Dr. Mona S. Chaya, Deputy Strategic Programme Leader for Sustainable Agriculture at Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Continue reading
Jessica Joye, the Communications Director at Fintrac, discusses the role of group irrigation schemes in transforming the future of small-scale agriculture in Honduras. Continue reading
17th October 2018
As the FAO’s Committee on World Food Security (CFS) gears up for the high-level panel of experts report on Agroecology and Other Innovations, Farming First will be co-hosting a side event that will highlight some of the best examples of innovations to advance agroecological outcomes in areas the UN is calling for including: recycling, resource use efficiency, reducing external inputs, diversification, integration, and soil health.
Speakers will discuss solutions that are applicable to farms of all sizes and regions, and identify ways to design sustainable farming systems that respect and benefit from the interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment.
When: Wednesday, October 17, 13:00 to 14:30
Where: Philippines Room, FAO, Rome
Otmane Bennani Smires, OCP Group
H.E Maria Cristina Boldorini, Moderator
Craige Mackenzie, Global Farmer Network
Nancy Muchiri, African Agricultural Technology Foundation Wade Barnes, Farmers Edge
Arianna Giuliodori, World Farmers’ Organisation
Chris Noble, Noble Farms
Rick White, Canadian Canola Growers Association
Follow the debate on Twitter #FutureOfFarming #CFS45 @farmingfirst
As part of Farming First’s agroecology in action series, Ishmael Sunga, CEO of SACAU writes about the importance of using data to mitigate the effects of climate change on agriculture
African farmers, the majority of whom are smallholders, face myriad challenges.
These challenges are related to the entire cycle of farming, from pre-investment and production to post-production and marketing. They result in low volumes, low productivity, low quality products, and high post-harvest losses. Typically, farmers operate in a high-risk-low-return environment.
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.
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.