Cultivating food security: Technology can help farmers around the world
When it comes to food security, the United States is a world leader, according to the Global Food Security Index, but around the world, many countries struggle to ensure they have enough to eat.
On Oct. 17, a webinar titled, “ICT4Ag: The New Technologies that will Achieve Food Security” discussed different technologies and the challenges and distribution technology faces in agricultural programs.
Jacob Korenblum, Souktel Digital Solutions CEO, discussed recent efforts taken to promote food security through multi-channel digital solutions.
“Multi-channel digital solutions involve interacting with members of the agriculture community through different mobile and web-based messaging,” Korenblum explained.
Farmers and ranchers can send videos, images and audio on mobile phones using Facebook Messenger and text messaging to ask questions.
“Offering a spectrum of services, like Facebook Messenger or basic mobile audio to reach agricultural members is important because people have different access to technology and usage habits,” he said.
Catholic Relief Services Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) Knowledge Management and Communications Specialist Kathryn Clifton believes needs versus wants, models of scale, marketing, communications and program cycle transitions should be considered when developing food security solutions.
“A pull is the need or want for a product, and push is a product or service that satisfies the need,” Clifton explained, adding producers with products need to realize there has to be pull in the market.
Marketing and communications are also important, she noted, and require extensive communication to develop problem solutions.
“Producers need to ask who is reaching their target audience and what assumptions they have for potential partnerships to successfully market their product,” Clifton stated, encouraging producers to maintain accessibility and online presence.
Souktel developed two technologies for agriculturalists in developing countries – Chatbox Extension Services and Buyer and Seller plus Payment Solution.
“Chatbox focuses on connecting farmers through Facebook or text messaging to provide real-time advice and answer questions,” Korenblum stated.
Live experts provide advice, and information is downloaded to automated content robots, which respond to questions using prior material drawn from a database, he continued.
“Chatbox aims to provide ongoing, personalized support that creates case histories for individuals to offer better advice in the future,” explained Koreblum.
Additionally, Buyer and Seller Matching plus Payment Solution enables groups of small farmers to collectively sell products, set prices, connect with buyers and receive payments, using existing money platforms.
“For farmers, this technology increases selling power and allows for high-value products to be sold at a better price,” Korenblum added.
In areas where internet is unavailable, mobile devices have allowed agriculture to prosper and improve advisory services, market information, financial services and insurance services.
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) generated the e-Agriculture Community Practice, an online center for exchanging knowledge and project experiences that involve agriculture and rural development ICTs.
“E-Agriculture provides access to information, financial services and connections with other communities,” said Alice Van der Elstraeten, FAO e-Agriculture information management specialist.
Digital agriculture models
Brian King of the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) discussed digital agriculture models and their potential to develop better interactions with farmers.
In India, an interactive voice response-based advisory system was used to research agronomic advice value from an interactive voice system.
“This research is interesting because it demonstrated that agronomic advice is valuable,” King said.
Another program in West Africa used scratch-off cards to deliver financial advice, so farmers could save money to buy better seeds and fertilizer.
“Access to quality inputs and advice provided visible gains in yields and farmer incomes,” he noted.
The last model in Colombia dealt with site-specific advice for farmers. CIAT combined data from rice crops and formed a hypothesis on why rice yields were declining.
“This is a big data approach used to figure out what factors were affecting rice crop yields. Results from the data unlocked the ability to deliver site-specific advice to farmers,” King commented.
When analytic-driven, value chain coordination-driven and digital channel-driven models are combined, ways to develop true interactivity with rural, low-income farmers over multiple digital channels are evident, he stated.
Digital literacy and literacy for individuals should be addressed, while more development learning activities are important for organizations to incorporate.
“E-Agriculture strategies can be applied to help national governments develop agricultural information and communication technology (ICT) strategies to ensure sustainability, scalability and coordination between stakeholders,” Van der Elstaeten commented.
As a community, agriculture is focusing on capacity development activities through webinars and discussion forums, she said, adding farmer-centered designs are also a main focus.
“It is essential to get to know farmers and the design programs with them, not for them,” Van der Elstaeten stated.
“It’s very important to address capacity development at all levels to answer questions farmers have about new technology,” she added, noting, it is essential for ICT projects to work, as well.
The ICT4Ag webinar was hosted by Catholic Relief Services to stimulate discussion on strategies for improving food security.
Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org