Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

The Future of Farming – Harnessing Digital Technologies for Ag Extension and Advisory Services

Today’s farmer lives in unprecedented times. From volatile commodity markets as a result of natural shocks from weather, pests and diseases, to the climate crisis that is increasing calls for radical transformation in food systems, there is uncertainty about the future of agriculture. Farmers today must transform their thinking to effectively respond to the challenges facing agriculture and continue feeding a growing world population – and one that is also in a crisis. With the current challenges, the next agricultural revolution is imminent.

As these shifts occurs, agricultural extension and advisory services will have to equally shift and respond to farmers’ needs as they emerge. Extension services will have to contribute to rural development, meet nutrition goals, and promote sustainability and equity, and must focus more on soil quality, biodiversity, climate and water use. Currently, extension services may not always respond fast enough to farmers’ changing needs and this is where leveraging on digital technologies can help. Farmers need timely and relevant information, communication and technology (ICT) as they can play a role in ensuring farmers are connected with the information they need. Harnessing digital technologies thus gives extension services greater capabilities and can be used to perform multiple tasks including carrying out surveys, providing advice, issuing alerts, pricing and carrying out training’s for farmers. Leveraging science effectively requires the translation of scientific solutions into packages that can be disseminated and adopted by farmers at scale, both at the farm and landscape levels.

For farmers to effectively adapt to climate change, digital tools can play the crucial role of monitoring climate risks. Digital tools can be used to identify the onset of climatic shocks before they happen and facilitate responses for building resilience. Automating irrigation systems and soil sensors, and drones can boost production efficiency. To enhance food availability, accessibility as well as improve food utilization and safety, digital tools can be used to effectively monitor food hazards. E-commerce platforms can integrate smallholder farmers into value chains and enable them to eliminate the transaction costs of locating demand, determining prices, and improving efficiency in service delivery.

For rural smallholder farmers, especially in developing countries, even though there has been significant adoption of digital technologies for extension services, there are still challenges that must be overcome for greater success. Digital literacy, limited connectivity, and affordability of digital services can undermine rural farmers’ capacity to fully benefit from the digital revolution. According to the Digitization of African Agriculture Report, 2018-19, collaborations have been identified as instrumental in bridging the digital divide among rural farmers. The report recommends that digitization should not just be taken as an agricultural or technological issue but should be involved in many parts of the economy and thus be situated within a broader development and poverty reduction agenda.

Working Remotely

In 2010, I founded Emerging ag and felt then there was no need for an office and I’ve never looked longingly at conventional space. The virtual office approach has allowed me to engage some of the most talented people from around the world and all 20 of us really enjoy working together. So, in these times, here are a few ideas based on our experiences.

Technology Suite

Of course, everyone needs a remote conference call system right now, but in addition to having more conference calls, there are lots of other elements to working remotely successfully.  Here is what we use and why:

  • Zoom – Remote conferencing for us and external actors. Also, in the fight for bandwidth that is likely to break out, I suggest you use a system that also has a telephone back up.
  • OneNote – This long-standing piece of Microsoft gear we use as a Notebook we can all use. We agree Notebooks for major projects and discuss which folders there will be. That way people working at different times can use it to share references, notes, links etc.
  • DropBox – We found this worked best for file sharing and sync’ing with laptops for offline times. It does mean people have to pay attention when more than one person is in a document.  It is just a matter of protocols.
  • Teamwork – We use this service to track time, deadlines, and projects. It allows you on all sorts of time zones and schedules to look at what is done.
  • WhatsApp – Odd but true – we keep the social chatter going on a chat we call “No crisis just fun” (yes, we also have one called “Crisis” which happily is rarely used). People share pictures of a birthday, a holiday, jokes about confinement, notes of support.  Think of it as your proverbial water cooler.

Each of these tools is part of building out the functions you have inside your organization. Formal and informal. There are lots of technology solutions, but the part to think about is the role of different kinds of information, some of which you might have shared casually by being together. Building out a culture for this is equally possible and just requires some different management techniques.

Long time clients have been asking questions, and we are here if you need us.

UN75: A Toast to Multilateralism

Multilateralism – a 15 letter word that is getting a 75-year anniversary. The United Nations hits 75 at a moment when the world should be most reminded of the need for peace, stability and cooperation. Whether it is the role of the World Health Organisation of the UN to help coordinate response to coronavirus, or the leadership of emergency response in the face of a plague of locusts in Eastern Africa by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, or the front line efforts of the World Food Programme in Yemen, the world is better for trying to tackle tough problems together.

