How Open-Source Software Empowers Nonprofits And The Global Communities They Serve

Article by Steve Francis: “One particular area where this challenge is evident is climate. Thousands of nonprofits strive to address the effects of a changing climate and its impact on communities worldwide. Headlines often go to big organizations doing high-profile work (planting trees, for instance) in well-known places. Money goes to large-scale commercial agriculture or new technologies — because that’s where profits are most easily made. But thousands of other communities of small farmers that aren’t as visible or profitable need help too. These communities come together to tackle a number of interrelated problems: climate, soil health and productivity, biodiversity and human health and welfare. They envision a more sustainable future.

The reality is that software is crafted to meet market needs, but these communities don’t represent a profitable market. Every major industry has its own software applications and a network of consultants to tune that software for optimal performance. A farm cooperative in less developed parts of the world seeking to maximize value for sustainably harvested produce faces very different challenges than do any of these business users. Often they need to collect and manipulate data in the field, on whatever mobile device they have, with little or no connectivity. Modern software systems are rarely designed to operate in such an environment; they assume the latest devices and continuous connectivity…(More)”.

This Chatbot Democratizes Data to Empower India’s Farmers

Article by Abha Malpani Naismith: “…The lack of access to market price information and reliance on intermediaries to sell on their behalf leaves farmers vulnerable to price exploitation and uncertain returns on their investments.

To solve this, Gramhal is building a data cooperative in India where farmers contribute their information to a data ecosystem, which all farmers can leverage for better informed decision-making…

The social enterprise started the project to democratize data first by using the Indian government’s collected data sets from markets and crops across the country. It then built a chatbot (called Bolbhav) and plugged in that data. Soon about 300,000 farmers were accessing this data set via the chatbot on their mobile phones. 

“We spent no money on marketing — this was all just from word of mouth!” Kaleem said. 

gramhal chatbot provides market data for small farmers in India
Gramhal’s Bolbhav chatbot provides farmers with market data so they know how to fairly price their crops. 

However, Gramhal started getting feedback from farmers that the chatbot was giving them prices three days old and what they wanted was real-time, reliable data. “That is when we realized that we need to work with the power of community and think about a societal network framework where every farmer who is selling can contribute to the data and have access to it,” Kaleem explained. “We needed to find a way where the farmer can send price information about what they are selling by uploading their receipts, and we can aggregate that data across markets and share it with them.”

The solution was an upgraded version of the chatbot called Bolbhav Plus, which Gramhal launched in April 2023…(More)”

When Farmland Becomes the Front Line, Satellite Data and Analysis Can Fight Hunger

Article by Inbal Becker-Reshef and Mary Mitkish: “When a shock to the global food system occurs—such as during the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022—collecting the usual ground-based data is all but impossible. The Russia–Ukraine war has turned farmland into the front lines of a war zone. In this situation, it is unreasonable to expect civilians to walk onto fields riddled with land mines and damaged by craters to collect information on what has been planted, where it was planted, and if it could be harvested. The inherent danger of ground-based data collection, especially in occupied territories of the conflict, has demanded a different way to assess planted and harvested areas and forecast crop production.

Satellite-based information can provide this evidence quickly and reliably. At NASA Harvest, NASA’s Global Food Security and Agriculture Consortium, one of our main aims is to use satellite-based information to fill gaps in the agriculture information ecosystem. Since the start of the Russia–Ukraine conflict, we have been using satellite imagery to estimate the impact of the war on Ukraine’s agricultural lands at the request of the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine. Our work demonstrates how effective this approach can be for delivering critical and timely insights for decisionmakers.

Prior to the war, Ukraine accounted for over 10% of the world’s wheat, corn, and barley trade and was the number one sunflower oil exporter, accounting for close to 50% of the global market. In other words, food produced in Ukraine is critical for its national economy, for global trade, and for feeding millions across the globe…(More)”.

Advancing Environmental Justice with AI

Article by Justina Nixon-Saintil: “Given its capacity to innovate climate solutions, the technology sector could provide the tools we need to understand, mitigate, and even reverse the damaging effects of global warming. In fact, addressing longstanding environmental injustices requires these companies to put the newest and most effective technologies into the hands of those on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Tools that harness the power of artificial intelligence, in particular, could offer unprecedented access to accurate information and prediction, enabling communities to learn from and adapt to climate challenges in real time. The IBM Sustainability Accelerator, which we launched in 2022, is at the forefront of this effort, supporting the development and scaling of projects such as the Deltares Aquality App, an AI-powered tool that helps farmers assess and improve water quality. As a result, farmers can grow crops more sustainably, prevent runoff pollution, and protect biodiversity.

Consider also the challenges that smallholder farmers face, such as rising costs, the difficulty of competing with larger producers that have better tools and technology, and, of course, the devastating effects of climate change on biodiversity and weather patterns. Accurate information, especially about soil conditions and water availability, can help them address these issues, but has historically been hard to obtain…(More)”.

Interested but Uncertain: Carbon Markets and Data Sharing among U.S. Crop Farmers

Paper by Guang Han and Meredith T. Niles: “The potential for farmers and agriculture to sequester carbon and contribute to global climate change goals is widely discussed. However, there is currently low participation in agricultural carbon markets and a limited understanding of farmer perceptions and willingness to participate. Furthermore, farmers’ concerns regarding data privacy may complicate participation in agricultural carbon markets, which necessitates farmer data sharing with multiple entities. This study aims to address research gaps by assessing farmers’ willingness to participate in agricultural carbon markets, identifying the determinants of farmers’ willingness regarding carbon markets participation, and exploring how farmers’ concerns for data privacy relate to potential participation in agricultural carbon markets. Data were collected through a multistate survey of 246 farmers and analyzed using descriptive statistics, factor analysis, and multinomial regression models. We find that the majority of farmers (71.8%) are aware of carbon markets and would like to sell carbon credits, but they express high uncertainty about carbon market information, policies, markets, and cost impacts. Just over half of farmers indicated they would share their data for education, developing tools and models, and improving markets and supply chains. Farmers who wanted to participate in carbon markets were more likely to have higher farm revenues, more likely to share their data overall, more likely to share their data with private organizations, and more likely to change farming practices and had more positive perceptions of the impact of carbon markets on farm profitability. In conclusion, farmers have a general interest in carbon market participation, but more information is needed to address their uncertainties and concerns…(More)”.

