With the advent of the big data era, the way we gather insights about processes affecting our everyday lives has changed dramatically, and the domain of agriculture and food production is no different.
As a result of the widespread availability of various sensors, from satellites and UAVs, to climate and soil measurement hardware on farms, we can now gather data at unparalleled rates and volumes. However, in its raw state, the data we collect often provides little, if any, insight. These raw measurements need to be processed and analysed through complex pipelines to be turned into a valuable product.
The engine responsible for driving the change of raw data into worthwhile insights is data analytics.
Data Analysis for EcoProMIS
Since joining Agricompas in July, I have been working on ensuring that the data which is stored and arrives on our cloud platform, is as high quality as possible. Analytics and predictions are only ever as good as the data from which they are sourced, hence rigorous checking of data quality is always a necessary layer in data intensive projects. To help with this, I wrote a number of programs generating data quality statistics, which will ensure that any analytics we produce will be reliable and trustworthy.
The statistics produced by these scripts are then visualised and fed into internal dashboards, which provide a quick and intuitive way of keeping an eye on our data and making sure that it looks the way we expect it to.
Data analysis is an essential part of our work on the EcoProMIS project.
Eddy Covariance Data
So far, one of my most enjoyable (but challenging) experiences was working with large eddy covariance tower datasets. Eddy covariance towers are brilliant at logging and producing rich atmospheric chemistry flux datasets allowing us to understand the minute gas exchange processes in agricultural fields. This data is important for our crop modellers, allowing them to produce various models capable of predicting crop phenology and yields.
However, due to the way that the hardware transmits the data, it is common for gaps in data to form (e.g. as a result of signal loss). Luckily, with the power of statistics, we can accurately discern the missing values and fill the gaps in the data. Working closely with the crop modelling team, after many discussions and much research, we have successfully automated this process, and allowed ourselves to further iterate and improve on it if need be in the future.
Integrating Diverse Data
As for the future, I also look to my past and hope to bring some of my previous experience in working with remote sensing and Earth observation data into our platform. Integrating and tying all the data types together will be a big challenge, however I am certain that it will bear fruit and truly create a platform which will make farming easier, more precise and more sustainable.
With advances in computational power and the high quality data available to us, I believe that data analytics and artificial intelligence will play a key role in revolutionising agriculture, and it is rewarding to be a part of a team making this happen. Combining multiple sources of data together into a single product will allow us to create a platform capable of supporting decisions via accurate insights and improving the ease with which farmers grow crops like never before.
A few years ago, a man became famous when someone shared a video of him dancing at a public concert. His spontaneous and unusual exhibition although original was not the only element to become popular on the web.
Analysis of this video provides some insights on how new technologies are adopted and is instructive for how we at EcoProMIS are working with farmers to develop our platform.
The Dance Grows
What at first seems to be a solo dance, a moment later prompted the participation of a second member. The second dancer’s role was not limited to emulating the pioneering dancer. On the contrary, we can see how number two receives instructions on how to perform the dance, while also providing feedback to the pioneer.
Further evidence of the new arrival’s genuine interest is how he invites others to join this spontaneous duo. Like the second, the third dancer follows the movements of the first dancer, while improvising according to the music and rhythm.
What began with an eccentric loner, in a moment becomes a choreography performed by three dancers. We see how the attention generated in the audience, which was initially low, begins to grow.
Soon, the group increases in size again, this time not just by one more dancer, but about five more, and in the blink of an eye, the group reaches at least a dozen. This sudden growth of the group of dancers triggers the arrival of new members and in less than a couple of minutes it grows even further.
Dance as Metaphor
This video, more than simply being an inspiring dance at a music festival, has been considered as an interesting reference about how a forerunner or pioneer (a particular product or technology) can trigger a crowd action.
Like dancer number two and three, we see that there are minority groups with a greater willing to test and use new products, such as EcoProMIS. These enthusiasts are ‘early adopters’. In addition to taking the risk of testing this new product, they also provide feedback on early stage development.
