E-Agriculture

Theo Cosmora

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Theo Cosmora
Theo CosmoraSocialEco LtdUnited Kingdom

Of all the recommendations to decision makers concerned with the use of ICTs in resilience I can think of, this is the most important: 

ICTs can be a two edged sword in that they can bring about greater efficiency and with it greater economic success. The other side of the coin is that this greater efficiency can in many cases bring about increased loss of jobs and with it, increased social upheaval. Long term, we have to ensure that these ICT efficiencies do not reach down into the economics of those already empoverished and disenfranchised.  Especially at this level of society, as well as in the middle classes, we have to find the right balance in implementing ICT resilience solutions.  While the following great quote on this subject by a great man relates to the middle classes in developed countries, we must not reach a situation whereby it also relates to the 500 million empoverished smallholder farmers already suffering as a result of the economic inequalities of our world.

Stephen Hawking, November 30th 2016: “We’re at the most dangerous moment in history of humanity. The concerns underlying these votes [Brexit / Trump] about the economic consequences of globalisation and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining. This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world.”

Theo Cosmora
Theo CosmoraSocialEco LtdUnited Kingdom

I met an interesting company this year. I can't (without looking at the CEO's business card or company website) remember what they do, or even their name. What I do remember and will always remember is their motto.  It was: "Those who feed us, need us". Simple yet on the button.

If ICTs are to be implemented in reslience programmes, it must be to fulfill the needs of those who feed us. If it doesn't, not only is it not fair nor ethical, but if it continues, will result in increased food scarcity.

My experience with Service Providers in all areas of business is that they tend to be focused on only selling their services instead of delivering their service in the context and as part of the appropriate solution to the need or problem.  I.E. their approach is myopic instead of holistic.

It's thus easy to fall into the trap of approaching enablement of resilient agriculture through ICTs in isolation of other interconnected sectors and influencers in what will be a multi-dimensional agricultural need and in an holistic human being.

There will always be multiple answers - at both the micro and macro levels, to this question.

Ultimately, with 1 Billion people globally employed in agriculture and 500 million - half of them - earning their primary income from smallholder agriculture and undernourished and living in poverty - the ultimate objective of integrating ICTs in reslience projects must be to improve the economic standing of smallholder farmers and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty.

The World Economic Forum 2015 leaders’ statement included the words:

“Inequality is the greatest threat to the global economy…Addressing inequality is not only a responsibility but also an opportunity and is good for business as it creates a new demographic of consumers…We know what we need. We need inclusive economics.”

So how can ICT resilience programmes, solutions and strategies bring about "Inclusive Economics"?

Inclusive Economics brings both more stakeholders into the economic equation and increases financial remuneration with a view to balance.  This could be brought around in two ways:

1. Integrating smallholder farmers into more of the value chain. This means further reducing the pounds of flesh charged by the middle men.

2. Integrating consumers into the development of smallholder farms and economic success of their farmers.  This means further reducing the pounds of flesh charged by the middle men.

*(For those who are not familiar - "pounds of flesh" is naturally a figurative statement (Merchant of Venice) and not a literal one.)

With many ICT solutions already enabling farmers to have increased and improved direct access, be it to markets and pricing and other important information, this trend is already under way and will continue to bring about greater economic inclusion and with it, economic resilience.

The ultimate solution I believe will have global consumers ( the global crowd ) participating in the economic foundation, support and thus participation, as well as consumption of smallholder farms in developing countries.  This is already happening in what I'd refer to as a half-way solution, through investment funds run by organizations.

Hopefully one day we will have direct global crowd-sponsorship of smallholder ICT-based economic resilence. In the meantime, a great article on organization-led initiatives which also happens to reference one or two examples, can be found here:  

Theo Cosmora
Theo CosmoraSocialEco LtdUnited Kingdom

Definitions of "resilience" tend to focus on the ability to recover after a negative experience. For example, Wikipedia states:

"Resilience is generally thought of as a "positive adaptation" after a stressful or adverse situation online".

However what such defininitions don't incorporate in their interpretation is the background to the "positive adaptation" - the measures, inputs, decisions, preparations etc that created the ability to have the "positive adaptation", and I think this is where the matter of "resilience" and its relevance to ICT, generally and in the context of e-agriculture, comes into play.

A number of the contributions here touch on this, eg:

1. Mr Ahmed's "When we talk about resilience, we are referring to the ability of people and communities to prevent the impacts disasters and crises as well as to anticipate, absorb, and recover from them in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner."

2. Joel Le Turioner - AfricAgriConsult / Pietro's translation "in accessibility and subsidy programs for inputs using ICTs such as electronic vouchers and computerized traceability platforms, farmers were able to significantly improve their incomes through the use of quality inputs, at the right price, available at the right time while having access to agricultural advice (state or private) in order to make the best use of them."

So it is essentially the specific types of preparation in various ways that enabled the ""positive adaptation after a stressful or adverse situation" that should be included in the answer to this question.  

Especially if we consider the truth "Prevention is better than Cure", avoidance of the "stressful or adverse situation", clearly a better option than experience of and positive recovery from the "stressful or adverse situation" - can also be included in the understanding and application of the concept of Resilience vis-a-vis application of ICT for resilience programmes.

One of the greatest examples of Resilience in Nature is of course Metamorphosis, defined in Wikipedia as "a biological process by which an animal physically develops after birth or hatching, involving a conspicuous and relatively abrupt change in the animal's body structure through cell growth and differentiation."

A number of Futurists and Evolution Biologists, for example Elisabet Sahtouris, touch on the process of Metamorphosis to explain how Humanity can progress past pain points into transformed and evolved positions. http://www.sahtouris.com/#5_3,0,,1

In as much as the increasing interconnectivity, leading to the improvement of access to necessary resources, between and among the imaginal cells in the caterpillar enables it to withstand the transition challenges and pain points to become the butterfly, so too will the interconnectivity between the relevant elements, inputs and interventions in all areas including agri-relevant informations (weather etc), agri-resource access and transparent pricing and marketplace access, contribute to ICT enabling Resilience.  

I think the next big phase of ICT enabling resilience will thus emerge with the wider adoption and greater application of P2P (Peer 2 Peer) solutions, clearly the most effective maximiser of interconnectivity points, in the areas of Finance and Digital Inclusion, and this is what we're focusing on.