Just like climate change, these aren’t easy problems. The UN is often skewered for being ineffective, but let’s be realistic, if an issue is at the UN, it is already a thorny difficult global one. It is a little like…

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.…”

Winston S Churchill, 11 November 1947

The UN was born out of World War II. On 24 October 1945, 51 nations came together to establish the UN to prevent another war, forming a new organization for world peace. Today, with a membership of 193 states, the UN has evolved into an agency not only for achieving world peace but also increasing cooperation among the nations to tackle some of the world’s most pressing needs. The UN’s work today covers a myriad of issues such as peace and security, climate change, sustainable development, human rights, disarmament, terrorism, humanitarian and health emergencies, gender equality, governance, food production, and more.

Representatives of 50 countries at the United Nations Conference on International Organization, in San Francisco in 1945. Credit: Associated Press

Its hard to imagine where we would be with the discussions on biodiversity without the Rio Conference, over 30 years ago, when issues of sustainability were first raised. Or as concerning as COVID-19 is, imagine a world without WHO’s efforts to coordinate a response at a global level.

As it hits its 75th anniversary, we should all pause to be thankful for multilateralism. Without question, the world is in an imperfect place, but it is certainly better for having coordinated attempts to address its challenges than none at all. For as much as we see challenges, the world is improved compared to when it came out of World War II. Perhaps shoring up its most vital institution of global cooperation is the best investment we can make to regain lost ground of the past few years.

The rational reaction to increasing numbers of hungry, geopolitical conflict, coronavirus, and the state of our oceans is to improve the UN and be thankful for the gains made to date on women’s literacy, global poverty, and identifying planetary boundaries.

UN 75 Anniversary

October 24 has been celebrated as the United Nations Day and is observed by member states as a public holiday. To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN has adopted the theme ‘2020 and  Beyond: Shaping our future together’ and is planning to host the largest global conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want. Throughout the year, the UN will work with partners to initiate dialogues within and across borders, sectors and generations. The aim is to reach as many people as possible: to listen to their hopes and fears; learn from their experiences; and empower them to think and act globally. You can be part of the conversation by following the hashtag #UN75 and using the Media Toolkit.

Canadian Chamber of Commerce Launches Working Group to Grow Our Country’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector

Ottawa, ON – February 11, 2020 – The Canadian Chamber of Commerce launched its Agriculture and Agri-Food Working Group today to support the industry’s ability to grow and reach new customers. The Working Group will reflect the Canadian Chamber’s role as the country’s largest business association by representing all segments of the agriculture and agri-food value chain from farm to fork across sectors.

The Working Group will initially focus on regulatory reform, international trade, and labour shortages as three key areas where our country needs to improve the business environment if we are to reach our full potential as a global agricultural powerhouse. Read More

You’ve Got What They Want: Protein Market Growth Helps Advance Pulse Opportunities Globally

The Evolving Debate on Sustainable Diets and Demand for Pulses

The debate on sustainable healthy diets has recently gained momentum, and the pulses market stands to gain significantly as the evolving definition of sustainable diets strongly advocates for more plant-based diets for a healthier planet. While food and healthy diets have traditionally been discussed within the confines of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the subject is now finding its way into non-traditional venues such as the United Nations Environment Assembly and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which are now looking up to sustainable food systems as part of the solution to tackling climate change.

Non-profits including conservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), funding organizations such as the Wellcome Trust, and global platforms such as the EAT-Lancet Commission have become major voices calling for global food systems that “operate within boundaries for human health and food production to ensure healthy diets from sustainable food systems for nearly 10 billion people by 2050.” The EAT Lancet report recommends a doubling of global consumption of fruits, vegetables, and legumes and notes that, “a diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.” At the UN Committee on Food Security (CFS), the definition of sustainable healthy diets is evolving, and the strength of the benefits of pulses are leading to a discussion where legumes are actually called out in the current draft of the Voluntary Guidelines on Food Systems and Nutrition.

The past few years have seen pulses gain more attention globally such that 2016 was declared by the UN General Assembly as the International Year of the Pulses and February 10, 2019 marked the first World Pulses Day, an annual event to celebrate pulses worldwide and continue the important gains made with the 2016 International Year of Pulses.

Consumer behavior is also shifting as consumer-based alternative food movements are on the rise and demand more ethical and high-quality diets. In a 2018 consumer trends report, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) notes an increase in the number of “flexitarians (those who prefer plant-based dishes with the occasional inclusion of meat)” and that the number of products labelled as vegetarian has increased by 25% and those labelled as vegan by 257%! Read More

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