Stories tagged: agriculture

AI App Helps Farmers Detect Fall Armyworm in India

By Tamar Valdman, on behalf of Saillog

Fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) is not your typical caterpillar-moth species. Fall armyworm is an invasive pest that affects over 80 plants, such as maize (corn), and can cause more than $13 billion in agricultural losses. In the United States, the pest was first reported as early as 1797. Around the 1970s, the U.S. reported losses between $32-$138 million annually. Farmers in Western countries can afford to use the latest high quality pesticides, while those in low income nations have limited access to pesticides that are up to the job. Thus, the 2016 fall armyworm outbreak in Africa, which began in West and Central Africa, has since been deemed a humanitarian crisis. Currently, agriculture experts estimate fall armyworm may cause yield losses between $2.4-$6.2 billion per year in Africa. Maize is a major staple crop and over 200 million people depend on it for food security. Therefore, regional and international organizations and governments are collaborating on effective pest management approaches.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID)’s Feed the Future, Land O’Lakes International Development, and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Researched teamed up to create a Fall Armyworm Tech Prize. The competition offers twenty selected startups that focus on digital solutions for identifying, treating, and tracking fall armyworm in Africa a chance to win one of five prizes. Saillog, a Farming First supporter that is dedicated to sustainable agriculture, was one of twenty startups chosen to participate in the Fall Armyworm Tech Prize.

Saillog leverages computer vision and artificial intelligence algorithms for plant protection management, offering a smartphone app called Agrio that uses image recognition algorithms to diagnose hundreds of crop diseases, pests, and nutritional deficiencies. Agrio supports 11 languages, has over 50,000 downloads worldwide, and is rated in the top 100 best educational apps in seven countries. Nvidia, a global leader in artificial intelligence, stated Saillog’s algorithms have, “superb accuracy” and Forbes recently called Saillog’s team, “Food Waste Fighters”.

Saillog’s algorithms are being trained to specialize in identifying fall armyworm. It was a right place, right time type of situation when farmers in India uploaded images of fall armyworm to Agrio and the algorithms identified the pest. Through mid-July, Saillog’s artificially intelligent global alert system, called AgrioShield, sent warning notifications to the smartphones of farmers in high risk zones; hundreds of farmers received suggested preventative protocols written by Saillog’s agriculture specialists. On Monday, July 30, 2018, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research-National Bureau of Agriculture Insect Resources announced Dr. A.N. Shylesha and his team recorded fall armyworm on maize in the Chikkaballapur district in Karnataka state, India. Due to fall armyworms’ high mobility, international organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) suspected the pest would spread to Asia, though until last month there were no confirmed cases.

“We are witnessing an intersection of advances in technology and the potential for efficacious containment of outbreaks. We experienced a similar situation in India when we were at the forefront of tracking the spread of chilli leaf curl virus”, said Dr. Nessi Benishti, the CEO and Founder of Saillog.

“There are no treatments for crop viruses. Prevention and early detection are critical factors in containing the spread. Image-based artificial intelligent systems like Agrio are important tools in agriculture. We are seeing an increase in the spread of diseases and pests globally, such as with the fall armyworm. We are at a point in time when information is easily accessible and communication between individuals is heightened. We once had a case where an individual growing crops in his living room in Fiji uploaded images of diseased potatoes, and a Professor in the United States who happened to specialize in potatoes helped him cure the disease. It is these occurrences, and ones like detecting foreign species early, that depict the impact of our technology”, said Dr. Benishti.

 

Unleashing Innovation For East Africa’s Millennial Farmers

Awino Nyamolo from TechnoServe tells Farming First about how to harness the power of young people for Africa’s food future.

 

Growing up in Mbeya, Tanzania, Samson Makenda loved tomatoes, and when he took over a small plot of land as a young man, he thought he could make a living with the crop. He started growing tomatoes the way his neighbors always had, watering the plants by hand, and using the same seeds and fertilizers they did. But in the crowded local market, he struggled to sell what he harvested, earning just $40 per month.

