Meeting Colombian rice farmers

Meeting Colombian rice farmers

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.

Next Steps
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.

 

Pilot workshops with rice growers

Pilot workshops with rice growers

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.

Further growth

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.

 

 

Measuring the real impact of EcoProMIS

Measuring the real impact of EcoProMIS

By Elizabeth Sweitzer, CIAT

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.