The evaluation of the user experience includes both the users’ perceptions as well as their practice patterns. The feedback process therefore goes beyond simply asking for ‘musical preferences’ to actively inviting users to join the ‘dance’.
The image above is useful to take the dance metaphor further. It adds the complexity that between the Early Market and the Mainstream Market, there is an open space, called ‘The Chasm’. This is the gap that needs to be traversed before a new product reaches large scale collective adoption.
We saw in the video that as the first three guys are dancing there is a gap before additional members join the group. Once the dancing group crossed the chasm, the new members (the ‘pragmatists’ and ‘conservatives’) arrived en masse.
If a small initial group is willing to dance, to test the product and to provide feedback, it suggests that the chasm will be crossed and the product can work with other consumers, becoming part of the mainstream market.
Dancing with EcoProMIS
As has been mentioned before on this blog, the EcoProMIS project is working on cutting-edge technology with crop models, an advanced digital platform and data collection with satellites and drones. Like the first dancer in the video, our work is pioneering, bold and at times eccentric!
It is essential for our project to invite others into a ‘dance’. That is why, in parallel to our product development, EcoProMIS is prioritising activities to test our services.
What this means is that throughout the five year project we are inviting Colombian farmers to participate via surveys and meetings. For example, in the coming months we are planning multiple workshops, where each farmer can access the early versions of our mobile apps and knowledge services. These ‘early adopters’, like dancer two and three, will take that initial risk of joining in, while also providing critical early feedback.
This ‘dance’ of feedback and testing will ensure we can better tailor the EcoProMIS platform, apps, and knowledge services. By doing this, we are able to identify the best options and to contribute to our larger goal of improving sustainability and productivity with Colombian oil palm and rice growers.
Pixalytics Ltd is leading the generation of products from satellite imagery for EcoProMIS. Although satellites can cost a lot to build and launch, once in space, they have the advantage of continuously collecting data.
Many satellite missions last much longer than their designed lifetime, which is typically five years, although they can go wrong, and then it is not easy to fix them. A successful mission includes Landsat-8 that was launched in February 2013 and continues to operate, with Landsat-9 planned for launch in 2023.
One of the longest-lived optical satellite missions is CHRIS/Proba-1 that has been collecting data for nearly 20 years.
In contrast, WorldView-4 was launched in November 2016 and the gyros failed in January 2019 and prevented the spacecraft from pointing accurately. The manufacturer said that while efforts are continuing to restore the spacecraft, “Maxar believes that WorldView-4 will likely not be recoverable and will no longer produce usable imagery.”
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which was serviced by astronauts from the International Space Stations (ISS), polar-orbiting Earth Observation (EO) satellites tend to be orbiting at an altitude almost twice that of the ISS; at around 700-800 km. The exception is the smaller satellites, called CubeSats, that are orbiting at lower altitudes and have been deployed from the ISS. The disadvantage of this lower orbit is that these CubeSats do not have the power to maintain their orbit’s altitude, and so they burn up within the Earth’s atmosphere within a few years.
For EcoProMIS, we are using free-to-access datasets for the baseline data collection: the European Union’s Copernicus Sentinel missions alongside the U.S. Geological Survey/NASA Landsat-8 mission.
These missions are termed free-to-access as anyone can download and process this data. Still, some practicalities include understanding what has been collected, where to get the data and how to handle it. Therefore, Pixalytics continually processes the satellite data to generate near-real-time products that are made available to EcoProMIS.
An example shown below is the classification of land cover using Sentinel-1 and -2.
EcoProMIS Land Cover Classification, data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA.
The satellite-derived products are focused on understanding the health, growth, and potential yield of the crops alongside greenhouse gases. Sentinel-1 provides microwave data that can see through clouds and detect the roughness of a surface, with Sentinel-2 offering high resolution (circa 10 m) optical data and Sentinel-5P calculating the concentration of atmospheric gases.
Landsat-8 compliments Sentinel-2 by providing high resolution optical and thermal data. The satellite products are combined with the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or drone) products and ground collected phenological/gas measurements to give the best estimation of what is happening.
