By Nicolás González, Agricompas Business Development Manager
Climate change is one of the most common challenges for farmers of all types of products all around the world. Not having a clear and fairly accurate measurement of how temperature, humidity, rainfall, winds, and even solar radiation will behave produces uncertainty, which can translate into poor preparation for the production process.
Likewise, farmers are experiencing conditions never seen before, where the extremes of climatic conditions are increasingly acute: more extensive droughts, heavier rains and temperatures that are surpassing historical maximums year after year. Natural disasters affecting large cities and also agricultural development in the countryside are having more and more devastating effects, making the most vulnerable worse off.
All of us, in each of our daily activities, are positively or negatively impacting this climate change crisis, affecting at the same time other very important areas such as food security, deforestation and in some cases, human rights.
Efforts for change
Despite this worrying situation, the major world powers and international institutions are focusing their efforts on extending their reach through investment programs that generate a positive impact on climate change mitigation and its effects, as mentioned by Bernice Van Bronkhorst, Global Director, Climate Change in the World Bank article:
“We are at a once-in-a-generation moment to help clients act on climate and in so doing also gain the benefits of cleaner air and water, healthier oceans, more resilient cities, and more sustainable food and agriculture systems. We are committed to getting this right.”
Among the actions being taken to mitigate climate change is the commitment to a more sustainable agriculture that generates a lower environmental impact, but also has the necessary tools to produce more efficiently and anticipate crop risk through the use of technology. This is part of the Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2.4.1).
Climate uncertainty makes farming increasingly difficult
Using satellite images and the processing of that information into various indices, mixed with constant data processing from different climatic and environmental sources and from the farmer him/herself about crop management, EcoProMIS is able to have a constant monitoring of the crop status and always be watching the expected crop yield.
Thanks to the use of this type of technology, we have the necessary tools to measure the risk in each agronomic decision taken in crop management, to always be covered and to have an optimal administration of the physical and economical resources of the productive agricultural activity. All of this helps to mitigate the uncertainty brought about by climate change.
Risk mitigation and data analytics
Similarly, the risk management carried out through the use of the EcoProMIS platform, where information is processed in real time on what is happening with the crop and the area in which it is located, provides relevant information for stakeholders that provide services to farmers such as input suppliers, insurers, banks and machinery dealers.
With this information, these companies are able to analyse the farmer, his crop and the risk they have in a more detailed way, which allows them to mitigate their information risk and offer better conditions and services to farmers.
This improvement in the agricultural ecosystem generates an environment of competitiveness and sustainability in the long term, as mentioned by Xuan Pham, Martin Stack in the article “How Data Analytics is Transforming Agriculture” published here in Harvard Business Publishing.
Thanks to data analytics such as EcoProMIS, we can make agriculture not only more efficient but also better prepared to face climate change and the impact it is having on our society. While the risks will still be there, we will have enough information to make better decisions to mitigate those risks and ensure the safety not only of our crops, but of society in general and future generations.
By Roelof Kramer, CEO, Agricompas
The writings are on the wall: deforestation, biodiversity loss, pollution, GHG emissions, and poorer socio-economic conditions. A global ecological disaster is playing out in front of our eyes and is only aggravated by increasing demand for agricultural produce, climate change and stagnating productivity growth.
By 2030 the UN predicts a world population of 8.5 billion, 700 million more than today. At the same time, we will consume 30% more food per capita in 2030 than in 1965 (2,350 versus 3,050 kcal). And we can assume that greenhouse gas emissions per Kcal have increased significantly due to a higher proportion of dairy and meat in our global diets.
Sustainability is on the tongue of everybody. All seem to have a good intention but what is their underlying motive and do their actions really have an impact?
Actions and Motives
Governments make pledges and sign up to (Paris) agreements; but politicians need re-election and countries have their own agendas.
Corporates have Corporate Social Responsibility programs; but for their shareholders cash is king. Students attend Climate Strike events; but have little power in their future careers as they lack efficient tools.
NGO’s report on biodiversity loss and support smallholders; but they need finance too and are often part of the problem.
Consumers promise to buy local and organic; but ultimately buy as cheap as possible.
Growers love their land and animals; but are trapped in the economic race to the bottom.
Sustainable agriculture for Agricompas means increasing productivity while reducing environmental impact and improving socio-economic conditions. Sustainability is not achieved through new products and services developed in isolation by biased stakeholders.
We need the ability to combine stakeholders and competing interests in one commercially viable business model. We need to optimise yields while minimising environmental impact and improving socio-economic conditions at the same time.
