By Elizabeth Sweitzer, CIAT
In early December 2020, the EcoProMIS project partners presented workshops to update the status of the project with rice growers across two major regions in Colombia. These workshops were an opportunity to share about EcoProMIS news and technical developments and to get critical feedback from growers about their perceptions.
There were around 16 growers present across the two regions for these events. Our workshops were presented by Gabriel Garces of Fedearroz, although this was a team effort together Agricompas, CIAT, and Solidaridad.
Update of the project and timeline
During the workshops, Gabriel explained the progress of the project from December 2017 until present day. The growers were informed that current tasks include calibrating the advanced knowledge services, testing the technical systems, and getting everything ready so that the platform can be successfully delivery to growers and to the insurance market.
Growers were shown how the EcoProMIS app will give them advanced knowledge about their farms
Four app features
Gabriel went on to describe the four major services on the EcoProMIS platform. The first of these is the visualisation and management of information, where farmers will have a user-friendly interface to assess their best strategies for sustainable optimisation.
Secondly, the platform will provide output predictions based on climate, farm management practices, and data collected on crops. This has been designed with growers and their rice federation, as explained in this blog here.
Thirdly, the EcoProMIS app provides comparative charts to assess a grower’s land in contrast with other land in their area as well as providing a historical comparison. This feature allows growers to benchmark their productivity and will lead to exploring better management practices.
Finally, the workshop showcased crop diagnostics, based on geo-referenced data. With funding from the UK Space Agency, one of our project priorities is to commercialise applicable services from satellite data. Gabriel explained that each field is regularly photographed by satellites and that our platform can take those images to help improve farm productivity.
The workshops also took the opportunity to explain that at a later date the project will also be contributing information and discussing insurance schemes with farmers, using anonymous (GDPR-compliant) data to lower premiums and close the ‘insurance gap‘.
Gabriel went on to explain more about how scientists collect geospatial data, and how those data points are turned into tangible information about the health of crops, making estimations about the phenotyping stage of the crops, and more!
Gabriel emphasised that the platform will be totally free for growers. He showed helpful visualisations of what the platform will look like for growers. A couple of screenshots are attached, in Spanish, to this blog.
The EcoProMIS app gives growers yield estimates based on their management choices
Initial impressions and next steps
The growers present at the workshop were enthusiastic about the power of the app’s knowledge services. In particular, growers expressed interest in the ability to estimate growth and output and the ability to plan for different scenarios, for example, based on the use of different seeds, fertilisers etc.
Growers were also curious to learn more about how the science works. For example, they wondered how does the app calculate output when we consider how variable the weather is with global climate change and phenomena like the recent La Niña? We spoke more about how the app handles this type of data variability, how we develop metrics, measurements and more.
The next steps are to upscale these workshops and deliver more in January and February of 2021. These new workshops will be based off of the workshops we gave in December 2020, incorporating the initial attendee feedback so that the workshops are even more accessible and informative to growers.
Sam Adams, Project Manager, Agricompas
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.
Roelof Kramer, CEO of Agricompas and Project Lead of EcoProMIS
The global corona crisis has a severe impact on our daily lives. National lockdowns are restricting travel and preventing us from seeing family and friends. It is scary and depressing how control of our daily lives has vanished without warning.
That’s why I bought ten fertilised chicken eggs on the internet and placed them in an incubator. Always good to have something to look forward to! Three weeks later my children hatched five healthy chicks which are now under a heat lamp provided with ample feed and water.
But wait! Did we really do that properly? In the middle of the night my wife had to check if the chicks were not too hot or cold, hungry or thirsty. Of course, they were all fine but “better safe than sorry” especially when growing crops or raising livestock as we do in agriculture.
The challenge of sustainability
For decades now our planet has had to feed increasingly more people while its resources are more and more strained. As a result, we are faced with deforestation, biodiversity loss, people displacement and soil & air pollution.
Although we see examples daily, little is done to create more sustainable systems as economic interests compete severely with social and environmental interests which are difficult to express in financial metrics.
On the one hand it is not in the short-term interest of politicians nor corporates to sacrifice public electability or shareholder profits while on the other hand NGOs, philanthropists or the angered public lack the resources, organisation and reach.
As a result, we create partial and disjointed solutions that reduce problems rather than solving them in a whole system approach.
The idea behind EcoProMIS
In 2016 Agricompas hatched the concept of an Ecological Production Management Information System or “EcoProMIS”. It is a system that can create valuable solutions while combining the competing interests of the different stakeholders in one commercially viable business model.
EcoProMIS is a data analytics platform that processes comprehensive crop data as detailed as per-field-in-near-real-time. It provides “Knowledge for Free” to growers & partners and “Decisions for a Fee” to stakeholders across the entire crop value chain.
These services aim to improve the efficiency of economic, technical, social and environmental processes.
Government support and funding
A project proposal was successfully submitted to the UK Space Agency in 2017 for four million pounds of funding in the International Partnership Program (IPP2).
