New 3.0 Agriculture
AgriNeTT is an initiative that focuses on the use of digital technologies as a tool to strengthen the work of farmers and agricultural institutions in Trinidad and Tobago. Having received a FRIDA Award in 2016 for being one of the most innovative in Latin America and the Caribbean, this project seeks to promote the economic growth of the agricultural sector in this Caribbean country and its region of influence.
How did you come up with the idea for AgriNeTT?
ICT does not play a prominent role in Agriculture in the Caribbean. Dr. Margaret Bernard, a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at The University of the West Indies had a student, Andre Thompson, who was developing an Agriculture Information System. This got her interested in the wider field of ICT in Agriculture. She pulled together a team of lecturers from Computer Science and Agriculture as well as persons from Agricultural institutions and farmers associations in Trinidad and Tobago and the AgriNeTT project was born. The project was funded by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago through the UWI-RDI Fund. The major problems that the AgriNeTT team focused on were the lack of ICT tools for farmers to manage their farms and the lack of data at the farm level and national level for planning.
How does AgriNeTT work? Can producers download the application free of charge? Where?
AgriNeTT is an e-agriculture project that focuses on empowering the agriculture sector through the use of ICT, especially by developing mobile apps that assist farmers and policy makers. To address the needs identified, the AgriNeTT project developed several mobile apps for farmers as well as two Open Data repositories (public online resources that collect up-to-date data on various aspects of agriculture, including topographical and soil layers). The apps provide farmers with tools for farm financial management (AgriExpense), information on crop prices (AgriPrice), tools for diagnosing plant pest and diseases (AgriDiagnose), and recommendations on which crops are most suited for the farm (AgriMaps), based on several parameters that profile the land. All the apps have back-end Data Analytic modules that mine the data for trends and provide agricultural information on a national level for policy makers. The apps are freely available for download on Google Play store.
Since beginning the project, have you been able to better integrate technology with traditional day-to-day agricultural practices?
In Trinidad and Tobago, as in the rest of the Caribbean, many farms are family farms with small-scale farming. In order for AgriNeTT to move from innovation to game changer it must become adopted by the farmers that the apps were designed for. Adoption of technology is a real challenge and has been very slow. The AgriNeTT team recognizes that there are many barriers to technology adoption; in this case primarily requiring behavioral change. The farmers have smart phones and internet connection; these are not the issues. However, many of them use their phones only for calls. We have focused on young farmers who have shown a greater gravitation towards the apps and recognize them as a valuable tool.
How many producers are currently using the AgriNett platform? Did this tool bring young people closer to agriculture?
Collectively we have had over two thousand downloads of the apps but only a few of those have resulted in constant use. On the positive side, the project has been able to connect with young people in agriculture. We have an aging farming population. The children of those farmers see a future in agriculture that is more technology driven. These young persons, most of whom are highly educated, would otherwise be lost to agriculture thereby reducing food security of our nation.
Do data-based applications such as AgriNeTT contribute to modernizing agriculture in the Caribbean?
The answer is definitely YES!!!!.
These aps allow farmers to manage their farm as a business with information on revenue and expenses and profit. Farmers will therefore be able to meaningfully participate in value chain deliberations and negotiations, access loans, have financial data to support disaster payment systems, support Insurance and risk management, and private sector investment. On a national level the agriculture institutions will have real time data for decision making about land use, about the spread of pest and diseases, and about the real cost of production. The AgriNeTT apps are the first series of ICT applications dedicated to support the agricultural sector in the Caribbean. The model we have used is capable of being replicated across the Caribbean.
What are the next goals for the project?
The next phase of the project is focused on adoption of the tools and systems. There is one major challenge however – funding. The project received funding for three years through the UWI Research and Development Impact fund which funds UWI projects with potential for high impact on the society. That funding has now completed and the project team is seeking new funding.
A major part of the strategy of the project has been collaboration: collaboration with local institutions as well as regional and international organizations such as FAO and CARDI/CTA. We intend to continue and deepen collaboration efforts, especially with organizations such as farmers Associations to promote the apps and to train and work with farmers on the use of the apps. We have begun collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica so that the apps gain wider use in the Caribbean.
In this next phase we want to also continue the development of the apps, including AgriDiagnose, as well as others. We need to continue to promote the Open Data Platforms. Several academic publications have come out of the project as well as postgraduate theses. We want to continue to publish in scientific journals. The AgriNeTT project has brought together academia, public and private sector to develop systems that improve our collection and analysis of data that impacts Food security as well as to develop ICT applications that directly impact farm management and profitability. AgriNeTT uses ICT for development as a major pathway to improve the practices and competitiveness of the agriculture sector locally in Trinidad and Tobago and regionally in the Caribbean.
How would you summarize your experience with FRIDA?
The FRIDA award was a tremendous achievement for AgriNeTT. For us, it meant international recognition of our work and, in a sense, a validation of what we are doing. The experience at the Internet Governance Forum was rich in so many ways. We were able to connect with other award winners of the Seed Alliance. We enjoyed the camaraderie, particularly as we spent many hours at the Seed Alliance booth getting to know more about the awardees and the places they were from. I was particularly humbled to shake the hands of Vinton Cerf, one of the founders of the Internet, at the Seed Alliance awards ceremony. We connected with other Caribbean persons in the Internet governance space. Our host, Carolina Caeiro, was remarkable in her efficiency, organization and friendliness. My experience with FRIDA are all positive. I hope that LACNIC will continue with these great awards.