To do that we need reliable comprehensive data, non-exclusive analytics platforms and services that improve the life of people. A combined approach that embraces the ideologies and efforts of Greta Thunberg as well as Elon Musk.
EcoProMIS Data Analytics
Agricompas created a data analytics platform, EcoProMIS (Ecological Production Management Information System), for rice production in Colombia. Growers receive knowledge for free and customers analytics for a fee. Economic, technical, environmental and socio-economic processes are analysed in real-time per grower, per field so that these can be optimised simultaneously.
EcoProMIS provides balanced benefits for all instead of economic and technical benefits for some. It can help to bring the system change that is required to address our common economic, environmental, and social challenges.
By Elizabeth Sweitzer, CIAT
In February 2021, the EcoProMIS project hosted two workshops with rice growers to demonstrate advances with the digital platform and to better understand grower interests and needs.
More than 120 participants joined across the workshops, held February 16th in Tolima and February 17th in Casanare. Surveys administered after the workshop showed that a wide array of participants joined, including rice growers, agricultural assistants or technical assistants, agricultural engineers as well as university students.
Providing value to growers
The workshop covered a series of topics, starting first with an introduction and summary of the EcoProMIS platform and providing further context with a timeline of our project activities and progress to date.
The workshop aimed to demonstrate the different services on the platform and how these create value for growers. With the help of agricultural engineers and specialists at Fedearroz, we explained different prediction services that the platform aims to offer through a suite of mobile applications and web interface.
These digital services will provide information about output based on farm climate, management, and phenotyping data. These are designed to support farmers regarding their own plots of rice. We demonstrated visualization tools, which compare the user’s crop to others in the area. Finally, we demonstrated diagnostic tools for crops which use geo-referenced data to measure crop nutrition and the phenotyping stage.
We met with rice growers for workshops in February 2021
Closer working relationships
Fedearroz also took the opportunity to share about their own work with precision agriculture technology and drone and satellite imagery. Agronomists who were present remarked that these types of projects are very important to the rice-growing region and suggested a closer relationship with the growers and water providers (for irrigation) so that they can all access these intelligent digital platforms.
Questions were asked about how the EcoProMIS crop production forecasting works, what variables are considered, and how the platform uses images to analyze crop nutrition and phenotyping stages. Here we were grateful for the presence of technical assistants, as they were able to explain some of the nuances of the platform and its functionality to growers with whom they were familiar, while also promoting the benefits of the platform.
Listening to growers’ needs
After the presentation, we conducted a brief survey about record keeping habits and data collection preferences, as well as some demographic information in order for us to better understand the needs of growers.
The survey results gave us an improved understanding of how to develop the platform and what features would be most important for growers and technical specialists who might help growers. We understand that the most important product will be the mobile application, but also heard a request to provide a web or desktop version for those who are used to using Excel for record keeping. Having different “users” such as growers and technical specialists who could both input information about the same field was another need that became clear.
Survey results also revealed that all participants would be interested in using the application from cellphones to enter and store data. Many of them have already been using digital methods for record keeping (81% of survey respondents in Tolima and 92% in Casanare used Excel).
For our team from Agricompas, CIAT and Solidaridad, it was insightful that growers differed from technical specialists in their record keeping habits. Growers tended to record information about production, inputs used, labor costs and output; whereas technical specialists were more interested in crop nutrition, soil health, and pests and disease affecting crops.
We aim to hold future sessions to discuss more features of the EcoProMIS platform as they are created and continue listening to feedback from growers and technical specialists. Soon they will be able to plug and play the prototype applications.
We were encouraged that the University of Ibagué is interested in participating in these projects and contribute research and training towards co-creating an innovation ecosystem in the rice production sector. We look forward to continuing our collaboration with all of the existing and potential new EcoProMIS partners that can deliver value to the rice sector in Colombia.
By Nicolás Gonzalez, Business Development Manager at Agricompas
The last few months have been challenging, but also revealing for EcoProMIS and our approach to entering the market. While working hard to develop a comprehensive platform for data analytics, we are doing extensive market research with each of the stakeholders involved in the value chain for rice and agriculture in general.
EcoProMIS is a platform that collects and processes data into analytics from many different sources, providing a complete overview of the production chain. Establishing a link with each of the actors involved in the chain is fundamental. For this reason, our business and product development team work side by side with these stakeholders with the purpose of creating services that generate value and become the source of the company’s revenue.
For the market analysis, which is comprised of the study of both its size and the possible services to offer, a series of interviews and validations have been conducted with each of the stakeholders.
