Showing posts with label e-tumba. Show all posts
Showing posts with label e-tumba. Show all posts

Sunday, 15 March 2020

How Cellular IoT and AI Can Help to Overcome Extreme Poverty in a Climate-resilient Way

The Democratic Republic ofthe Congo (DRC) is the second largest country in Africa and it has a significant potential for agricultural development as the country has more land (235 million hectares) than Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia, combined, of which only 3.4% is cultivated.

Despite this, around 13 millions of Congolese live in extreme food insecurity, among them 5 millions acutely malnourished children. Current assessments show the trend is increasing.

In the southern provinces formerly known as "Katanga" the needs in maize for human consumption sum up to 700,000 tons per year, while the local production barely amounts to 120,000 tons per year. This means the provinces have to resort to importing food from neighboring countries, which represents a huge burden on the region's economy.

Another aspect of the problem is that 80% of the local production is made by women farmers, and the biggest challenge they face is the lack of daily agronomic monitoring and guidance. There is only a limited amount of agriculture experts in the region and without assistance, the farmersaverage output is at best one ton per hectare. However, field trials have proven that by using smart farming technology they can easily produce up to 6 tons per hectare year over year with the right sustainable approach and support. Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data analytics underpinned by mobile connectivity can even do more. They bring significant potential for capturing carbon, optimizing water, pesticide and fertilizer usage, and reducing soil erosion. Thus, African women can not only provide the solution to the local food gap/insecurity but also become the primary protectors of their environment.

The basic technical concept is not new. Back in 2016 Ooredoo Myanmar launched Site Pyo, a mobile agriculture information service for smallholder farmers. At its core Site Pyo is a weather forecast app that was enhanced with weather-dependent advice for ten crops, from seed selection to harvesting and storage. In addition the app displays the actual market prices for these crops. GSMA as a co-funder of the project celebrates Site Pyo as a big success, but it seems to be limited to Myanmar. Why?

„A lot of customization needs to be done to adapt the application functionality for a particular region“, says Dieu-Donn√© Okalas Ossami, CEO of „e-tumba“, a French Start-up specialized in smart farming solutions for Sub-Sahara Africa. His company partners with iTK, a spin-off from CIRAD, the French Institute for tropical agronomy. The iTK crop-specific predictive models are based on years of agronomic data, but have originally been designed for big farmers. To meet the demands of women in Katanga requires more granular data for both, input and output.

As in case of Site Pyo weather predictions are important, but in addition there are data feeds from sensors on the spot. Weather stations measure constantly temperature and rainfall while sensors in the soil report its saturation with water, nitrogen and potassium.

„A typical real-time advice that our software provides is to delay the harvest for some additional days to maximize the yield“, explains Okalas Ossami. „However, even for two neighboring fields the particular advices are often different.“ 

Also the communication channels need to be taylored. Many women farmers are illiterate. For them the advice must be translated into the local language they speak and transmitted to their phones as a voice message. Those who can read and write will receive the notifications through short message service.

The mobile connectivity that links all elements of the system is realized by the mobile network operators present in the region.


Infographic: The Technical Environment Behind the Project
„Actually NB-IoT would fit to our use case“, says Okalas Ossami, „but it is not available. And there is neither LoRa nor SigFox.“ Hence, the sensors are using data connections of 3G and 4G radio access technology. In case of network outage or missing coverage a local field technician must collect the sensor data manually and transfer it to the data center through alternative channels.

It is the same field technician who installs the sensors. The woman farmers receive a basic training to understand how the system works, but they do not need to care about technical components - except keeping their mobile phones charged.

Here comes another important aspect into the game: How can the women trust this technical environment?

In case of Site Pyo the operator Ooredoo observed a quickly increasing user community measured by the number of app downloads. However, there was no indication to which extend the Myanmar farmers really used the app. The e-tumba solution addresses this gap by partnering with the non-government organization „Anzafrika“.

Anzafrika is present in the villages where the people live. One of its major targets is to overcome the extreme poverty by developing the regional economy. A key factor for this is that the smallholder farmers do not just see the market prices for their crops, but get real access to large, stable and long-term markets where these prices are paid. Anzafrika is brokering contracts between the woman farmers and large multinational corporations committed to the Economics of Mutuality, growing human, social and natural capital. The business model behind this concept was outlined by Bruno Roche and Jay Jakub in their book „Completing Capitalism:Heal Business to Heal the World“. Instead of focusing on greenhouse gas emissions (output) they insist that climate-resilient business models must measure the input needed for manufacturing goods. As an example: For one hot cup of coffee the greenhouse gas emissions are extremely low, but 3.4 liters of water are needed (most for packaging, processing and drinking) and 12 gram of top soil will be eroded. These are (among others) the expenses paid by the planet that are not taken into account by a carbon tax.

Coffee plantations are monocultures with all the known disadvantages resulting form this kind of farming. In the past the Congolese women farmers have grown maize as a monoculture. Now, with advice from Anzafrika and e-tumba they transitioned from an „all-maize“ sustenance crop to a semi-industrial „maize-sorghum“ production. This helps to minimize the top soil erosion and thus, to remunerate the natural capital involved in the process.  

Regarding the human and social capital Anzafrika monitors how the overall situation in the villages  is improving. The focus is on progress in well-beeing, satisfaction and health not just for the women farmers, but for their entire communities.

In 2019 smart farming technology have been tested and deployed with a group of 150 women in the province of Lualaba. Now, in 2020, their number is expected to rise to 500 and after 6 years the stunning target of 100,000 participants shall be met. A look at the download numbers of Site Pyo (206,000 in the course of one year) shows that these numbers are not over-optimistic.

The partnership between Anzafrika, e-tumba and iTK is now considered as a best international practice, as indicated by Patrick Gilabert, UNIDO Representative to the European Union in Brussels. It fully aligns with the development of new comprehensive strategies for Africa that aim at creating a partnership of equals and mutual interest through agriculture, trade and investment partnerships.

UNIDO, as the UN convener for the implementation of the Industrial Decade for Development of Africa” (IDDA 3) is always ready to join forces with innovative partners.