EcoProMIS received this funding in order to improve the productivity and profitability of rice and oil palm growers in Colombia while minimising environmental impact and improving socio-economic conditions of the crops’ stakeholders.
From February 2018 onwards Agricompas and six partners including Pixalytics (UK), Cenipalma, CIAT, Fedearroz, IWCO and Solidaridad (Colombia) have been executing the 50-month project in Colombia with a delivery date by end March 2022.
Thereafter Agricompas will continue to operate the “commercial” EcoProMIS platform for the benefit of its users – partners such as the 16,000 rice growers, 5,000 palm growers and their federations and customers such as the input and & equipment manufacturers, traders & processors, banks & insurers, wholesalers & distributors, and governments & NGOs.
During the last two years we have been installing professional equipment to collect weather and greenhouse gas data at four different locations across Colombia. We are building cloud-based IT architecture and applications to process data with machine learning and Artificial Intelligence into knowledge.
We are developing completely new offerings and testing these with prospective customers in a solid business model, while aware that this is a massively complex and ambitious project.
During the next two years we will continue to refine and optimise data collection, deepen the data processing, and test our offerings and business model.
Communicating our work
We want to share the exciting and ambitious work that we are doing. That is why, from now on each of the project partners will write a series of regular blogs about their organisation, activities, experiences and objectives within the EcoProMIS project.
Over the past two years, we have attended numerous expos and agricultural forums to share about our work.
Roelof Kramer, the EcoProMIS project lead and Agricompas CEO, in the British Embassy stand at the Agrofuturo 2019 exhibition in Medellin, Colombia
Hope for a better future
Yes, the world is going through a rough time and it is very depressing that even with our good intentions sustainable agriculture currently doesn’t exist. Across the world, we lack the comprehensive and detailed data collection, and the processing of data into knowledge and viable business models to offer services that satisfy all crop system stakeholders.
EcoProMIS is more than “just another project” that finishes when the funding runs out. It is a solid promise that is being developed by motivated partners into a whole system approach that creates true sustainable agriculture: a system that supports poor and rich growers, unites commercial and non-commercial parties, and supports NGOs and governments.
That is something really fantastic to look forward to! I wish you and your family health, hope and happiness.
Roelof Kramer, CEO of Agricompas, has presented for first time the EcoProMIS project during the 19th International Oil Palm Conference, one of the most important events of Palm Oil celebrated in the world.
This event is celebrated every three years by the National Federation of Palm Oil (FEDEPALMA) and its associated research centre (CENIPALMA). It gathered more than 1500 attendees this year and it is a meeting point for palm oil growers, researchers, government institutions, NGOs and all other actors of the Palm Oil supply chain. With more than 30 different countries, 100 stands and 67 talks, definitely it was the right place to introduce EcoProMIS project.
Presentation of EcoProMIS project by Roelof Kramer, CEO of Agricompas, at the XIX International Conference of Palm Oil in Cartagena de Indias, Colombia.
EcoProMIS for oil palm and rice is a collaborative three-year project running until April 2021. The results will be a data analytics platform operated by Agricompas that will provide a level of free knowledge to growers to produce better crops and paid decision support to other players in the oil palm industry to improve their processes. EcoProMIS aims at sustainable agriculture by increasing productivity and profitability of crop production while minimising environmental impact, protecting biodiversity and improving the socio-economic conditions of the stakeholders.
Columbia is the first in the list of palm oil producers in America and the fourth around the world. The collaboration between growers and the investment in research and development has made Colombia a key competitor in the delivery of Palm Oil worldwide. EcoProMIS is aligned with the future goals of making Colombian growers even more competitive, but also taking care of the environmental and social impacts.
The objective of EcoProMIS for rice and oil palm in Colombia is to improve the sustainability of cropping systems worldwide by increasing productivity and profitability while minimising environmental impact, protecting biodiversity and improving the socio-economic conditions of the value chain stakeholders.
Informative sessions to introduce EcoProMIS project to growers in Colombia. Evaluation of grower activity and interest through surveys.
During July and August 2018, Solidaridad and Agricompas organised grower meetings in Casanare, Meta, Tolima and Magdalena. In workshops with growers a better understanding of the grower needs was achieved and their interest of becoming part of the project was developed. Surveys and questionnaires were completed in order to collect productivity, environmental and socio-economic data. From December till March 2019 the first data collection trials will be conducted in the four regions and growers will be further involved in EcoProMIS activities.
Solidaridad introducing EcoProMIS to growers and collecting valuable information about their current needs.
As part of the EcoProMIS project, several IoT data collection systems will be placed in the fields. These systems will collect real time data related to weather, greenhouse gas emissions (CH4 and CO2), soil humidity, etc.
On the left, EcoProMIS partners learning how to fly drones (on the right) to collect crop UAV images.
The combination of data coming from different sources as weather stations, EC flux towers, satellites (Sentinels 1 and 2), drones and IT devices, will facilitate to create an IT platform that will support growers to take informed decisions and provide also knowledge about the current state of their crop.
EcoProMIS partners installing the first Flux tower to track the gas emissions from the field.