Making Asian agriculture smarter

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A cow feeds on improved CIAT forage grasses, in Kampong Cham, Cambodia (photo credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT).

Last week, coming on the heels of a Planet Under Pressure conference in London, which set out to better define our ‘planetary boundaries’ and to offer scientific inputs to the Rio+20 United Nations sustainable development conference this June, a group of leaders in Asia—comprising agriculture and meteorology chiefs, climate negotiators and specialists, and heads of development agencies—met to hammer out a consensus on ways to make Asian agriculture smarter.

The workshop, Climate-smart agriculture in Asia: Research and development priorities, was held 11–12 April 2012 in Bangkok. It was organized by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes; the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and the World Meteorological Organization.

This group set itself three ambitious tasks: To determine the best options (1) for producing food that will generate lower levels of greenhouse gases, which cause global warming; (2) for producing much greater amounts of food, which are needed to feed the region’s rapidly growing and urbanizing population; and (3) for doing all this under a changing climate that, if farming and farm policies don’t change, is expected to reduce agricultural productivity in the region by anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent over the next three decades.

The workshop participants started by reviewing the best practices and technologies now available for making agriculture ‘climate smart’. They then reviewed current understanding of how climate change is likely to impact Asian agriculture. They then agreed on what are the gaps in the solutions now available and which kinds of research and development should be given highest priority to fill those gaps. Finally, they developed a plan for filling the gaps and linking scientific knowledge with policy actions at all levels.

On the second of this two-day workshop, the participants were asked to short-list no more than ten key areas as being of highest priority for Asia’s research and development communities.

This exercise tempted this blogger to suggest ten suitable areas in the livestock sector.

(1) Lower greenhouse gas emissions from livestock through adoption of improved feed supplements (crops residues) that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Contact ILRI animal nutritionist Michael Blümmel, based in Hydrabad, for more information: m.blummel at cgiar.org

(2) Safeguard public health by enhancing Asia’s capacity to detect and control outbreaks of infectious diseases transmitted between animals and people.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Jeff Gilbert, based in Vientienne, for more information: j.gilbert at cgiar.org

(3) Improve the efficiency of water used for livestock and forage production.
Contact ILRI rangeland ecologist Don Peden, based in Vancouver, for more information: d.peden at cgiar.org 

(4) Pay livestock keepers for their provision of environmental services.
Contact ILRI ecologist Jan de Leeuw, based in Nairobi, for more information: j.leeuw at cgiar.org

(5) Recommend levels of consumption of meat, milk and eggs appropriate for the health of people, their livelihoods and environments in different regions and communities.
Contact ILRI partner Tara Garnett, who runs the Food Climate Research Network based in Guildford, for more information:  t.garnett at surrey.ac.uk

(6) Design institutional and market mechanisms that support the poorer livestock keepers, women in particular.
Contact ILRI agricultural economist Steve Staal, based in Nairobi, for more information: s.staal at cgiar.org 

(7) Educate publics in the West on the markedly different roles that livestock play in different regions of the world.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Philip Thornton, based in Edinburgh, for more information: p.thornton at cgiar.org

(8) Adopt risk- rather than rule-based approaches to ensuring the safety of livestock foods.
Contact ILRI veterinary epidemiologist Delia Grace, based in Nairobi, for more information: d.grace at cgiar.org 

(9) Focus attention on small-scale, relatively extensive, mixed crop-and-livestock production systems.
Contact ILRI systems analyst Mario Herrero, based in Nairobi, for more information: m.herrero at cgiar.org 

(10) Give livestock-keeping communities relevant and timely climate and other information via mobile technologies.
Contact ILRI knowledge manager Pier-Paolo Ficarelli, based in Delhi, for more information: p.ficarelli at cgiar.org

Do you have a ‘top-ten’ list of what could make Asian agriculture ‘smart agriculture’? Post it in the Comment box, please!

Go here for ILRI blogs about the Planet Under Pressure conference.

