AgriEducate Instagram Competition. Enter Now!

As they say, a picture paints a thousand words and can give so much life to the story of agriculture! That’s why we want YOU to tell the story of farming and Australian agriculture through submissions to your instagram page. Plus you can win some awesome prizes for your hard work.

Just follow the steps below and we’ll draw the winner on the Australian Agriculture Day – November 21!

It’s Stock & Land month!

Want to win a 3 month digital subscription to Stock & Land? AgriEducate have teamed up with the amazing team at S&L to give away three 3 months digital subscription packages that are valued at $26 inc. GST each.

To enter:

1.  Follow @agrieducate and @stockandland on Insta

2.  Post your best ag photo to your own Insta account and tell us in a 25 words or less how your photo best tells the story of agriculture

3.  Tag 3 of your mates in the photo

4.  Hashtag #AgriEducator and tag @agrieducate in the photo to make sure we don’t miss it!

You’re all done! Wait for our winner announcement on AgriEducate’s insta page on National Agriculture Day, Nov 21, 2017 at 9am AEST. The top 3 photos with the most likes will be contacted by a member of our team via Insta message to activate their Stock & Land digital subscription! Rally up your friends and family, and let’s share what agriculture is all about!

World Food Day: Migration, Agriculture and Youth

With the celebrations for World Food Day on Monday, we thought we’d take a close look at this year’s theme!

World Food Day is celebrated on the 16th of October each year – the birthday of the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (UNFAO). This year, the UNFAO turns 72!

The theme for 2017 is “Change the future of migration. Invest in food security and rural development”.

Whilst there are many incredible and impactful ways to invest in food security and rural development, one important investment that cannot be overlooked, is the investment in shaping the agricultural sector as an attractive, highly valued and professional sector for young people.

But before we delve into that – what does migration have to do with Development Agriculture?

Well, migration is both a cause and consequence of agricultural development.

Migration has both challenges and opportunities for countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries. In fact, migrants can be agents of development and are a vital part of the development process.  But migration is also a symbol of underdevelopment and a result of undesirable conditions.

Agricultural development can improve rural underdevelopment – one of the prime causes of migration – by enhancing food security, providing employment and incomes, supporting economic growth, managing natural resources and addressing inequalities.

Simply, agricultural underdevelopment can be a push factor for migration – driving people away from rural areas due to food insecurity, low-incomes and poor livelihoods. Luckily, agricultural development can be a pull factor – driving people towards opportunities in agricultural related employment, improved food accessibility and improved livelihoods.

Development agriculture and migration are thus clearly linked. Here are some facts which may surprise you:

  • More than 75% of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas, mostly depending on subsistence agricultural production.
  • It is estimated by the UNFAO that by 2050, over half the population in the least developed countries will still live in rural areas.
  • Three-quarters of the extreme poor base their livelihoods on agriculture or other rural activities.
  • There was a 40% increase in international migrants between 2000 and 2015, with the total number being approximately 244 million in 2015.
  • According to 2013 estimates, there were 763 million internal migrants.
  • The UNFAO reports that in many African countries, more than 50% of rural households report having at least one internal migrant.

So with a clear link between development agriculture and migration, what can be done?

Efforts geared towards a more productive agricultural sector and improved food systems in general, would promote rural development, enable diversification into manufacturing and services, and promote greater employment opportunities particularly in agribusiness. These efforts include:

  • Promoting the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices
  • Public policies targeting smallholder family farms
  • Diversification to off-farm agricultural employment, including investment along the supply chain, and promotion of value-added goods.
  • Improved rural education and vocational training for the agricultural workforce in developing regions
  • Strategies to make a career in agriculture attractive for the youth of developing regions, and to change perceptions of agriculture work to highly skilled and professional employment.

One large challenge of migration is the ‘brain drain’ from rural areas – particularly of young skilled workers. With perceptions of working in agriculture as being poorly paid and poorly skilled, many highly talented young people are driven from rural areas in search of more prestigious and seemingly well paid careers. This only perpetuates a cycle of rural underdevelopment and food insecurity. Instead, if young people saw careers in agriculture (right along the supply chain) as being highly skilled, highly valued, well-paid and well perceived, then cycles of food insecurity and rural underdevelopment caused by migration may also be broken for the better.