Creating better economic opportunities for young people like Samson is of vital importance to Africa’s economies. Fewer than one-third of young people in Sub-Saharan Africa have a stable, wage-paying job, and the region will add 11 million new people to its workforce this year. Agriculture can play an important role in creating these opportunities, but only if young people are able to innovate, adopt new technologies, and test new models. To do that, they must be able to identify business opportunities, have confidence in themselves and their ideas, and access the finance and connections they need to put these ideas into practice.

The Strengthening Rural Youth Development through Enterprise (STRYDE) program, a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and nonprofit organization TechnoServe, is helping to create those conditions. Through a combination of training on personal effectiveness, planning, and basic business skills, as well as tailored aftercare to provide young people with networks and practical skills, STRYDE is empowering thousands of young people across rural East Africa to find better economic opportunities.

Seeing the farm as a business

Many young people fail to recognize the business opportunities that surround them and are within reach, and to address this obstacle, the STRYDE program provides training to help rural youth see their family farms and other assets as a potential source of livelihood.

That lesson was transformational for Ndinagwe Mboya, another young person from Mbeya. Her family used to incubate chicken eggs for others, but the business was not particularly successful. After going through the STRYDE program, Ndinagwe came to recognize that there was an opportunity to build upon her family’s experience, however, and create something more successful. With $165 of seed funding she won through STRYDE’s business plan competition, she purchased eggs and started a business of raising chickens on her own.

“Before STRYDE nobody sought my advice on anything, not even my family. But today I am the go-to-person on matters poultry and incubation,” she said. With her earnings, Ndinagwe helps to pay her siblings’ school fees and is saving to attend university.

A toolbox for change

While young people are often familiar with new ideas and technologies, they face obstacles to adopting them. To take new ideas and make them a reality, as Ndinagwe did, young entrepreneurs need a toolbox for change: confidence, connections, and skills.  The STRYDE curriculum includes a section on personal effectiveness, which helps young people to chart their personal strengths and weaknesses, create a plan for their future, and practice interpersonal communication, generating confidence.

Mentorship and aftercare can help entrepreneurs to develop specialized agricultural skills and make important connections. Many ideas also require an investment—like Ndinagwe’s cash grant—to implement, so access to finance is an important factor.

After Samson graduated from the STRYDE program, he began to look around for opportunities to improve his tomato farm. He had noticed that someone had built a greenhouse in the region, and he began to study whether such a facility could help make his business more profitable. Many young people are constrained by a lack of land for farming, so greenhouses and vertical gardens can improve production. As Samson discovered, growing his tomatoes in controlled conditions could also help differentiate them from the other growers.

Samson went to work putting his plan into action. Even a low-cost greenhouse cost more money to build than he could finance himself, so he identified a successful local businessman who could become his partner in the venture. Samson was able to convince him to invest in the project, and together they built the greenhouse and implemented other technical improvements, like drip irrigation, the use of hybrid seeds, and a careful application of organic and chemical fertilizers. Samson’s tomato plants are more productive now, and the fruit has fewer defects and blemishes, so he is able to sell it easily to local markets, restaurants and hotels at premium prices. Now, he earns up to $300 per month.

“For people around here, this is new tech for them, so they want these tomatoes,” says Samson. He has diversified his earnings by launching a crop nursery business, as well.

Samson and Ndinagwe are just two of more than 48,000 young people benefiting from the STRYDE program. The program has shown that simple changes in how young people think about the opportunities around them and how to adopt innovation can make a big difference, and the average participant has seen their income increase by 133 percent.

But with Africa’s growing youth workforce, more work remains to be done. The STRYDE program has worked to build the capacity of vocational training centers, schools, prisons, and other institutions across East Africa to deliver the curriculum. Local partners like these will be critical in ensuring that more young people can recognize and seize opportunities for a better living.