For a rice field, below is a comparison of what is seen by the UAV (left) and satellite (right) data. The UAV data is of a higher spatial resolution (smaller pixel size) compared to the satellite imagery and is taken closer to the ground so is affected less by the effects of the atmosphere. For satellite data, 50% of the signal can come from the atmosphere, and so it is vital to remove this accurately.
Once the atmospheric effects are removed, both the UAV and satellite imagery have the same algorithms applied. They can then be compared to understand the accuracy of the atmospheric correction and increased error caused by the satellite instrument’s larger pixels.
EcoProMIS UAV and Sentinel-2 RGB pseudo true colour product comparison, data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA for Sentinel-2.
Why Both Satellite and UAV
The advantage of the satellite over the UAV data is that we can assemble a time-series plot. An example of this is shown below for the Leaf Area Index (LAI) product, with the higher values being for when the crop is fully grown.
Time-Series plot of LAI, input data courtesy of Copernicus/ESA and USGS/NASA.
By using the satellite data and tracking over time the LAI, we can create models to predict the yield when the crop is harvested, and by comparing it to the crop modelling outputs, we can understand whether interventions can be undertaken to improve the future crop yield.
It is this combination of satellite data and UAV data, together with ground-based agricultural data and modelling that provides the full picture for EcoProMIS. By combining these multiple data sources in our cutting-edge platform, EcoProMIS will be providing knowledge services on mobile apps to growers, allowing growers to make more informed management choices about their crops and land. It is quite something to be using space technology to contribute to the project’s goal of supporting sustainable agriculture.
By Andrea Melissa Sanchez and Leidy Avila, Fedearroz
Why do we grow rice?
In Colombia, rice is a staple food in our diet, it is important for the family basket, and at the same time for the national economy. The average annual consumption is 42.2 kilograms per person.
The rice activity in the country is developed in 210 municipalities of 23 departments. This productive chain generates nearly 410,000 direct and indirect jobs and represents about 0.4% of the national Gross Domestic Product and about 5% of the agricultural GDP.
The country is divided into five rice growing areas (Centro, Llanos Orientales, Bajo Cauca, Santanderes y Costa Norte) and is produced under two systems. The first is the rain-fed system, in which the water used comes from the rains. The second is the irrigation system, in which the water is supplied by irrigation.
On average, in the rain-fed system the yield is 4.19 tons of dry paddy per year, and under irrigated conditions around 5.65 tons.
Who is FEDEARROZ?
With the aim of promoting the development of rice cultivation in Colombia, FEDEARROZ is the National Federation of Rice Growers of Colombia. Since 1947, it has existed to support and give union representation to affiliated producers. In addition, FEDEARROZ offers certified seed, agricultural inputs and technical advice, and manages the National Rice Fund (FNA) whose main mission is to conduct research and the transfer of technology.
Supported by an interdisciplinary group of professionals specialized in different areas such as water and soil management, physiology, plant pathology, entomology, meteorology and plant breeding, FEDEARROZ has been able to establish control and mitigation measures for a large part of the adverse factors that affect crop productivity.
In 22 years of research, 45 varieties of rice adapted to the different needs and rice-growing regions of the country have been registered, and we have managed to maintain stable and competitive production levels sufficient to supply the national demand for rice.
Additionally, since 2012 FEDEARROZ-FNA has been implementing the Mass Adoption Program or AMTEC. This program is set within the context of two major challenges facing the rice sector: climate change and free trade agreements. AMTEC is a technology transfer model that seeks the profitability and competitiveness of rice producers, through increasing yields and reducing production costs, and is based on environmental and social sustainability throughout the production chain.
Agronomical data acquisition by FEDEARROZ engineers in the field. (FEDEARROZ)
Even when it seems that we know everything about rice, that is just not true. Challenges such as climate change and the need to produce more rice with fewer resources and lower environmental impact confront us with the need to form alliances.
The earth observation data complements the phenotypic information acquired in situ on the rice farms. Together, this information is establishing predictive models that facilitate monitoring and decision-making for the effective management of rice farms, and contribute to the objective of having a competitive and profitable rice sector.