ILRI in Asia blog

‘Spoken Web’: A voice-internet tool for sharing research knowledge with the unreached

John on Mobile Phone

The ‘Spoken Web’ uses mobile phones to provide information to people who have no access to the internet (photo credit: David Dennis)

Imagine using your mobile phone to connect to a voice site on the internet to listen to your favourite blog or to search for information. According to IBM, this might be one of the ways we use the internet in the near future.

No, it will not replace the current technology that involves using a browser on your computer to search for what you need online, but the company is banking on a new voice-enabled internet platform that can provide information and services to millions over phone, especially in the developing world’s rural areas, where many people do not read and write and have no access to the internet.

The ‘Spoken Web’ makes use of speech recognition software to allow users to upload information to networks of ‘voice sites’ that are then stored on a voice server and navigated by users talking over the phone. People in rural areas of India and Africa and other developing regions can use this system to upload information in their own language using a mobile phone. The ‘Spoken Web’ can be used for many of the things that can be done over the internet today, such as online banking, buying goods or searching for information. For example, callers can access the platform from their mobile phones to listen to agricultural information or to find advice from fellow farmers by dialing a local number, which directs them automatically to the most relevant voice sites.

This technology has been under development since 2004, when it started as a ‘World Wide Telecom Web’. It has been further developed into the ‘Spoken Web’ by IBM research labs in New Delhi, India. In 2007, it was piloted successfully in parts of India.

IBM believes that this new platform holds great potential for transferring and sharing information, especially for development organizations that can use it to communicate with their field staff and the rural communities with which they are implementing projects.

The concept of the ‘Spoken Web’ was presented during last week’s ‘AgKnowledge Africa’ Share Fair, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The presenter was Pier Paolo Ficarelli, an agricultural development and knowledge management expert working in the International Livestock Research Institute’s (ILRI) Asia regional office, in New Delhi.

Earlier this month, on 7 October 2010, IBM staff invited ILRI and partners of the Consortium of the Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and other organizations to their research offices in India to see a demonstration of the workings of this new voice-based internet.

‘Internet connectivity in rural areas where organizations like ILRI work is seldom available, and agricultural extension services that were one of the few channels for information and service access for rural communities are ineffective in many of these places,’ said Ficarelli, who attended the demonstration together with John McDermott, ILRI’s deputy director general and Iain Wright, ILRI’s Asia regional director. ‘ICT tools such as this can give opportunity for grassroots people to access information and receive services,’ said Ficarelli.

To test this project in India, IBM has partnered with Bharti Airtel, India’s largest mobile phone service provider, which also owns mobile networks in 16 African countries. The two companies are likely to roll out the service in Africa in the future.

‘If adopted widely, this new system can be used to bridge the information gap that exists in many areas of the developing world because of illiteracy, which limits knowledge transfer and exchange,’ said Ficarelli. ‘Indian farmers have successfully used it to share innovative solutions to common agricultural problems,’ he added.

‘This technology could benefit ILRI’s livestock and dairy research projects that are seeking to create efficient links among researchers, farmers and other actors in the different value chains,’ Ficarelli said.

However, to be a successful knowledge sharing platform, the voice-internet needs to overcome challenges of likely high implementation costs for both organizations and communities. The system also needs to have clear advantages over existing and already tested web-based or mobile-phone-based information dissemination applications, such as telecentres and SMS information channels. There is need not only to test ‘Spoken Web’ on a wider scale and in different contexts to assess its usability and usefulness, but also to involve enough agents ready to put into voice their knowledge and services and to do so in ways that are attractive to end users.

For more information about the ‘Spoken Web’ and how it can be used visit:

http://domino.research.ibm.com/comm/research_people.nsf/pages/arun_kumar.wwtw.html and http://domino.research.ibm.com/comm/research_people.nsf/pages/arun_kumar.index.html

Also watch the following video demonstrations:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_4LgyBn2CQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JFc6HkK2eiw