Category Archives: Agriculture & Food

FEWS NET: A Famine Early Warning System

Ever since the Indian Ocean tsunami in December of 2004, there has been a push for early warning systems of all types. One system in place even before this natural disaster is FEWS NET, or Famine Early Warning System Network. According to their website, FEWS NET was developed in 1985 by USAID. They saw a need for an early warning system to detect food insecurity after famines in East and West Africa. Now, FEWS NET allows agencies to plan for and respond to food insecurity disasters.

Check out this video about FEWS NET. Jim Verdin from USGS says that FEWS NET is “an activity that boils down to simply paying attention”. He further explains that FEWS NET is in place to ensure that devastating famine no longer occurs in the developing world.

One current example of how FEWS NET functions as an early warning system involves the drought in Haiti. Because FEWS NET tracks the weather patterns, agricultural production, and food prices in Haiti, Haiti was able to offset the effects of the drought and the spread of the drought by arranging for food rations from sources such as the United Nations’ World Food Programme.

Online Communities to Supplement Radio for Farming

Farm Radio International is doing productive work to exchange practical and real-time information to serve the interests of small-scale farmers to ensure food security. After researching FRI further, I learned of an initiative that has taken off under them, called Barza. Barza makes relevant and important resources like radio scripts, audio clips and advice from peers available to rural radio broadcasters through an online platform. The initiative aims to increase the extent to which rural radio helps African small-scale farmers meet their food security, farming and livelihood goals.

The word Barza is actually French and describes a place where people meet under a tree to exchange ideas, which is exactly what this initiative seeks to provide.  Tools are available for the producers of farm-focused radio programming, and resources are available for farmers who potentially missed the program, or who would like supplemental information. There are interactive modules (see below) on the site that help broadcasters to produce efficient programming that would be of use to agricultural workers, listener surveys to see if the programming is effective and useful, and sample scripts to guide discussions.  Listeners are able to view or download transcripts, so that they can have the facts presented in the program in a concise and centralized place.

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A screenshot of one of training modules used to help producers create interesting and useful content for their listeners

There are some obvious strengths and weaknesses to this tool. First, these tools allow the producers to create content that is helpful to the constituents who listen to the programs.  They are also able to receive feedback to help improve the announcements and information they relay on the program in order to better serve the needs of the community members listening.  Also, it is beneficial for the listeners to have this online platform to be able to further discuss content, and exchange ideas.  On the other hand, after reviewing some of the modules on my own, I found that this would be very difficult with a low bandwidth.  With the goal to communicate real time information, and the lack of access that many in rural areas face, I am not sure how successful this would be.  Also, after looking at the message boards, I have found that there is not a lot of participation.  Barza needs to do a better job working with radio stations to make sure that their tools are being communicated and marketed in an appealing way! Also, they should do further market research to make sure that the partnering radio stations that they have have loyal listenership bases.  This great tool cannot serve the need to ensure food security if the right groups of people are not participating in the online community.

How does Farm Radio International Expand?

Farm Radio is a non-profit organization based out of Canada that works with radio broadcasters to help improve food security and certain modes of agriculture for small African farmers.  Here’s an example video of how to program works

After watching this video I understood the basics of how the Farm Radio program works to help farmers gain knowledge and information on crops and food that they would have not otherwise had in small parts of Africa.  The video did seem slightly puzzling as to who the audience was targeted towards.  It seems as though the target audience is for a very “dummed-down” English speaking individual that would be a potential donor.  If farmers in these rural parts of Africa don’t have the technology to understand information about the crops they are dealing with, then how would they be able to view this video that explains to them how Farm Radio International works in a simplistic manner. 

After looking over the Farm Radio International’s website it is shown that the organization works with a great deal of individuals across Africa.  It is great to see that the organization realizes the technological capacity that is present in Africa, with 76% of African farmers with access to a radio set and only 3% with access to Internet.  My only question here is how does Farm Radio International expand to reach a larger population in a continent in which food is so scarce.