What are we doing at EcoProMIS?
Among the departments with the largest area planted with rice in Colombia are Casanare and Tolima, with their two cultivation systems, rainfed and irrigation, respectively.
A field within a farm in each location was selected for EcoProMIS. At these fields the team of researchers from FEDEARROZ working on the project have established a platform for acquiring agronomic data in different stages of the crop, together with climatic information from meteorological stations, and GHG emissions with Eddy Covariance towers and static cameras.
At the same time, UAV images are being taken and analyzed to correlate parameters of rice development with variables such as yield. Additionally, we are working on establishing a robust and calibrated data model for rice cultivation, integrating all the information acquired.
It is expected that the EcoProMIS project will produce a platform for the use of our affiliated farmers, who from the beginning have also been part of the process, contributing their experience and needs for the creation of the platform. We want the pilots to be extended to more farmers, and will continue to work on it through workshops with growers.
We are committed to the Colombian rice sector, and we will continue to advance on that path in projects like this one, which have also allowed us to create a scientific network in which we hope to continue learning and innovating.
With EcoProMis we have a lot to contribute and also a lot to learn!
In recent decades, agriculture has been under the scrutiny of society and the scientific community due to the negative impact that it generates on the environment. These impacts are of many types, including deforestation, eutrophication of water bodies, the reduction of biodiversity due to the intense use of pesticides, and the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG).
In relation to GHG emissions, these are released in the process of manufacturing inputs, such as, fertilizers. Also included are the GHGs released as a result of the transport process: first of inputs towards the production areas, and then of the product towards the consumption areas.
An eddy covariance system recording greenhouse gases emissions on a commercial rice field at Colombia for EcoProMIS project. (Agricompas)
A Complicated Task
But the most complicated task from a methodological point of view is to determine the GHGs that are released during the production stage. Among the GHGs released to the atmosphere during the production phase, the most important are carbon dioxide, methane (in systems where the soil is in anaerobic conditions), nitrous oxide, and ammonia.
Methodological difficulties are associated with the fact that these emissions are determined by dynamic factors such as climate, soil characteristics, and management practices, especially fertilization and irrigation.
Since it is impossible to survive without agriculture, efforts have focused on developing and implementing production systems able to maximize yields while reducing negative effects on the environment. A prerequisite for advancing in this direction is to measure the GHGs generated during agricultural production cycles.
To understand better the methodological challenges involved in determining these gases under field conditions, let us take methane as an example. This gas is generated as a product of the decomposition of organic matter in the soil under non-oxygen conditions, typical of crops such as flooded rice.
Traditionally, static dark chambers have been used to collect samples that are later analysed by the gas chromatography technique in specialized laboratories.
This technique has a high sensitivity to determine low methane fluxes, is easy to handle, and has a low cost. But its main disadvantages are related to the low spatial representativeness and the inability to generate data at different time scales.
In other words, the measurements only represent the gas flux in a small area and at a specific time point, which leads to the question: can this technique generate data to represent what happens in inherently heterogeneous and dynamic agricultural systems?
It is in this context that the technique of eddy covariance appears, as an alternative way to measure, among other variables, methane flows with greater spatial and temporal representativeness.
This technique employs a complex assembly of sensors arranged in a tower (which is why they are usually called eddy covariance towers) that records variables that ultimately allow the determination of the exchange of gases and energy between the crop and the atmosphere.
Although the foundations of the technique and data processing are complex, it provides useful information in the search for more sustainable agricultural systems.
This is because, in addition to determining GHG emissions, such as methane and carbon dioxide, the eddy covariance technique also provides information about the flow of energy between the soil, the plant, and the atmosphere. This means that information is also useful to improve the water use efficiency since the measurements allow the determination of water fluxes from the crops to the atmosphere (evapotranspiration).
All of this information is comparable in terms of accuracy with data obtained by reference instruments such as lysimeters. Therefore, the technique of eddy covariance is currently a powerful ally in the search for more sustainable agricultural systems.