 

“Win-win” agriculture project benefits Georgian farmers and Oklahoma firm

Bill Lingren on behalf of Trécé tells Farming First readers how a pest infestation brought together farmers and an agriculture firm from across the world.

An agricultural emergency on the other side of the world has provided an Oklahoma-based company with the opportunity to help protect a critical crop in a faraway nation—as well as bolster and expand its own manufacturing operations back at home.

The crop is hazelnuts. And the country is the Republic of Georgia, where hazelnut orchards have been under attack in recent years by an infestation of the brown marmorated stinkbug (BMSB).

The invasive pest represents a serious threat to the livelihoods of the small producers in Georgia who grow the nuts. According to one study conducted in early 2017, for example, the infestation was expected to reduce the prior year’s value of Georgian hazelnut exports and income to 40,000 smallholder farmers by more than $60 million.

The situation was critical enough to spur one international development organization, CNFA, to expand a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) project which it oversees in order to address the infestation.

After competitively testing a variety of solutions, CNFA last year selected Trécé Inc., an Adair, Okla.-based manufacturer of insect monitoring systems and pheromones, to provide tens of thousands of its state-of-the-art BMSB lures and traps—manufactured at Trécé plants in Adair and Chelsea, Okla.—to protect Georgia’s hazelnut sector and safeguard other key agricultural products. CNFA then worked directly with Georgia’s National Food Agency to deploy the products and train local farmers in their use.

Encouraged by the additional business generated by the contract financial implications of the award, Trécé began expanding its international development efforts. In March 2018, for example, the company organized and independently sponsored a team of U.S.-based scientists to travel to Georgia with Trécé’s own scientists to study the BMSB infestation, which is attacking not only hazelnuts, but also many of the country’s other orchard and field crops, such as grapes, corn, peaches, apples and vegetables.

Trécé’s efforts have paid off. The company this month broke ground for a new facility as part of a corporate expansion which the firm credited in part to new revenue generated by its participation in the Georgian international development project. The groundbreaking at Trécé’s main Adair facility—attended by U.S. and Georgian dignitaries, members of state and local government, and academia—was part of a day-long event that also included the blessing of a new office building, and a plant and lab tour.

The Georgia project is a prime example of the double benefits generated by international development work. It is a win-win project that produces real, positive, measurable results on two sides of the world. The project has put Trécé’s products into the hands of thousands of smallholder farmers in Georgia to help them combat a serious infestation using the latest science, while also providing financial rewards for Trécé, our employees and their communities.

These kinds of business relationships are critically important to U.S. companies like ours—those which operate in rural areas, and success in rural Georgia helps support our success in rural Oklahoma by generating additional new capital investment, jobs and income right here at home,. As we’ve seen at Trécé, international development can produce very desirable outcomes which can open many more doors to new opportunities.

AUG292018
Global Landscapes Forum: Nairobi

29th – 30th August

Nairobi, Kenya

Every year, Africa loses an estimated 2.8 million hectares of forest, with deforestation and land degradation seriously affecting its environment and people. The 2018 GLF Nairobi will help build and align international, national and private sector support for forest and landscape restoration, and will pave the way for turning this support into action. By bringing together actors from all backgrounds and sectors, the conference will spark a global conversation around Africa’s landscapes.

The 2018 GLF Nairobi will showcase and explore success stories and challenges across the continent and will foster political and community commitment to implement the AFR100 Initiative: restoring 100 million hectares of degraded landscapes across Africa by 2030.

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Hashtags: #ThinkLandscape, #glfnairobi2018

OCT152018
International Day of Rural Women

15th October 2018

Global

The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This international day, established by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007, recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

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OCT162018
World Food Day

16 October 2018

Rome, Italy

FAO celebrates World Food Day each year on 16 October to commemorate the founding of the Organization in 1945. Events are organized in over 130 countries across the world. These events promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. World Food Day is a chance to show FAO’s commitment to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – to achieve #ZeroHunger by 2030.

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Hashtags: #WorldFoodDay #ZeroHunger