In May 2016, a multi-disciplinary research project started by a group of computer science lecturers at The University of the West Indies won international recognition at the ITU World Summit on the Information Society in Geneva, Switzerland. AgriNeTT placed in the top 5 among a host of international e-agriculture projects for its support to the UN Sustainable Development Goal #2, which is to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.
In December 2016, AgriNeTT also won the FRIDA award (which recognizes digital innovation that furthers the development of Latin America and the Caribbean) from LACNIC, the region’s Internet registry.
Why is AgriNeTT so well regarded? AgriNeTT is an e-agriculture project that focuses on empowering the agriculture sector through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially by developing mobile apps that assist farmers and policy makers. Two major problems were recognized in transforming agriculture using technology: there was a lack of data at the farm level and national level and, there was a lack of ICT tools for farm management. To address those needs 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).
How AgriNeTT works
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.
The apps receive data from the open data platforms or supply data to them. All the apps have back-end data analytics modules that mine the data for trends and provide agricultural information on a national level for policy makers.
A model for development in the Caribbean
This is a model for development that can be replicated anywhere in the Caribbean. The apps are freely available for download on Google Play store. Collectively, AgriNeTT provides incredibly powerful tools for farmers and policy makers in the agriculture sector.
In Trinidad and Tobago, as in the rest of the Caribbean, many farms are family farms with small-scale farming. Many farmers do not manage their farm as a business with information on revenue and expenses and profit. Farmers, therefore, are not 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 lack real-time data for decision-making about land use, about the spread of pest and diseases, and about the real cost of production.
Why it works
AgriNeTT provides easy-to- use, ICT tools to the farming community and agricultural institutions to address these problems and help drive economic growth of the agriculture sector and increase its competitiveness. The project aims to increase agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale farmers, in particular women and youth and family farmers. The apps are able to engage youth in agriculture. Many of the children of older farmers could see a future for themselves in agriculture that is more technology driven. AgriNeTT was also able to engage young ICT students who previously never considered the agriculture sector for career development.
AgriNeTT project collaborated with several regional and international institutions, including CTA/CARDI, FAO, CABI, IICA. It also partnered with several local institutions including the Ministry of Food Production, NAMDEVCO, Agriculture Statistics Unit, Met office, CSO, Agriculture Development Bank, Centeno, Cocoa Research Unit and have been forging regional collaborations with institutes in other Caribbean countries, including the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica.
Margaret Bernard is a Professor at the University of West Indies, Trinidad, and WSIS Prize 2016 champion in the category ‘eAgriculture’.