The main stakeholders we are engaging are drawn from the rice milling sector, agri-insurance, credit, seed, machinery, fertilizer and agrochemical suppliers. All of these have a key role in rice production and for which intelligent information is relevant in the decision-making of their business, improving competitiveness and optimising their processes.
Access to information is the critical factor
One of the common factors that the Agricompas team found in the interviews conducted with each of the key actors mentioned above, is that information for them is considered as their guide in daily operations, in the prediction of supply and demand, and in the management of decision making with respect to their business strategy.
Today there is no platform like EcoProMIS and the different actors mentioned above could see clearly the business advantage it would lend them: the possibility of knowing and predicting the yield of farmers’ production, seeing and mitigating risks for the credits that most of them offer, and the management of inventories and supply and demand.
Thanks to this market feedback, we have been able to generate valuable information products, taking our access to satellite images, artificial intelligence, climate information and data provided by farmers themselves, to generate differentiation in the market and value for platform users, making agriculture in Colombia more competitive through better decisions in crop management.
Best services, better conditions for farmers
With the development of the EcoProMIS platform, after market validation and the approval of rice farmers, we are creating a conducive environment for the innovation and growth in the agricultural ecosystem in Colombia.
The information for each of the actors in the chain translates into better products and services for farmers, because with this understanding of production, they are able to better identify their needs and their ability to pay and manage risks, all of which in turn translates into a considerable improvement in the structuring and costing of products.
Technology and access to information are part of the new generation of agriculture that is evolving worldwide. We believe that EcoProMIS is the platform responsible for bringing it to the life of each of the farmers who are part of the project and to the door of each of the companies that are part of the production chain.
EcoProMIS provides users not only with information, but with a valuable tool for daily operations, decision-making, and the way in which users innovate new products and services.
by Carlos Torres, Senior Consultant, IWCO
Information Workers, or IWCO, is an important technical partner working on the EcoProMIS project led by Agricompas.
A Colombian company with 10 years of experience, IWCO is focused on helping its clients get the most and the best value from their data by turning it into information that allows them to make decisions in the short, medium, and long term.
This value comes from four fundamental areas in the process of data harnessing: exploration, extraction, refinement, and consumption of data.
This phase is designed to understand the types of data, their characteristics, where they are located and their potential value, additionally, the identification of business needs that can be solved with data.
During the extraction process, we help our clients (such as the EcoProMIS project) to take their data, put it into a structured format that can be simple to use and that enables our clients to immediately create on-demand queries to get answers to their business questions.
Once the data is in a structured format, we help our clients design and create models to predict, understand, and even extract hidden patterns in the data.
Business users such as Agricompas and Pixalytics are extremely important, that is why we care about helping them consume their data models – information that can now be prepared for analysis. Through knowledge transfer processes we enable our clients to obtain answers to their strategic questions.
Information Workers is a Microsoft, AWS (Amazon), and Google Partner. With broad experience and a process focused on culture, we have an emphasis on helping organisations to operate in the world of self-service.
We have a multidisciplinary team that includes Mathematicians, Statisticians, Economists, Software Engineers, Systems Engineers, and even Petroleum Engineers (!). This diversity means that our team is able to bring our customers’ different professional perspectives, something that has helped us contribute value in the EcoProMIS consortium of seven international partners.
Together with Agricompas, we created a plan designed to resolve some of the challenges for the EcoProMIS project, namely how we acquire, store, manage, and secure the agricultural analytics data.
After developing this plan, it was essential to choose a platform aligned with these necessities pragmatically, and allow us to obtain results in a short period. Another important step was to identify the sources of big data for the project, for example publicly available data (e.g. earth observation images from UKSA), streaming data from different sensors like weather stations, and data from legacy databases.
As we engaged with all of this data, it became obvious that we could not process this multivariate data using traditional methods. The data from the EcoProMIS project is clearly in the realm of big data, complying with the three ‘V’s:
Volume: EcoProMIS has collected a lot of data from different sources.
Velocity: The various data streams are handled within different timeframes from the different sensors.
Variety: All types of formats – from structured to unstructured.
Another key step in our contribution to the project was to find a way to access, manage, and store the data. We needed to find a data platform that can support the storage and the capabilities of analysing petabyte-size files and trillions of objects.
Equally important was prioritising security and data protection, making sure the database is GDPR-compliant, and that data is securely stored. Linked to this is our role in providing data auditing and ongoing support.
Big data in the agro-industry plays an important role. With such a large amount of information out there, the data needs to be shaped or tested in a way that adds value to the agro-industry.
By doing so, the agro-industry can better identify problems and reach the goal of sustainable optimisation that is at the heart of the EcoProMIS project.