How decision support systems based on open source technology can change the lives of millions of farmers

Back to the GODAN/CIARD Consultation Agenda

 

  • Time: 10.00-11.00
  • Date: Tuesday 22nd April
  • Venue: Queen Juliana
  • Session Lead: Gottfried Pessl (CEO) Pessl Instruments GmbH.
  • Contact details: gottfried.pessl@metos.at

Background

I have over 30 years in business, work with more than 85 countries and +100 institutes and organisations (IAEA, FAO, UNIDO, USAID, JICA, GIZ etc.) and private and state organisation like Nestle, SYNGENTA, BAYER, VALLEY etc. and governments on nationwide networks for modern alarming networks.

Objective

I would like to discuss the potential of state of the art decision support systems using real time monitoring systems for open source database management. I believe that there is a real opportunity to make better use of this technology to boost agriculture productivity and to avoid losses through early warning and a pro-active management approach. I am keen to explore the feasibility of creation of a PPP between organisations and states to achieve climate smart agriculture with the help of state of the art technology

Introduction

World agriculture will undergo far-reaching economic and physical change in the coming 10 years. Population increase, urbanization and income growth will increase the demand for food. Water shortages, the effect of global warming and of high energy prices may act to constrain supply. To be sustainable in food supply, agriculture will need to be intensified and to be sustainable in production its environmental footprint will have to shrink. An increase of productivity can only be achieved by the introduction of modern farming techniques. This challenge is valid for all agriculture in developed countries as well as in Africa or Asia where agriculture is not as industrialised as in USA, Europe or certain parts of South America. Everyone needs sustainable information in order to react fast and to plan better.

Decisions support systems

what is it? As the name says, a decision support system does not take decisions on its own. A modern DSS (in short) consists of various components which are linked together and give intelligent decision support in real time. The decision is taken by the farmer or management. Some of these components consist of hardware placed in the field for automatic data logging, e.g.: automatic weather stations, irrigation management tools such as soil moisture loggers placed in various soil depth for continuous monitoring, automatic pheromone traps and cameras for remote image and insect monitoring of fields and remote start of irrigation systems. Others are software components which are localised in field numeric weather forecast calibrated for the local sites, GIS maps with past yield maps, insect and disease appearances and long term weather patterns of the local areas. In the ideal situation these components work seamlessly together to provide the farmer real=time risk analysis and timely warning for disease outbreaks, insect developments, irrigation and fertilizer needs, optimum seeding and harvest dates, optimum spray and harvest weather. The technology backbone is the phone network (GPRS, Edge, UMTS) via internet and output is done via smart phone apps or desktop PC internet browsers.

Use and Usefulness

Farming is always exposed to natural hazards. Their probability has a large impact on the local farming practice. Taking away or restricting the effect of such hazards is often the key to higher yields and productivity for farmers all over the world. For a small holder subsistence dry land farmer in Africa, drought is by far the biggest hazard. Giving farmers the ability to know when to plant or harvest, apply fertilizer or insure their inputs against drought will lead to better yields and higher income. Monitoring instruments are giving maps about water use, water deficit and soil moisture which is used for index based insurance for drought. The success story of mobile phone technology in the developing world expresses the openness of the farming society to technology and asks to evaluate again what we have to understand under adopted technology. Intelligent messages on what is the best seeding, spraying, irrigation, fertilizer and harvest dates can be communicated to small holder farmer simply via SMS, WhatsApp, Social Networks to the remotest villages in seconds. The situation in the developed world with family or industrial based farming is very similar. Even so, the access to such kind of information has been available for decades but farmers uptake of this information in a holistic way has up to now been very limited. This has to do with the higher age of the farmers who still use old fashioned fax bulletins from the local extension service or from the supply industry to base their spray, irrigation or seeding dates. The large industrial holdings in east Europe are implementing this technology now as most of their basic needs for modern farm machinery are satisfied and the next step is to increase yields with better information systems without increasing risks of potential losses. What are the goals of all farmers? More yield and higher income! However, climate change is expected to impact crop productivity and the areas suitable for crop production. In order to mitigate damage, farmers can only work adapting to the changing situation by using timely decisions. Weather forecasts for the local place and early local warning from crop-climate models will help farmers decide ahead of time about the best options to act on the changing weather patterns. Disease and pest forecast for the local place will substantially reduce the adverse economic impact of climate change. The tools include real time based warnings of what threats might cause difficulties to the crop, adoption of drought-tolerant crop varieties, building or retrofitting irrigation systems, obtaining crop insurance (once monitoring is in place this is possible), and having access to better climate information. The new and growing challenges in agriculture require modern public and private extension services to play an expanded role beyond technology diffusion.

Conclusion

Innovative technology and intelligent Decision Support System (DSS) services will play a key role in sustainable agriculture in order to reduce risk and produce more with less input.

Links to relevant websites/datasets