to share them with other stakeholders - breaking down data silos and making it actionable by all interested parties.

Generating data is not an issue anymore. The problem is to generate positive change beyond access to data themselves. Too often institutions (both from public and private sector) think that releasing data publicly constitutes an achievement per se - though it is rather a building block for progress.

That's why I agree with Gerard. For open data to be useful there is a need to create an ecosystem, which enables a successful application of open data in agriculture and nutrition. The big shift is starting to think in terms of services before data: so what services are needed by smallholder and family farmers, rural women and the youth? What services are needed by those agrifood stakeholders that can play a role in improving the life of rural people?

Within this framework, ICTs players and other stakeholders can have a role in pushing for interoperability among different applications, creating tools making it easier to operationalize data analysis.

I will be happy to highlight the ways in which Open Data can have a positive or negative impact next week in our Forum!

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

ICTs can surely play a key role in promoting the sustainable production intensification of horticultural crop based system. At the same time, there are barriers preventing rural stakeholders from capitalizing the application of ICTs and challenges that can jeopardize the successful employment of ICTs to advance the horticultural sector – beyond the typical ones linked in ICTs for agriculture (e.g. digital divide(s), low adoption of ICTs, usability of applications, inappropriate and untimely content).

I would like to share some of these barriers and challenges, inviting all participants to the Forum to provide their remarks and add more of those – specifically focusing on horticultural production.

Among the main barriers, the financial investments needed to setup ICT-based infrastructures supporting horticultural production is the first and foremost. The use of in-situ sensors can positively help monitoring horticultural crop production, optimizing input management and reducing overall costs, though they require an investment to buy/rent the devices, installing them, setting up a wireless network to collect the data feeding the related databases and information management systems, and finally maintaining the infrastructure up and running. Investments are needed also to build or strengthen the capacity of farmers or their partners who will operate the sensor and analyse the measurements being taken to operationalize follow-up management activities. Clearly, the same applies with the use of remote sensing technologies used for monitoring horticultural crop production.

Decision makers can play a difference by incentivizing the adoption of ICTs at the farm level through grants, facilitated access to credit and tax incentives (wherever it is worthwhile). Moreover, decision makers can sponsor capacity building programs for both farmers and rural advisory service providers, so to create the conditions for increasing the feasibility of ICT-based initiatives.

Barriers and challenges exist at a broader level, as the infrastructure of rural areas often suffer from low investments and attention from both the public and private sector – lowering the quality of service of information and communication systems in rural areas that may help rural communities leapfrogging. For example, remote and underprivileged areas suffer frequent power and communication cuts, and lack the availability of technologies and capacities if compared to urban centres. As a result, rural areas do not present a favourable environment to make ICTs and the related innovations practicable for their communities.

Policy and decision makers have the responsibility to place rural areas at the centre of pro-innovation policies rather than at their peripheries, fostering the creation of smart rural areas as much as urban ones. Evidence shows that investments in rural areas prove to be good value for money, beyond the satellite positive outcomes of keeping farmers actively engaged in agriculture as custodians of local land and knowledge.

Another important challenge is the scepticism who farmers often show towards ICT solutions in agricultural production – including horticulture. Indeed, farmers tend to see these technologies as something too advanced and complicated for them, and understandably they do not place very much trust in impersonal digital system listing a set of operations they should perform on their own fields.

Policy makers and NGO should adopt technology stewardship models (as recently discussed with one of our colleagues active in this Forum, Mr. Keron Bascombe) to help farmers get familiar with these technologies. Tech-savvy acquaintances of farmers, such as younger members of households, can help bridging this gap and carve for themselves a new role as service providers in rural societies.

Furthermore, a useful approach is the one employed by Farmer Field Schools and Science Field Shops where farmers can test technologies and learn by doing. Such approach would also allow building ad hoc low-cost ICT solutions – such as hot-air balloon to take aerial photos of the fields for image processing – that can further facilitate the adoption of such technologies. As I stated at the beginning of my message, these are just some examples. I really look forward hearing yours!

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Thanks Santosh for linking to so many horticultural-relevant ICT-based techniques.
You mentioned the use of ICT for fruit sorting - and I can confirm there are both academic studies and application in this field. Here is a link to an application and to a couple of studies (a, b, c).

PS If you any link to the application developed in Goa using wild animals voice sound generator I'd really be happy to learn more about these experiences.

PS Congratulations for your amazing work with Nano Ganesh. I am a big fan of your work!

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

I totally appreciate the points made by Walter here and by Ajit in Question 4: we need to think beyond sectoral policies for ICT & Communication in order to in-depth investigate how we can make our socio-economic more environmentally and culturally sustainable.

Said that, I try to stick to question 5 and propose one single concrete action to be implemented to improve rural communication policies and services. I think that such policies and services would definitely beneift from listening to people's voices by including them into planning/implementing/monitoring. Some corporations have ad hoc policies to improve/innovate their work (e.g. Google's 20% of staff time dedicated to experimenting) so I'm wondering how about all ComDev professionals advocate for one single action - i.e. a minimum 20% of time/resources to be dedicated for the participation of local communities in rural communication services and policies?

