Google’s first artificial intelligence (AI) lab in Africa has opened in Accra, Ghana. The tech giant aims to support researchers with the tools and environment necessary to develop AI products to solve numerous problems faced across the continent within the agriculture sector.
Recently in New Delhi, the Plantwise team in India held a plant health stakeholder workshop between 24th -26th September to discuss and review the programme implementation in 3 states across India; Jammu and Kashmir, Tamil Nadu, and Pondicherry. All in-country stakeholders including the State Department of Agriculture, Jammu M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, and National Agro foundation-FPOs participated in the 3-day event followed by a field visit to Trichy.
In the Kabwe District of Zambia, Adamson Andrew Tembo is the acting senior agricultural officer (SAO) working with the Ministry of Agriculture. He is trained as an agricultural engineer and his role has been as an irrigation engineer. He was transferred to Kabwe District in January 2017 and assumed the role of SAO in July that year. Kabwe district has five plant clinics; one permanently based at Chililalila and the rest mobile plant clinics; operated by two plant doctors. Although Mr Tembo has not been trained as a plant doctor, he has access to a rich Plantwise informational resource; the Plantwise Factsheets Library app on his phone.
E-plant clinics in Sri Lanka were launched in June 2015. Since then 190 Plant doctors have been trained and equipped with tablets, with the Sri Lankan Ministry of Agriculture funding half of the total number of tablets themselves. Being equipped with tablets means Plant doctors give higher quality recommendations, and the data collection process is also considerably streamlined. Below are two snapshots of how e-plant clinics are doing in Sri Lanka.
Financial inclusion has made considerable progress in recent years. There are now a wide range of financial products which can help small farmers: debt financing, short term working capital to finance purchasing of inputs, long term working capital to finance machinery, equity and factoring. Whereas banks used not to want to go the ‘last mile’, ICT innovations have made it possible and profitable to do so. Vision Fund, for example, has over 1.2 million customers.
There is nonetheless still a large financing gap for smallholders: $50billion is being offered, but over $200 billion is needed. This means that smallholders often have to resort to loan sharks. In India for example 37% of loans are still from the informal sector with interest rates of 20-40%.
ICTs play a pivotal role in facilitating solutions for smallholder farmers and the markets they are trying to access. For GLOBALG.A.P., the world’s leading farm assurance program, the only way to make the auditing of the 160,000 farms it covers economically viable is through technological solutions. CABI’s Plantwise programme also relies on ICTs for collecting data from plant clinics and to share plant health knowledge via the Knowledge Bank. Similarly, the provision of micro-finance and insurance services for smallholder farmers has only been made possible through advances in mobile technology.
The emergence of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in the last decade has opened new avenues in knowledge management that could play important roles in meeting the prevailing challenges related to sharing, exchanging and disseminating knowledge and technologies. The types of ICT-enabled services are capable of improving the capacity and livelihoods of poor smallholders are growing quickly.