At the FAO-ITU e agriculture workshop that I am attending in Bangkok, I was asked to respond to a question on failure of ICT projects in agriculture and why. I responded, saying I will speak only about our activities. I said that the market information system Harsha de Silva started as an e Sri Lanka pilot project; kept going with his own money; and then handed over to LIRNEasia to run and study is by many criteria a success: it was picked up by a mobile operator (a rare case of sustainability being achieved); the data that it produces are reused by government organizations; the data are used. But by my criteria, it is yet to succeed. My criteria are as follows: (i) the markets must clear, the way you measure this is by measuring the waste carted off the wholesale markets at the end of business everyday; (ii) there must be evidence that the law of one price is being found to be observed in a significant number of wholesale markets that are within driving distance of the main sources of supply.
In 2010 I wrote a piece of science fiction. It was published in an academic book, so it came out in 2013 as “e South Asia: A social science fiction,” in South Asia in 2060: Envisioning regional futures, eds. Najam, A. & Yusuf, M., chapter 26.
The Sri Lanka Department of Export Agriculture (DOEA) sponsored two campaigns in the Kurunegala district, with ginger farmers in the north area and pepper farmers in the south area. Both campaigns were intended to improve the efficiency and timeliness of communication between DOEA extension officers and local farmers. Both campaigns used text messaging and both showed that there was interest from farmers in this form of communication, despite challenges with using text messaging on their phones. Many of the older generation farmers said they needed help to use text messaging but found the information useful. They asked for a voice-based system to complement the SMS system.
Academic publication moves at a snail’s pace. A chapter that I wrote for a futures book that came out in 2013 was actually written in 2010. This is what I said about agriculture: The move to a knowledge-based economy did not mean the end of agriculture, but the blending of agriculture and knowledge. The massive computing power agglomerated in the region enabled a solution to the water crisis that had threatened to turn the bread basket of the Punjab into an arid desert and to start another war between Pakistan and India. The inefficient water-use practices on both sides of the border had driven down the water table and made the great Indus a mere trickle.
US agriculture was early to use ICTs to improve efficiency. I recall sharing stories of information-savvy farmers with my classes in Ohio in the early 1990s. Now data is available of soil and weather conditions at a micro-level and farmers are beginning to be concerned that this big data when combined with other data could result in the rigging of futures markets: And the interested parties are familiar names on the farm—names like DuPont and, of course, Monsanto, which is on a buying spree. Monsanto bought the high-tech farm equipment maker Precision Planting in 2012. Last October, it bought the Climate Corporation, a data-analytics firm that provides weather-related farm services and crop insurance, and is also handling Monsanto’s fledgling data-related services.
LIRNEasia wishes to understand how the capabilities of information and communication technologies (ICTs) can be leveraged to create the conditions for hitherto excluded groups to participate in new economic opportunities in global supply chains in agriculture and services.
LIRNEasia was invited to participate in the symposium on Food System Innovation in South and Southeast Asia. The event was organised by the Michigan State University (MSU) and The Energy Resource Institute (TERI) in New Delhi, India. The symposium largely featured research on climate change, population growth, irrigation, land use and agriculture innovations. These were drawn from the research done at the Global Center for Food Systems Innovations (GCFSI) at MSU and TERI. Experts from South and Southeast Asia were brought to shed light on the regional conditions.
Little data is as bad a term as big data. Really tells you very little. But sadly that is what the New York Times has chosen to use. And I have not had time to come up with something little more insightful. David Soloff is recruiting an army of “hyperdata” collectors.
In April 2012, LIRNEasia participated in a regional FAO workshop held in Bangkok. The workshop brought together representatives from the agriculture ministries/ departments of 10 countries in Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam), FAO personnel as well as the private sector, including operators of Mobile Agricultural Information Services (MAIS). The official workshop proceedings are now available, with a chapter dedicated to LIRNEasia’s survey findings on the use of ICTs by the BOP. The report articulates the need for clear policies and the benefits of public-private partnerships in creating viable, sustainable and importantly reliable Mobile Agricultural Information Services (MAIS-s).
We have always been interested in how mobile technology can reduce the frictions of time and space and thereby improve the functioning of markets. If the market being improved is that for agri produce, there is no disagreement. Eliminating the middle (wo)man would call forth a wave of approbation. But in the case being reported, the demise of the middle (wo)man is being mourned. May be we will be not looked at as crazy when we talk about a continuing role for the middle (wo)man in agri markets.
Several Canadian and Sri Lankan organizations held a workshop in Peradeniya on Oct. 15 to provide an introduction to and basic training in the use of free and open source software (FOSS) to enable agricultural community groups and individuals to implement and use easily-accessible tools for communication, information collection, knowledge sharing, data visualization, and interactive mapping. Participants were introduced to four Free and Open Source software platforms that are in wide use around the world: FrontlineSMS and FrontlineSMS:Radio for text messaging, Freedom Fone for creating small scale interactive voice response systems with telephones, and Ushahidi for creating and curating interactive maps with geo located reports from mobile devices (i.e., crowdmapping).
Technocrats (and people like us who emphasize the rational) would prefer a rational, integrated solution. But we rarely get greenfield opportunities. In almost all cases vested interests dominate. So the reform that gets done is imperfect and messy. This is the message P Chidambaram, Minister of Finance seems to be giving to NYT.
Most people have heard of the Internet of things, where devices such as refrigerators would communicate with other devices or with people. But this is about sensors embedded in cows talking to the mobile phone of the farmer. When Christian Oesch was a boy on his family’s hog farm, cellphones were a thing of the future. Now, Mr. Oesch tends a herd of dairy cattle and carries a smartphone wherever he goes.
Date: October 15, 2012 Time: 09:00 AM – 1:00 PM Location: Inservice Training Institute, Gannoruwa, Peradeniya The Department of Agriculture, in conjunction with LIRNEasia, University of Peradeniya Faculty of Agriculture, University of Alberta, and University of Guelph will be hosting a workshop on the use of low cost information and communication technology (ICT) for individuals working across the agricultural sector. The workshop will provide an introduction and basic training on the use of free and open source software to enable community groups and individuals to set up very easily and then use the simple but powerful tools for communication, information collection, knowledge sharing, data visualization, and interactive mapping. The workshop will cover three basic platforms: • FrontlineSMS (text messaging and radio interface) • Ushahidi (interactive mapping) • Freedom Fone (interactive voice response) There is no cost to attend the workshop but seating is limited. Please register your interest in participating through LIRNEasia by contacting : nuwan [at] lirneasia [dot] net Click to download the workshop announcement
Badalkumbura is located in the Moneragala District, one of the most impoverished in Sri Lanka. But it is located in the midst of a smallholder boom in rubber. Here, the key advantage is the weather. In contrast to the traditional rubber districts where rain prevents tapping of the trees for latex sometimes for half the month, rainy days are an exception in Moneragala. Thus new rubber is expanding rapidly, all with smallholders.
Lots of ideas for people thinking up new applications for agriculture, anywhere. FarmLogs, however, uses the pricing format of software-as-a-service start-up: a free trial, no setup fees, and monthly plans based on the size of operations. Costs range from $9 a month for the smallest farm to $99 a month for farms of more than 2,000 acres. Farmers’ income arrives unevenly, in big lumps over the course of a year rather than in a steady monthly stream. That could make it hard to persuade farmers who are now using notebooks or spreadsheets for record-keeping to add a new and recurring expense category, software-as-a-service, even if the amount is tiny when compared with annual income.