Setting data free: The politics of open data for food and agriculture

Paper by M. Fairbairn, and Z. Kish: “Open data is increasingly being promoted as a route to achieve food security and agricultural development. This article critically examines the promotion of open agri-food data for development through a document-based case study of the Global Open Data for Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN) initiative as well as through interviews with open data practitioners and participant observation at open data events. While the concept of openness is striking for its ideological flexibility, we argue that GODAN propagates an anti-political, neoliberal vision for how open data can enhance agricultural development. This approach centers values such as private innovation, increased production, efficiency, and individual empowerment, in contrast to more political and collectivist approaches to openness practiced by some agri-food social movements. We further argue that open agri-food data projects, in general, have a tendency to reproduce elements of “data colonialism,” extracting data with minimal consideration for the collective harms that may result, and embedding their own values within universalizing information infrastructures…(More)”.

German lawmakers mull creating first citizen assembly

APNews: “German lawmakers considered Wednesday whether to create the country’s first “citizen assembly’” to advise parliament on the issue of food and nutrition.

Germany’s three governing parties back the idea of appointing consultative bodies made up of members of the public selected through a lottery system who would discuss specific topics and provide nonbinding feedback to legislators. But opposition parties have rejected the idea, warning that such citizen assemblies risk undermining the primacy of parliament in Germany’s political system.

Baerbel Bas, the speaker of the lower house, or Bundestag, said that she views such bodies as a “bridge between citizens and politicians that can provide a fresh perspective and create new confidence in established institutions.”

“Everyone should be able to have a say,” Bas told daily Passauer Neue Presse. “We want to better reflect the diversity in our society.”

Environmental activists from the group Last Generation have campaigned for the creation of a citizen assembly to address issues surrounding climate change. However, the group argues that proposals drawn up by such a body should at the very least result in bills that lawmakers would then vote on.

Similar efforts to create citizen assemblies have taken place in other European countries such as Spain, Finland, Austria, Britain and Ireland…(More)”.

Farmer-Centric Data Governance: Towards A New Paradigm

Report, six Deep Dives, and nine Case Studies by The Development Gateway: “..provide user-centric approaches to data governance that places farmers and their communities at the center of data gathering initiatives and aims to reduce the negative effects of centralized power. The findings are based on literature, interviews, and workshops, to gather the experiences of change-makers and aims to:
• Raise awareness around the current political economy of agricultural data and its implications;
• Identify user-centric data governance models and mechanisms, particularly in LMICs;
• Demonstrate the purpose, value, benefits, and challenges of these models for all stakeholders; and
• Identify appropriate and relevant actionable principles, recommendations, and considerations related to user-centric data governance in the agriculture sector for the donor community…(More)”

Here’s how the agricultural sector can solve its data problem

Article by Satyanarayana Jeedigunta and Arushi Goel: “Food and nutrition security, skewed distribution of farmer incomes, natural disasters and climate change are severely impacting the sustainability of agricultural systems across the globe. Policy reforms are needed to correct these distortions, but innovative emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, distributed ledger technologies, sensors and drones, can make a significant difference.

Emerging technologies need data, and it must be the right data, for the right purpose at the right time. This is how it can deliver maximum impact. Agricultural value chains comprise a complex system of stakeholders and activities. The enormity of the size and complexity of agricultural data, coupled with its fragmented nature, pose significant challenges to unlocking its potential economic value, estimated at $65 billion in India alone….

As such, there is a need to promote standards-based interoperability, which enables multiple digital systems to exchange agricultural data in an automated manner with limited human intervention. The ease and speed of such an exchange of data, across domains and technologies, would spur the development of innovative solutions and lead to evidence-driven, prediction-based decision-making on the farm and in the market.

Most agricultural data is dynamic

Most current efforts to develop standards of agriculture data are isolated and localized. The AGROVOC initiative of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization addresses a part of the data problem by creating an exhaustive vocabulary of agricultural terms. There is also a need to develop an open data format for the automated interchange of agriculture data. A coordinated initiative of the industry is an attractive approach to develop such a format…(More)”.

Blue Spoons: Sparking Communication About Appropriate Technology Use

Paper by Arun G. Chandrasekhar, Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer, João F. Pugliese, Jonathan Robinson & Frank Schilbach: “An enduring puzzle regarding technology adoption in developing countries is that new technologies often diffuse slowly through the social network. Two of the key predictions of the canonical epidemiological model of technology diffusion are that forums to share information and higher returns to technology should both spur social transmission. We design a large-scale experiment to test these predictions among farmers in Western Kenya, and we fail to find support for either. However, in the same context, we introduce a technology that diffuses very fast: a simple kitchen spoon (painted in blue) to measure out how much fertilizer to use. We develop a model that explains both the failure of the standard approaches and the surprising success of this new technology. The core idea of the model is that not all information is reliable, and farmers are reluctant to develop a reputation of passing along false information. The model and data suggest that there is value in developing simple, transparent technologies to facilitate communication…(More)”.