May 3, 2013

When New Age Technology Meets Old World Farming: ICT in Action

The 21st century has brought countless examples of technological innovations that have changed the way we interact with the world. Great strides over the past decade in both the access to and development of information and communication technology (ICT) – including mobile phones, GPS Systems, barcode scanners,  Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), and smartcard readers – have allowed even the most remote villages around the world to connect to resources and information unattainable just a generation ago. In 2003, only 61% of the world’s population was covered by a mobile cellular signal. By 2009 that number had risen to 90%, or approximately 6 billion people. As agriculture in the developing world still relies on a variety of natural and anthropogenic variables for optimal production, it is imperative that farmers work with all those involved in the supply chain to ensure a successful product from the time seeds are sown to when they are sold in the market. Around the world, ICT has proven to be a viable answer in integrating traditional farming practices with 21st century analysis.

In India, the agro-advisory system E-Sagu (sagu meaning cultivation in the native Telugu) has utilized ICT to quickly dispense advice and recommendations to farmers to ensure the long term viability of their crops. A joint venture of Media Labs Asia and the International Institute of Information Technology (IIIT) in Hyderabad, E-Sagu charges farmers 300-500 rupees per season to access expert advice on any problem that may occur with their crops. Field coordinators from E-Sagu visit farms approximately every 15 days to take pictures of each crop variety and write reports about field conditions, which are sent to experts at IIIT. Experts then provide individual recommendations to farmers based on coordinator reports and send their advice and assessment to regional centers. Local coordinators deliver these assessments to farmers within 24-36 hours while urgent information is sent by SMS directly to the farmer. Since 2004, the program has encouraged great adoption by over 5,000 farms in 35 villages across Southern India.

ICT has also been effective at providing a wide range of supplemental uses that enhances the ability of farmers to grow sustainable agriculture while sustaining rural livelihoods. In Ghana, the private business Esoko has used ICT to create the Esoko Ghana Community Index (EGCI), which aids farmers by acting as both a SMS alert system for crop and commodity prices and as a mobile marketplace allowing farmers to submit offers via text message. EGCI is beneficial to both farmers and wholesale suppliers; farmers are able to improve revenues by negotiating better prices or selecting more favorable markets for their produce, while traders can procure products more quickly and at mutually beneficial prices.

In Bhutan, the government’s investment in community centers equipped with broadband internet has allowed villages separated by the country’s remote mountainous, forested terrain to connect and share information. With regards to agriculture, the centers allow individuals to collaborate with others across the country on effective techniques to bolster crop yields in the harsh landscape, an imperative if the government intends to meet its goal of becoming 100% organic in food production.

Though the majority of best practices for ICT currently encompass only information transmission, possible future iterations of ICT could see farmers running simulations to determine the best outcome of any individual action on their crops. Scaled, this type of ICT innovation could be invaluable tool to effectively manage farmland at the landscape level.

What do you see as possible applications for ICT in integrated landscape management?

Photo credit: F. Fiondella (IRI/CCAFS)
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