 Here’s the link to their website:

Fighting Food Loss? There’s an App for That.


Want to know exactly when to shield yourself from an impending downpour? There’s an app for that. Sick of sitting on hold? LucyPhone will do that for you. How about combatting food shortage in Africa? Now, there’s an app for that too.

Researchers at the researchers at the University of Twente’s Ujuizi Laboratories have developed Cheetah, a new smartphone app that provides transporters, growers, and traders with satellite information that helps them locate the fastest route, route with the least additional costs, or otherwise best route in order to reduce food waste. Cheetah presents both crowd-sourced information from Copernicus Sentinel-2 and MERIS and data collected from third parties to provide a clearer picture of route conditions and crop market value. Drivers are notified of areas in which certain factors caused delays for others, and then have the opportunity to make updates to this information.

According to researchers at the Ujuizi Laboratories, Africa sustains post-harvest produce losses of US $48 billion annually. Let’s do some math. A reduction in post-harvest loss by one percent could save US $480 million a year. That’s a lot of lettuce. Moreover, an estimated 20 to 50 percent of crop losses take place post-harvest, primarily during the transport of crops. Poor road infrastructure and frequent pressure on drivers to pay out bribes along their routes contribute to considerable delays during transport.

To date Cheetah has garnered significant attention from the tech community. The app won the 2013 European Space Agency’s App Challenge €10,000 prize and €60,000 business incubation package, but can Cheetah hope to have the impact that its developers envision? With available 3G network connectivity along most of the trans-African Highway and increased penetration of mobile and smartphone telephony Cheetah may succeed in achieving a significant reach. Indeed, the app’s design ensures that its increased use will improve the quality of the information available on Cheetah.

Still, as Laurie Walker Hudson of Frontline SMS notes, technology is only 10% of the solution in ICT4D initiatives. On the ground intelligence about poor road infrastructure and instances of bribery may help individual drivers avoid more costly routes but it alone will not direct funds toward road maintenance or transform lower transportation costs into lower market prices for consumers. It is important to avoid the trap of technological determinacy and assume that one app can engender accountability. Food shortages are often fed by political conflict, not just transportation challenges. Cheetah is a fantastic cost-cutting concept and a realistic application of crowd-sourcing technology, but that’s not all it takes to get to market.

Mapping Food 4 the Future

This week in class, we began working on a digital mapping project in order to provide future info-graphic resources via GIS and OSM for development professionals located in the town of Chitwan, Nepal.


Last year, when I was researching food security issues in Western Africa, I encountered an interesting initiative that has begun under President Obama, and is currently operated by a consortium of different US government departments. Known as Feed The Future, or FTF, the Department of State, USAID, USDA, the Department of Commerce, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the US Peace Corps, the Department of the Treasury, the US Trade Representative, as well as the US African Development Foundation all collaborate to operate as the US Government’s global hunger and food security project. The overall goal of this mission is to work towards the global eradication of extreme poverty, undernutrition, and hunger, all by collaborating with international NGO’s, the private sector, civil society, as well as the research community.

As the obstacles encountered in order to successfully implement this program are quite steep, the FTF has identified what they consider “19 focus countries” throughout Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. A central area of focus are the countries within Western Africa, including but not limited to Senegal, Sierra Leone, Mali, Niger, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, and Chad. In their fiscal year 2010, or FY 2010 Implementation Plan for this region, it is quite clear that in order to identify the surplus and deficit states, as well as the necessary transportation opportunities to facilitate the complex logistics of food production, highly reliable and detailed maps are required.

Through the USAID link that will take you to the Famine Early Warning System here, one can view and understand the various food production maps for essential crops central to West Africa, like cassava, sorghum, millet, wheat, rice, cowpea, and yams. The Production and Market Flow Maps were developed by USGS and FEWS NET, in collaboration with local government ministries, market information systems, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners. In fact, Tulane University and the Payson Center played a central role in the development of the Famine Early Warning System, and you can read more about it here.