In the spirit of this year’s World Food Prize recipient, Akinwumi Adesina, we must make Agriculture cool again. This means investing in promoting agriculture as a good choice for young people.

According to Adesina , “this requires new agricultural innovations and transforming agriculture into a sector for creating wealth. We must make agriculture a really cool choice for young people. The future millionaires and billionaires of Africa will come initially from agriculture”.

“The key is to make agriculture a business. Agriculture is not a way of life, is not a development activity, it’s a business.”

“The future of African young people lies in a more prosperous and inclusive Africa, and there is no other sector that has greater power to create growth than the agricultural sector.”

Need some inspiration? Take a read of our earlier post to hear Lindiwe Sibanda tell her story of choosing a career in agriculture over dentistry, and the amazing achievements she has had personally, and the incredible impacts she has had for food security and rural development globally.

So this World Food Day, as we focus in on agricultural development and migration, let’s get down to one of the root causes and key opportunities: investing in improving the perceptions of agriculture!

Pest and disease management for food security – there’s an app for that! (and it uses AI)

Pest and disease management for food security – there’s an app for that! (and it uses artificial intelligence)

It’s fair to say that pest management has come a long way since the days of scarecrows! 

The most recent green revolution wave focuses on how artificial intelligence can be used to boost food security, particularly through pest and weed management. The latest technologies use ‘deep learning’ – a process part of the broader terminology of machine learning whereby programmers go beyond just telling the computer what to do with task-specific algorithms and code, but instead develop multi-level, non-linear processing units that recognise patterns in large sets of data. The learning can be supervised (a programmer trains the computer), partially supervised or unsupervised (learns independently). Deep learning processes are already in use in many industries around the world, including agriculture. Application of AI to the agricultural sector can have enormous benefits for farmers and food production globally, in both developed and developing countries.

A key challenge to farmers in many developing regions of the world is accurately identify crop diseases, and a key challenge for researchers and extension agents is having the tools to assist. Diseases such as the cassava brown streak disease and cassava mosaic disease, could impact over 30 million farmers in East and Central Africa, impacting both security of income, food and nutrition. Other common diseases in this region include fungal diseases in banana crops such as Banana bunchy top virus, and late blight devastates potato farmers. New technologies using AI, big-data and mobile phones can take on the role of an extension worker in regions where it may not otherwise be possible for advanced scientific knowledge to reach the ground.

This week, we’ll take a look at 3 apps which are leading the way in using artificial intelligence to improve food systems and food security globally.

CROPTIX

A research team from the CGIAR Research Program on Roots, Tubers and Bananas (RTB) has developed a mobile phone app to enable cassava farmers to instantly diagnose crop diseases by taking a photo. The app will allow plant diseases to be diagnosed, alerts to be sent to surrounding farmers, and will connect farmers to a network of extension officers. Through the app, farmers can take a photo of a diseased plant and be given an instant diagnosis.

James Legg from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), has said “Smallholders or extension officers with a basic smartphone with a camera will be able to download the app for free, fire it up, point it at a leaf with disease symptoms and get an instant diagnosis. That is truly revolutionary!”

To develop the app, the research team generated over 200,000 images of diseased crops in coastal Tanzania and Western Kenya, using cameras, spectrophotometers and drones. The images are used to develop AI algorithms which enable the diseases to be automatically recognised by the app.

David Hughes, associate professor of entomology and biology at Penn State University has said “The app employs AI in real time so the farmer can be an active participant in disease diagnosis and crop health management, leading to more yields for smallholder farmers”.

At the moment, the app is only programmed for cassava, but the team are now looking at expanding to other root, tuber and banana crops. The app aims to reach 35,000 farmers by July 2018.

PLANTIX

Plantix is a similar app for automated disease diagnosis, developed in India by the Progressive Environmental & Agricultural Technologies (PEAT) in collaboration with the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University. The app enables farmers to take photos of their crops to receive critical information on symptoms, triggers, chemicals as well as treatments, through artificial intelligence algorithms and image recognition technology. The images are geo-tagged to enable real-time monitoring, inclusion of weather information, and to develop a meta-data base on the spatial distribution of crops and pests in the form of high resolution maps.

