Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

Promoting COVID-19 Prevention Around the World

Scientific Animations Without Borders (SAWBO), in partnership with the Residential College in Arts and Humanities based out of Michigan State University is excited to be able to promote their new video “Protecting Yourself Against Coronavirus.” SAWBO is hoping to make their video available for people across the world. Currently the video is available in twenty-two languages. 

  1. Arabic (Egypt)
  2. Bamanankan (Mali)
  3. Bengali (Bangladesh)
  4. Catalan (Spain)
  5. Chinese (Taiwan)
  6. English (USA)
  7. Fante (Ghana)
  8. Farsi (Iran)
  9. Fon (Benin)
  10. French (Benin)
  11. French (France)
  12. Italian (Italy)
  13. Karimojong (Uganda)
  14. Khmer (Cambodia)
  15. Malagasy (Madagascar)
  16. Pidgin (Nigeria)
  17. Portuguese (Mozambique)
  18. Spanish (Spain)
  19. Spanish (Venezuela)
  20. Swahili (Tanzania)
  21. Vietnamese (Vietnam)
  22. Zulu (South Africa)

SAWBO hopes that individuals will share these videos within their networks to help spread the ways in which we can help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Scientific Animations Without Borders creates educational content in as many languages as possible so that the information can be easily accessible to people around the world. Their other videos touch on subjects such as agriculture, economics, women’s empowerment, peace and justice and other tutorials.

COVID-19 and Food Security: Supply Chains Must not Stop

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us of the primacy of access to food for food security. The immediate problem has been access to food and the need for shelf-stable foods. Disruption at borders and supply chains will have a medium term and longer if there are challenges getting the inputs into the ground or the harvest off next growing season.

Governments should facilitate trade transactions, as well as access to inputs and tools to avoid food and feed shortages. Farmers and others working on food supply chains must be considered essential workers. They should also be eligible for social protection measures. We must do everything to avoid this health crisis from becoming a food crisis, as emphasized Thanawat Tiensin, Chairperson of the Committee on World Food Security. 

That includes addressing other food security challenges like the locust outbreak in the horn of Africa. Keeping food moving from farm to table must be a priority, as pointed the International Agri-Food Network.  Emerging ag serves as the secretariat for the International Agri-Food Network (IAFN). Read more about agriculture’s response to COVID-19 at the International Agri-Food Network website. There are more than 30 links to materials as well as some heartening examples of commitments made in the face of these challenges. If you have more examples from your work, please don’t hesitate to send me links.

I also briefly spoke about COVID’s challenges to food systems at Agritecture’s Digital Conference Series, available here.

The Future of Food Systems

As we prepare for the Food Systems Summit next year, we have a great opportunity to reflect and set a path to the sustainable food system we all want for the future. As part of this effort, we must find a way to work together, instead of spending time propagating false dichotomies that permeate food systems discussions. Rural versus urban, farmers versus consumers, hunger versus obesity, food versus planet – these conversations ignore the interrelationships and the impossibility that any can survive without the other.  We are all part of the same system. It’s about making different pieces work together for a diverse food system, capable of supporting nutrition, biodiversity and farmers’ needs.

It was a pleasure to work with Henry Gordon Smith’s team at Agritecture and be part of their timely Digital Conference Series available here.

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.

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