Use with EcoProMIS
The EcoProMIS project has four eddy covariance towers in Colombia, two recording data on rice crops, and two on oil palm crops. The data collected by these stations are being processed to calibrate crop models that allow, in addition to predicting yields, to estimate GHG emissions.
Together with our partners (CIAT, Cenipalma, Fedearroz, IWCO, Pixalytics and Solidaridad), the final objective of the project is to generate “knowledge and decision support” to orient stakeholders towards sustainability.
Often in the realm of research for development there is a tendency to focus on results. Indeed, this is the focus of results-based management (RBM), arguably the leading management methodology for international development. In an effort to uphold accountability and transparency (especially in the face of fiscal austerity), RBM defines clear results and products and demonstrates how interventions achieve those results.
But results are just the beginning. Results tell us what products and services the project provided. In order to tell the full story, we also need consider how these results generate and sustain impact. Impact on the other hand explains the changes in behavior we see as a result of those products and services, and how they contribute to holistic improvements for individuals, communities and landscapes.
Why measure impact?
Simply put: we want to tell the full story.
It’s one thing to report on the number of farmers that participated in EcoProMIS trainings – a result. When we measure or forecast impact, we explain how those farmers used those trainings to improve their productivity and livelihoods. We learn about how knowledge services shared on mobile applications help to improve on-farm management decisions. We can estimate how financial savings amongst farmers help improve gender equity, household nutrition, and education outcome.
And that’s where I come in. I’m Elizabeth Sweitzer, the Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist for EcoProMIS. Known by most as an “M&E Specialist”, my work revolves around assessing performance. I am based at CIAT in Cali, Colombia. I help EcoProMIS measure the progress of interventions, the efficacy of knowledge services we provide to farmers, and more to help tangibly understand results and impact.
My work also helps us understand the nature of results, for example were they positive or negative? Intended or unintended? What was learned in the process, what will we change moving forward? In doing so, I help to understand, forecast or even measure the impact of the project.
How do we measure impact?
During the project, we keep robust monitoring systems verified by a ‘logframe’ (logical framework) to test the attainment of our results. Process evaluations keep track of how we are doing, and provide opportunity to pivot course where needed. Learning questions are defined and keep us on our feet, helping us reflect. We also plan to be able to tell the “happily ever after”, by developing plans to measure the sustained impact of our interventions, how people change over time and what practices they truly adopt and make habit of.
EcoProMIS team conducting interviews with growers
Measuring impact with EcoProMIS
Working alongside a team of researchers, implementers, managers, extension agents and more, we work to find dynamic tools and mechanisms to measure this impact for a number of different stakeholders. As EcoProMIS is made up of a dynamic team of specialists with backgrounds in socio-economic, environmental, business, and management backgrounds, we possess dynamic ways of measuring impact.
Our metrics come from a host of different qualitative and quantitative studies, and are promoted by an idea that iterative monitoring and evaluation is essential throughout the project lifecycle and even after. We look forward to measuring lasting impact and helping farmers develop sustainable, profitable, and productive lifestyles.
Behind the farmer mobile apps, workshops and shiny interface of EcoProMIS, a creative and dedicated team are working to collect and process data. The team are developing our data platform, which is unique in the breadth of data that is collected, including crop information, greenhouse gas emissions, farmer interviews, and satellite and drone imagery.
Birds Eye View
Across our pilot sites in Colombia, our colleagues are recording all of this information. One of the most exciting parts of the job is the flying of drones above farmers’ fields to capture high-resolution images.
At EcoProMIS, our fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs, the technical term for drone) make regular flights to capture these images. They are not standard photos, but have a high spatial and high temporal resolution, captured by special cameras and sensors attached to each UAV.
Our fleet of drones includes octocopters and quadcopters, vehicles with eight and four rotating blades respectively. By using drones, we can collect data in a non-invasive way and with greater accuracy and cost-effectiveness than historical ‘boots on the ground’ data collection.
This is cutting edge technology and together with the other data inputs gives EcoProMIS unrivalled understanding of each farm.