To find out more, visit the Feed the Future website for Western Africa, the FEWS site, as well as the homepage for USAID to learn about the various other initiatives that they work towards.

The WFP and GIS

The World Food Programme or WFP is the branch of the UN associated with food aid. It is currently the largest humanitarian organization focusing on ending world hunger, by delivering food aid to people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot obtain their own food. They provide food to over 90 million people annually, over half of whom are children.

The WFP is not a stranger to using GIS systems for aid initiatives. The organizations Operation Department of Emergency Preparedness, or ODEP for short, considers GIS “an invaluable tool for both the mitigation of natural disaster and the coordination of response operations.” according to Adrea Amparore ODEP’s GIS analyst.

ODEP uses GIS technology to create a better picture of the dangers among people living in disaster prone areas. They analyze a variety of factors including historical occurrences of disasters, food security/insecurity, famine and hunger, and environmental degradation. Growing seasons and crop production are also monitored by satellite images to help the ODEP identify when times of decreased production/low crop yields etc. This ongoing monitoring and analysis enables the WFP to be able to intervene to prevent/lessen disasters when needed.

The WFP is constantly monitoring the four stages of the “disaster cycle,” and does this with the help of GIS’s. The four steps as stated by Aparore and the way GIS’s are used throughout are:

  1. Prevention: “includes the evaluation of man-made features, such as dams and levees, to make sure they can withstand rising floodwater, as well as determining the structural integrity of buildings, the reseeding of hillsides after deforestation to reduce mudslides, the evaluation of building codes and land-use zones to make sure they meet current safety standards, instigating community awareness campaigns to help residents better prepare themselves in the event of a disaster, and so on.”
    GIS’s are used in this step to aid in the planning of projects/interventions, data collection and review, and implementation of these interventions.
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness includes risk identification and assessment; the development and maintenance of emergency communication services; stockpiling essential food supplies, water, and medicine; and the establishment of evacuation routes.
    GIS’s are used in this stage to evaluate risks, determining the best places for emergency food stores in accordance with evacuation plans and coming up with the most efficient and safe evacuation plans.
  3. Response: The response step is pretty self explanatory, it is the actual actions taken in the event of a disaster.
    GIS’s are used in this step to predict the ongoing effects of the disaster and how it will develop, monitoring human movements and interventions, tracking the efficiency of these interventions, and allotting resources.
  4. Recovery: This step includes the establishment of temporary relief and assessing the destruction followed by repairing and rebuilding.
    GIS’s are used in this step to increasing efficiency in aid distribution. More specifically prioritizing where recovery endeavors are needed most. Also, GIS’s are used to coordinate the placement of aid distribution centers and to evaluate the regrowth and rebuilding until on the ground operations return to normal and the cycle repeats itself.

Moving forward, the WFP is looking to standardize the data it collects with GIS’s in order to make it usable for organizations around the world. Amparore says, “Standardization is the key to the continued growth of GIS at the WFP. This will allow us to expand our analytical capabilities and adopt an even greater scientific approach to data analysis.” Throughout my study of ICT4D and development in general, a unfortunately glaring theme that I have noticed is the lack of efficiency in relief and development efforts. GIS looks to be a great way to increase efficiency of aid efforts at all steps of the disaster cycle. Bringing a more scientific approach into the planning, implementation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation stages of development seems to me to be the way forward. Just like farmers who bring GIS onto their farms to lessen product runoff/crop wasting, aid programmes and relief efforts can use GIS to work towards decreasing error and increasing efficiency. This should lead them to also see a higher “yield” in people saved/positively effected by aid relief.

