Digitalisation is a globally occurring process of converting information and systems into a digital form. This shift in the way we use technology to support our lives is due to the improved technologies which allow us to be more strategic, time and cost efficient, reach more people easily and improve commercial properties. Much of the digitalisation that occurs today is done to improve already unsustainable systems, which in turn accelerates the level and risk of unsustainability.
Digital sustainability is the role of ICTs used within digitalisation to reduce unsustainable elements and act as a catalyst to not only improve digital tools used, but also to reshape the infrastructure of systems to be more sustainable for the future. For the global Plantwise programme, numerous digital tools have been developed to reach smallholder farmers across Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Most of which are digitalised versions of plant clinic systems that support data capture and validations, knowledge sharing and communication, and have been designed with local governments to provide expert knowledge to rural agricultural extension services. Over the past year CABI has led a series of technical improvements to the Plantwise digital portfolio, with digital sustainability at the heart of the developments.
Last year, the Plantwise team redesigned the flagship Knowledge Bank (PWKB) website to be more inclusive for users and devices. The updated visuals of the website are now compatible with desktop, mobile and tablet devices. As the use of smartphones is increasing annually, with an estimated 2.87 billion users worldwide, it was important for the Plantwise programme to re-evaluate its digital tool portfolio so that the services provided to support smallholder farmers maintain an integral position in extension service systems.
One of the most accessed content types on the Knowledge Bank are the Pest Management Decision Guides, containing integrated pest management (IPM) recommendations which are commonly used by Plant Doctors during e-plant clinics. Over recent years there has been an increasing uptake of mobile tablets by Plant Doctors to remotely access pest management information to disseminate to rural farmers. To support their work in dealing with farmer queries and local pest management issues, the Plantwise Knowledge Bank was made mobile responsive so users can access the platform on any device type.
The user-focused development of digital tools is an integral part of digital development for smallholder users due to the range of technical, literacy, economic, and social capabilities. The improvements to the Knowledge Bank were made to improve usability and accessibility for users around the world, in turn this has resulted in dramatic increases to the number of recorded users on the platform. For mobile phone users, there was a recorded increase of 306% in 2019 compared to the previous year and an increase of 233% in tablet users.
The Data Collection App (DCA) is a mobile app designed to support Plant Doctors during plant clinics in collecting and storing clinic information. As extension services switch to digital platforms for knowledge sharing and dissemination, the collection of plant clinic data was transferred from paper forms to the mobile data collection app which is compatible with Android and iOS mobile devices (including tablets).
The DCA can be used remotely without internet connectivity during rural plant clinic sessions, which then automatically sends the completed clinic forms to the Plantwise Online Management System (POMS) for data harmonisation and analysis. With 8,484 DCA sessions in 2019 and 128,690 clinic records submitted, it was integral that the app was re-evaluated and updated to support Plant Doctors for upcoming and future technological developments and changes in the use of mobile devices in rural regions. Similar to the PWKB redevelopment, the DCA underwent significant enhancements in 2019 to be compatible with newer mobile device software as well as a variety of improvements to the mobile forms and storage of raw clinic date following user feedback.
The Plantwise team is currently in the process of developing a new DCA Admin platform to allow programme partners around the world to manage DCA account credentials and handle personal information following good data practices and support the day-to-day running of e-plant clinics. The aim is to promote in-country capacity building and ownership in relation to Plantwise’s digital tools so that the platforms and tools maintain a key component of agricultural extension services around the world.
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