The Plantix database currently has over half a million images! This includes over 30 crops, and 120 crop diseases. This includes Fusarium wilt, Sterility mosaic disease and Phytophthora blight.

Dr David Bergvinson (Director General, ICRISAT), has said “The app could prove to be a game changer in the field, providing farmers free, reliable and quick diagnosis of crop damage. The simplified dashboard with easy-to-use features helps the app take on the role of an extension worker as well. The app is a novel experiment in using digital technologies for agriculture”.

The program has been tested in the Krishna district in Andhra Pradesh, and uses Indian regional languages of Telugu and Hindi, and will soon be extended to include other regional languages.

WeedID

WeedID is a new app, developed by Masters student Yehezkiel Henson and a team of researchers at the University of Sydney, to assist in identifying weeds in rice fields in Cambodia. The app contains a photo dictionary, so when farmers observe a weed they can identify both the weed and the most appropriate method to manage it. The app aims to prevent the spread of weeds, and improve yields, incomes and knowledge in the region.  

The developer, Yehezkiel Henson , has said: “WeedID contains a photo dictionary of the most common weeds in northwest Cambodian rice fields at different stages of growth. The app has images of seeds, seedlings, mature plants and flowers that will all help to identify the weeds which are devastating Cambodian farmers’ rice crops”.

The apps database now covers 45 weeds  – which is 95% of the most frequent weeds identified in Cambodian rice fields. Weeds are a problem for rice production at various stages of the production process: weeds during cultivation significantly impact on yields (more than 50%), whilst contamination at harvest reduces the quality and consequently the price the rice can be sold for.

The WeedID app contains links to specific management information and details the most appropriate way to manage the weed”, said Yehezkiel Henson. “Different weeds require different management techniques. Depending on the life cycle, nutrient requirements or mode of reproduction, we will employ a different method of management… Some weeds, such as awnless barnyard grass (Echinochloa colona) can be managed simply by flooding the fields to drown them. Sometimes we may need to apply specific selective herbicides to manage them, as in the case of the smallflower umbrella plant (Cyperus difformis), also known as ‘dirty Dora’ in Australia” said Yehezkiel.

The app has been commissioned as part of an ACIAR project examining sustainable intensification and diversification in the lowland rice system in northwest Cambodia, and developed from funding from International Environmental Weeds Foundation (IEWF) and the Crawford Fund.

Daniel Tan, from the University of Sydney, has said: “The Cambodian smallholder farmers we work with are also hungry for information and use the technology available to solve problems. Farmers have shown us photos of pest animals, weeds and diseased plants taken on their phones, which our team have been able to identify. This prompted the idea to develop a free, user-friendly mobile tool to identify weeds in rice paddies so farmers can manage the problem and improve the crops that support their families”.

Seems like a very apt solution!

We have already seen the huge success stories coming from using mobile phones to assist farmers in developing countries to access big data. The use of artificial intelligence in these apps and technologies is the next step to overcoming the challenges faced by farmers in developing regions to access knowledge and information. The impacts of using AI in agriculture span both developed and developing regions of the world, and have huge potential for improving food security, farmers incomes and their livelihoods globally.

In the wave of technological revolutions coming into the agricultural sector, we now have machines which target and spray weeds using near-infrared imagery, drones to gather huge volumes of data, satellites to predict drought patterns, and now AI mobile apps to diagnose crop diseases. Mobile phones are not just a communication tool, but a key agricultural tool of the future. Coupled with AI, this new technology can take on the role of an extension worker in regions where it may not otherwise be possible for advanced scientific knowledge and big-data to be just heard on the grapevine.

Sources:

http://www.rtb.cgiar.org/blog/2017/09/28/new-app-diagnoses-crop-diseases-field-alerts-rural-farmers/

http://www.icrisat.org/mobile-app-to-help-farmers-overcome-crop-damage-launched-in-india/

http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2017/07/18/what_s-that-weed-in-my-rice-field-.html