CIAT team with one of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles used for field observations
The UAV images collected in each field are sent to the CIAT phenomics platform, a computer that can process and ‘stitch together’ all of the images. As the science partner on the EcoProMIS project, CIAT are based in Cali, Colombia, where their team of scientists merge the data from thousands of high-resolution images.
To merge and analyse these images, they use fully automated software. This is CIAT’s Pheno-i image analysis framework and provides the solution for processing the high volume of raw images.
From the result of the analysis, the team are able to extract vegetation indices, a form of information that can indicate plant health and productivity. Correlations can be made between vegetation indices and key crop agronomic traits, which provides the information required to build the crops models and then pass on the knowledge to support farmers.
The drone images are further enhanced by combining them with satellite images of the farms. This is another exciting part of our work, to be covered in more detail in a future blog article, and is delivered by the UK company Pixalytics. As a project funded by the UK Space Agency, the use of satellite data was a key component of the project design and appeal.
The result of this UAV and satellite data is a highly advanced and accurate product to serve the agricultural sector.
Knowledge for Farmers
The use of the UAVs allows us to gather sophisticated data which can then provide support to farmers in the form of a knowledge-rich mobile application.
The EcoProMIS team is currently developing the first of these ‘knowledge services’ for growers of rice and oil palm. These services, built on the drone images and other data, will predict yield and provide decision support to the growers.
Yield prediction is one of the most valuable pieces of knowledge for a farmer. With this knowledge at their fingertips, the grower can understand if the crop is performing well and if this is not the case to investigate and address limiting growth factors. Furthermore, as growers continue to interact with EcoProMIS, using the knowledge and uploading their own data, the crop model will improve in accuracy.
It is our intention that the drone data, combined with the other sources of farmer data, will provide a strong ally to growers for the shared ambitions of achieving food security and environmental sustainability.
At EcoProMIS, we are well aware that our project is both exciting as well as full of demands, requiring careful planning and communication. In my last blog article I explored how we are managing the complexities of a five-year international agri-tech project.
I mentioned in that previous article that to help manage complexity, we have implementing a new cloud-based project management system. Today I share a bit more about that process and how we have introduced ‘Gantt’ to clarify roles and responsibilities, manage expectations, and design a robust and logical workflow.
Cloud to the Rescue
The EcoProMIS team is spread over seven organisations, based in multiple sites in both the UK and Colombia. There is a six hour time difference. Because of these logistical realities, we have chosen to work with cloud-based digital communication and project management.
So, like most of us during this time of global working-from-home, we have been extensively using digital communication tools. How grateful we are that these tools are widely available! It would have been a very different picture just a few years ago.
In practice, this means that for daily communication we use a mobile chat app, the usual email correspondence, and we are slowly getting used to Microsoft Teams (having previously used Slack for years, this is a bit of an adjustment).
In addition to these daily conversations and regular team meetings, there is still the need for an advanced system of project management. For a project of our size, this is a gi-GANTT-ic need. So over the past weeks and months, I have been setting up a Gantt chart system for our EcoProMIS project management.
For those who are unfamiliar, a Gantt chart is a way of seeing a project’s lifespan in a single image. It shows all of the tasks in chronological order. Further details can be added, such as who is responsible for each task, and which tasks are dependent on others.
Most projects have a timescale of 3-6 weeks. EcoProMIS however, is a five year initiative, so the scale and detail required in our Gantt is significant. I have certainly enjoyed the challenge of creating it.
Open Source Trial
In order to choose the most appropriate and affordable Gantt software, I tested six different products. Most have the same features and similar pricing, so it was difficult to navigate the options.
Initially I settled on Open Project, an open-source product that can be self-hosted. Having access to our own servers and our own world-class IT team meant this seemed like an easy option, and the open-source values resonate with our vision to make positive change in the world.
Unfortunately, the maintenance for this self-hosted option was excessive and beyond the availability that our team had. I made the reluctant decision to start again and transfer to a paid system hosted in the cloud.
Remote working during the COVID-19 pandemic means we are working from home.
Leaving Open Project behind, I settled on a dedicated and affordable product called TeamGantt. It is a responsive and clean-looking Gantt chart, with all the features that we required. In early June I rebuilt the entire project plan from scratch on this new system. This was frustrating but ultimately served to refine the end result, which is now working well.