 

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Dear friends and colleagues,
sorry if I joined you just now - it's always a pleasure to contribute to ComDev and our community.

When thinking about policy actions that may help spreading the use of community media and ICTs, there are two main points that pop up in my mind:

  1. Expand physical access to services and tools. Adequate policies in the Telecommunication and related sector can make a true difference in reducing the costs linked with access to ICT tools. The ITU uses an interesting indicator, named ICT Price Basket, that provides the cost of accessing to mobile services (i.e. mobile subscription), Internet (i.e. fixed broadband) and worldwide. More info here. As you can see there are huge differences across developing and emerging regions: policy enabling competition among ICT providers can make possible a cost-effective offer of ICT services and tools. Good examples are Azerbaijan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Guyana, and Uganda - where relative overall prices decreased by over 50% between 2008 and 2010!
  2. Invest on training. Both producing and consuming media needs capacities. Policy makers can play a huge difference in the uptake of ICTs as well as in community media development if providing adequate training to communities. It is also extremely important to promote training (and facilitation, whenever possible) to make communities able to translate online and offline content that may be relevant to them but available in another language and/or not tailored to them as target users. Capacity building and strengthening policies can start from literacy programs up to facilitation skills - when it is possible, for example, to train local infomediaries that can guide communities in taking the best out of media and ICTs.

 

Finally, I know this may seem obvious but I believe we should never stop repeating it: policy making can largely improve rural communication services if local voices are listened since the beginning of projects/programmes/initiatives. This means going beyond consultation and rather make policy making truly participatory. Moreover, policy making should include communities in the monitoring and evaluation of communication services to make them more effectively respond to the communities' needs. Incidentally, the role of ICTs is growing in providing simple and cost-effective ways of providing feedback to policy makers - getting back to the former point: expand access and build/strengthen capacities!

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Hello everybody,
integration and transparency are the keywords that pop up in my mind when I think about a possible recommendation for those institutions in charge of designing and implementing an effective e-agriculture strategy/policy.

One typical mistake -though it's cross-sectorial, and does not really challenges e-agriculture per se- is starting with the system as it should be, not taking into account existing initiatives being implemented at the local level for possible integration. With regards to e-agriculture I think that any strategy should start with a deep scoping exercise to determine what are past and current initaitives in the domain of ICT & Agriculture that may be integrated. It is likely that a number of scattered initiatives could have been implemented already, not necessarily employing technology: I do believe that any efforts aimed at improving information and communication processes to the agriculture stakeholders should be identified and examined. These experiences -especially failures- can help very much in defining information and communication bottlenecks as well as opportunities to be leveraged (e.g. identification of key information providers in different contexts). Moreover, from a mere technological perspective the result of such a mapping effort may suggest to create a technology bundle to integrate different local information systems rather than creating a top-down information system ex novo.

Transparency comes close and next. One good example of data transparency I like to quote is that of the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) in New York. They aggregate a number of data and make extensive use of information systems to manage their network. To better disseminate informations to their users they did not chose to develop their own application, but rather made available for free the bulk of data and meta-data necessary to developers- that were far more interested in competing with each other to create user-oriented applications. 
This may sound far from the world of Agriculture, but if we look at the work of many agricultural ministries and extension departments we may agree that their work -from a data/information/user perspective- is not that different from what MTA does. They aggregate much data with the goal of supporting at their best the efforts of the national agricultural stakeholders. As a result, making parts of these data open to developers may prove to be a win-win strategy in those contexts were there are innovation-prone environments that are interested in creating (mobile) applications to final users: my thought naturally goes to the Tech hubs that are booming in many countries, such as those composing AfriLabs.

Hope these two keywords can be good food for thought!
Thank you =)

Simone Sala
Simone SalaFAOItaly

Among the various ICTs, Geographic Information System (GIS) and Remote Sensing (RS) techniques definitely represent a key resource for land planning and management.
GIS offers the opportunity to gather multiple layers of information -coming from different perspectives- into one spatial representation. This is particularly useful to reach a consensus over land planning when different values and preferences are linked to a given territory. On the other hand, RS techniques represent a valuable tool for monitoring land resources (e.g. vegetation, water bodies, etc.), especially when a single institution is in charge of monitoring a wide area.

Retrieving in-situ data is expensive and time consuming; nevertheless, GIS&RS cannot substitute local observations and finding the appropriate balance between remote and in-situ monitoring is often a delicate issue. Moreover, it is essential to make any GIS&RS framework be based on a strongly participatory process in order to identify an appropriate and transparent application methodology. The process behind the deployment of GIS&RS has to be open and explicit to avoid that these technologies are used as a facade for hidden agendas to local communities.