Link to the WFP website: Here
Link to the GIS WFP article: Here

This Week in Class: Realizing Rural Radio

logoThis week in Class, we read a 2011 report explaining the findings of a program called AFRRI from Farm Radio International, entitled “The new age of radio; How ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. I know what you’re thinking: Radio? Really? Isn’t that a bit outdated? However, what FRI found was that these existing technologies were already present in Africa en masse, and thus provided an opportunity to test the pairing of 21st century methods with prolific, accessible, and low-cost radios in order to improve food security in sub-Saharan Africa. I feel that overall, the FRIs findings demonstrate an excellent way to educate farmers, disseminate knowledge, and eventually elevate the food security conditions across Africa. However, many of their conclusions and recommendations are dependent upon funding and capital as a pre-requisite. In addition, enhanced human capacity and inspired outreach programs contribute greatly to these programs’ success, which means that individuals with the capabilities to reach these remote audiences must be found, trained, and nurtured over time.

The ability of radio to disseminate knowledge to people whom can neither read or write is an extraordinary asset. The low cost penetration of this medium, particularly for communities without phones or electricity explains the immense transcendence and applicability of a technology that was invented one hundred years ago.

Farm Radio International estimates that within sub-Saharan Africa, there are approximately 800 million radios in use. Additionally, through studies across a multitude of lower-income countries within sub-Saharan Africa, FRI finds that some 76% of households own a radio. These numbers provide the foundation to have an increased framework establishing a mass movement to provide increased rural agricultural education and training for farmers and businesses throughout developing Africa. Through a 42-month action program called “The African Farm Radio Research Initiative” or AFRRI, Farm Radio International partnered with 25 radio stations in five African countries to apply and test a range of ICT “packages” with the intention to enhance farm radio.

The AFRRI included three core items. The first, Participatory Radio Campaigns or PRC, implemented new farm radio programs across five countries and evaluated over time their listeners, the passive community, whom also played a central role in the designing of more programming and provided farmer feedback. The second, Radio-based marketing information service or MIS, established a much-needed service for smallholder famers whom required better access to market information. The third, ICT-enhanced radio, equipped radio stations with better digital technologies, ranging from desktop computers and internet access to portable digital recording and editing equipment for interviews in the field. Their research led to a variety of conclusions and recommendations for equitable and successful farm radio programs in future iterations. Among them:

-Computers and computer literacy programs more explicitly were “essential” to the emergence and growth of ICTs at stations in sub-Saharan Africa.

-Durable, portable, and multifunctional MP3 recorders, especially when combined with audio-editing workstations should be considered a staple among Farm Radio Stations.

-Farm radio stations should implement ‘on air call outs’ to agriculture experts as well as other farmers as a cost-effective way to include a plethora of informed and educated voices for their listeners.

-Regular, 30-minute reminders issued via SMS are an excellent way of encouraging regular listenership of farm radio programs.

-Farm radio stations should supplement their DJs with MP3 radios that are able to record and replay broadcasts in order to increase listening opportunities and group listening for communities.

-The use of the Freedom Fone or other IVRs (interactive voice responses) can be used in order to reach even more listeners through phone calls for additional or repeat listening opportunities.

-Establishing the Farm Radio Station complex itself as a wireless networking hub through VSATs (very small aperture terminal) is a cost-effective way of improving access in remote areas.

Make sure and check out Farm Radio International on twitter, Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and Picasa!!

ICT4C: Information and Communication Technologies for Cows


Source: iCow’s website

iCow is a subscription-based digital platform that allows Kenyan farmers to enhance their productivity. Farmers can access the platform by mobile phone and the web. iCow started as an SMS mobile phone application and has developed into a digital platform with a large array of services. The platform helps farmers keep track of their cows’ gestation calendar and also provides farmers with valuable nutrition and illness prevention tips to take good care of their herd.

According to iCow’s website, there are approximately 1.6 million Kenyan farmers, most of whom use “rudimentary methods to manage their cow’s estrus cycle and milk production.” iCow was developed by Su Kahumbu after she realized how small farmers in poor communities struggled to provide their most precious assets, cows, the care they need.