The EcoProMIS Gantt structure is based on quarterly tasks and milestones. This is because each quarter we deliver tangible outputs and report on these to our funder, the UKSA.
A Dynamic Map
It is an important point to state that the Gantt chart is not a static document that once created is filed away somewhere. Part of the purpose of the chart is that it is alive, a tool or dare I say ‘friend’ of the project. It is used as a dynamic and responsive communication and management resource.
In practice, this looks like using the Gantt chart in a screen-share during our meetings, to communicate expectations around each others’ roles, and to plan timelines and scheduling.
A Gantt chart is also a reference point for everyone in the project to use. At any stage and any time zone, our team can login in to the website and see their own tasks, their colleagues’ tasks, and how the entire five year project fits together.
Likewise, it can serve new arrivals to our team. For example, recently I met with Rodrigo Gil, our new Crop Modeller, to look at the Gantt and show where the project has come from over the past three years. This forms an essential part of new colleague induction.
Effective Project Delivery and Culture Change
All of this work and technicality is ultimately to aid the smooth delivery of a complex multi-faceted project. Our new cloud-based Gantt chart is a great asset to the team, and I believe will improve our ability to reach the demanding goals and cutting-edge targets of EcoProMIS.
The colourful and clean digital interface is appealing and immediately gets attention. The details of the task interdependencies and scheduling of roles and timeframes, means that all partners are better equipped and more accountable in their work.
I also note that by introducing an effective Gantt chart, it can bring an organisational culture-change. Using an accessible Gantt chart contributes to a change in mindset from loose project delivery and inefficiency; to a much tighter project, with greater cost and time efficiencies and hopefully a happier, more connected workforce, better able to deliver our mission to support the Colombian rice and oil palm growers.
Collecting Farm Data
At the end of the EcoProMIS project, in 2022, a “platform” will be created that collects, with the active support of growers, agronomic field data and correlates it with meteorological and environmental data, as well as with satellite and drone earth observation data.
EcoProMIS processes this rice and oil palm production data in near real-time crop production knowledge with the help of crop models and algorithms (mathematical information processes).
Knowledge to Support Farmers
The above agronomic knowledge is combined with environmental, market and socio-economic knowledge, to generate practical information for decision-making in rice and oil palm crops.
Colombian rice and oil palm farmers will receive crop production knowledge to support their decision making at no cost, as long as they share and upload their crop data on the EcoProMIS platform. For each farmer and each plot, detailed supportive information will be generated.
A Strategic Alliance
The knowledge services that EcoProMIS will provide to growers are developed in close collaboration with our partners; the rice and oil palm growers and their federations. EcoProMIS activities include workshops in Casanare, Meta, Tolima and Magdalena wherein growers are interviewed and trained in data collection, concepts and ideas are shared, and partners participate in the development and testing of new knowledge services.
The EcoProMIS team are currently developing the first ‘knowledge services’ for rice and oil palm. These services predict yield and calculate water demand in both crops. Yield prediction is important for the grower to understand if the crop is performing well and if this is not the case to investigate limiting growth factors. Further it helps the farmer with planning the harvest and processing logistics. Regarding crop water requirement; the farmers will be able to establish in time how much additional water is required in irrigated and rainfed systems per crop cycle for rice and per year for oil palm. Water is fast becoming a scarce commodity.
Support with Drought
A practical example of applying EcoProMIS knowledge in daily life by Colombian farmers can be illustrated with recent events during the first half of 2020. Rainfall was scarce and the average annual rainfall is expected to be below the historical average. The questions arise, how will water shortage affect the rice and oil palm crops? And how much water is available for agriculture or industry?
With the EcoProMIS platform, farmers will have access to near real-time knowledge about crop water needs vs. the expected rainfall and thus be able to make better management decisions. This will help farmers to decide whether or not to invest in or use irrigation. In addition the grower could use the information of water shortage to justify a yield loss claim in case of insurance against drought.
A Joint Sustainable Future
After the project is finished by mid 2022 Agricompas will commercialise the platform as the new independent knowledge creator and broker in the crop value chain. EcoProMIS will provide “Knowledge for Free” to our grower and federation partners and “Decisions for a Fee” to major value chain players such as input and equipment providers, insurers and banks, and processors and traders. EcoProMIS’ ultimate goal is to empower and support growers and increase their productivity and profits while reducing the environmental impact and improve the socio-economic conditions of all stakeholders.
It was six weeks ago that I joined Agricompas, becoming the EcoProMIS Project Manager. It was also exactly six weeks ago when the COVID-19 lockdown began here in the UK.
For all of us, these are unfamiliar times and starting this role has been a surreal experience. While I have engaged immediately and enthusiastically, social distancing has meant that I have not been able to meet any colleagues, let alone collect my new laptop! Instead, the last six weeks have been a constant roll of virtual meetings, Skype calls, and digital file sharing.
An Exciting and Demanding Project in Colombia
The Ecological Production Management Information System, or EcoProMIS, is an exciting and complex project, bringing with it great opportunities as well as unique challenges. Spanning two continents, time zones and languages, and working in remote rural locations, our work is full of management and logistical challenges. Add to this our use of cutting-edge technology, collecting vast amounts of satellite and UAV (drone) data, crop modelling, and IT architecture, EcoProMIS is a demanding initiative.
Sam Adams joins EcoProMIS from ILRI, the International Livestock Research Institute
We work in a diverse consortium, which is a major strength of the project and also requires ongoing and clear communication and project management. The consortium includes the national federations of rice (Fedearroz) and palm oil (Cenipalma) in Colombia and CIAT, a scientific centre. Pixalytics work with the satellite EO (earth observation) data and IWCO with IT. Solidaridad provide socio-economic expertise, while Agricompas provides management and leadership.
The context of lockdown has added to the complexity of our work at EcoProMIS. The corona pandemic has been a huge shakeup for our whole planet and I know that we are all facing increased complexity in both our personal and professional spheres.
For a Project Manager, I believe that one of the key functions is to help bring structure and clarity to complexity. That has certainly been a big part of my work over the last six weeks. To help deliver this clarity, while ensuring we meet our milestones on time and to budget, I have prioritised four tasks that will benefit the optimisation of our project:
Information Gathering and Project Management
My first task has been information gathering. The time difference between the UK and Colombia means that the mornings are frequently used for research and learning. Each afternoon, as my colleagues in Colombia start work, I look forward to regular phone calls to build connection and hear each other’s priorities, needs and challenges.
Secondly, the complexity of our project and its layers of work packages, milestones and tasks, are benefiting from a new and improved project management system. Based on the cloud, this is being shared with our entire team so that there is clarity over each other’s tasks, responsibilities and schedules.
Increased Internal and External Communication
The third task to help manage complexity has been to introduce a new system of internal communication and reporting, ensuring it is regular and sustainable. I am pleased to say we have a new and clear reporting schedule that mitigates the challenges of complexity through maximising transparency.
This updated communication schedule will both connect us professionally and connect us personally, as we create space for listening and for cultural exchange. Another way I am doing this is by using more Spanish in our meetings (¡Estoy haciendo lo mejor que puedo!).
Finally, we are engaging in more external communication. A new communications plan is being developed and this blog has been kick-started with a regular schedule of stimulating content to look forward to. Likewise, our social media channels have been revamped to further aid our storytelling. You can follow the EcoProMIS Twitter account here. By the end of the year we aim to launch a movie telling the EcoProMIS story.
A Time of Hope
Coronavirus has certainly added to the complexity of all of our lives. At the same time, it presents a forced slowing down and with this, an opportunity to take a breath, to catch up with backlogged tasks, and to reorganise and improve systems.
I feel that I have joined the EcoProMIS team at a golden time, not at a time of hopelessness, but one of reflection and hope. In this period of lockdown, it is a gift for us to bring new systems of management and storytelling, and by doing so navigate our way through complexity so that on the other side, we are stronger.