I grew up in a small farm in rural Panama and I remember how much time my father spent taking care of our cows. The Ministry of Agriculture conducted many workshops in our town with the intention of teaching farmers the best practices of the “cow care industry.” Unfortunately, farmers in lower income countries don’t get the support they need from their governments to increase their herds’ productivity. Thankfully tech entrepreneurs are paying close attention to the challenges of the agriculture sector and are coming up with creative solutions, such as iCow, to tackle such problems.


Michael Riggs

Michael Riggs is a prevalent member in the e-agriculture community and one of their lead facilitators. Riggs is also very active in rural and agricultural development looking into the content and proceses sectors. He is a big pusher for innovative technology and is seen as a mentor for many in the ICT4D field.He currently works at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and is a member of the ICTD Collective and of Orbicom and runs a website called e-agricultureScreen shot 2013-04-19 at 12.39.17 AM

The website’s mission is “to serve as a catalyst for institutions and individuals in agriculture and rural development to share knowledge, learn from others, and improve decision making about the vital role of ICTs to empower rural communities, improve rural livelihoods, and build sustainable agriculture and food security.”

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Riggs also has a very active twitter account (@mongkolroek) which he utilizes to tweet about ICT and other innovations. Screen shot 2013-04-19 at 12.56.19 AMScreen shot 2013-04-19 at 12.55.59 AM

Many of his tweets revolve around agriculture and innovations that could help farmers such as a weather application. Though his tweets  are not limited to agriculture and Riggs delves into the general realm of ICT’s like how cell phones fail in emergencies which is a conversation that we have had in class multiple times. Riggs has shown himself to be very influential in the ICT4D and e-agricultural world and will likely continue to do so!

infoDev and Wayan Vota

This week, we will be having a very important guest speaker leading our class discussion, Wayan Vota. As one of the prominent experts in the field of information and communication technologies for development, Vota is currently the Communications Manager at Development Gateway. However, he has also worked as the senior director of Inveneo, and as a consultant for infoDev, which will be the focus of this post.

infoDev, which is short for Information for Development Program, is “a global partnership program within the World Bank Group which works at the intersection of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship to create opportunities for inclusive growth, job creation, and poverty reduction” ( Since its founding in 1996, infoDev has been infiltrating various markets in over 50 developing nations around the world by providing them with the technological innovations and support needed to solve their toughest problems. Partnering with governments, non-profits, other World Bank programs, and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), infoDev works as coordinator between donors and local stakeholders in order to ensure effective creation and implementation of ICT4D programs. In 2004, infoDev transformed to become more of a “think tank” on ICT4D issues, utilizing their sponsorship of research and analysis in order to advise best practices. The program operates on three main themes: innovate, connect, and transform.


By supporting ICT-focused innovation by investors and social entrepreneurs, infoDev seeks to amplify the impact of those looking to do make one. The program accomplishes this tier through their network of incubators in developing countries, where partners can brainstorm innovative solutions and models.


infoDev acts a resource for both developing nations, and the agencies looking to work with them. The program also serves as support system to connect these two entities, and ensure that any progress that is made will be sustainable. infoDev places a huge emphasis on enabling access to “information infrastructure, applications, and services” for all in a way that can be maintained in the long run.


This partnership program conducts work in all sectors associated with ICT4D, be it health, education, business, or agriculture. infoDev acts as a consultant to stakeholders, guiding them through the best practices associated with deploying ICTs effectively. The program gains this knowledge through extensive field-based experimentation, evaluation, and research.

While I’m sure Vota will mention, even if only briefly, his work with infoDev, I would like to open up discussion about the context of a comment made about him on the infoDev website:

“Wayan is critical of the historical impact of technology on education for two reasons: First, the expense of piloting a new technology, and second, the major emphasis on the technology.”

Sound familiar? For some reason, the case study on One Laptop Per Child came to mind when I read this, what do you guys think about Vota’s supposed critiques on ICT for education?