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Joining hands: Nepal to Africa

Anil, NepalI was born in Lamjung, a rural village of western Nepal to a poor family. My father completed his high school and my mother has never been in a classroom. My parents are both farmers and for years, we lived on a meager income that barely met our needs. My parents always wanted me to get a higher education. Like most parents in Nepal, my parents also wanted me to become an engineer of some kind. I never thought I was suited for an engineering profession, and for my life I knew that I needed to decide that for myself. I joined an engineering program in Electronics engineering. I thoroughly enjoyed my degree in electronics but for my career I want to pursue a degree that deals with people more directly. However, I find the problems in agriculture more fascinating. At first my interest in pursuing works in agriculture arose from a desire to solve my parents’ hardship in agriculture and farming, but as I developed I realized it is my dream as well. Using ICT in agriculture seems like a natural route, because it allows me to fulfill my parent’s dreams, propel the most promising industry segment of the country, solve the problems of marginalized populace, and also make a significant impact to my country’s economy.

“Information and communication have always mattered in agriculture. Ever since people have grown crops, raised livestock, and caught fish, they have sought information from one another. Most [farmers] have long relied on a patchy network of local middlemen, a handful of progressive farmers, and local shop owners to receive decision-critical information, whose reliability, accuracy, and timeliness can have a critical impact on their decision making and therefore livelihood. These are fundamental decisions, such as what price to sell the crop, where to sell (given the numerous fragmented markets), when to harvest, and when to spray pesticides to save the crop (Amit Mehra et all, HuffingtonPost 2010)”

According to a recent study by the UNDP, the potential of agricultural growth in reducing poverty is four times greater than the potential of growth from the other sectors. Nepal is a country where 66% of the population is dependent on agriculture. Yet, agro products contribute to a mere 39% in GDP (Source: http://www.doanepal.gov.np/ne/). With an aspiration to solve agriculture related problems in Nepal I started exploring avenues to combine technology with agriculture. An exploratory study of ICT based agriculture inspired me to look at number of key questions such as:

·         Can mobile technologies be leveraged to foster innovation and youth participation in agriculture?

·         What are the potentials ICT on farmer’s knowledge, agricultural practices, and welfare?

·         How do the results transfer to different regions in Africa and Asia?

Keeping these questions in mind I came with an idea of an android app, ‘SmartKrishi’ (English translation: Smart Agriculture), the first of its kind in Nepal. It is available to download in Google Play store. Currently 14000 instances of this app have been downloaded. I have also tried to leverage the power of social media. Social media such as Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/smartagroapp/?ref=hl) have provided us a platform to help answer questions we have been getting. Our Facebook engagement analytics for the past one month is shown below.

SmartKrishi serves as a platform for farmers and any citizens interested in agriculture to get information with a single touch. On a Wi-Fi/3G connection the app automatically syncs with the latest information on SmartKrishi database and in places with no internet connectivity the contents can be easily viewed in offline mode. This eliminate the need of having 24 hrs internet connection in technologically challenged societies. In addition farmers can send their location and can get the location-specific crops and farming techniques. One can also tailor the app to follow and subscribe to the latest news, market prices of agricultural and horticultural products. The content of the app is moderated by a team of researchers in USA and Nepal, experienced farmers, agricultural experts and scientists. In summary our app achieves the following objectives:

Accuracy: Agriculture is a field that demands accuracy. A seed will only be able to grow in a particular weather situations, soil, pesticides etc.  With this app accurate and location specific information can be obtained.

Lowering the costs of information: Cost cutting way of providing information on agriculture to the rural parts of the nation. No manual teaching and training required.

Reducing the transportation costs for the farmers:  Farmers can get connected to the marketplace and gain higher commodity even if they are in the geographically complex societies without having to transport the crops themselves.

Platform for innovation: SmartKrishi facilitates knowledge accumulation and sharing through mobile-based learning. This has recently stimulated youth population in countries like Nepal to take ICT to analogous domains of floriculture and horticulture.

Minimize Digital Divide: Most farmers in the developing world still rely on manual work and labor intensive work in agricultural and farming sector. Loss of crops, diseases, insufficient information associated with traditional agriculture are particularly problematic. With the use of information technology, SmartKrishi shows clear benefits in the efficiency of agricultural management. This will help minimize the gap between technologically advanced nations and underdeveloped regions of the world.

Use of mobile computing: There has recently been an explosion of interest around the application of mobile communication technologies to support developmental initiatives in developing countries. This is partly because cell phone ownership in those parts of the world has seen tremendous increase. Our eventual goal is to make native android, iOS and windows apps in agriculture to provide first hand agricultural information and provide this capabilities to the citizens of African countries as well.

No malnutrition:

With Smart Krishi citizens and farmers can create a network of farmers working collectively to increase agricultural production in the country. By stimulating healthy and scientific farming we hope to increase the production thereby reduce the overall cost of health and organic food. That also means everyone can afford nutritious foods.

I am applying to GFAR program due to the program’s strength in agricultural research. I have a strong interest in attending the event like this (which will be my first ever event) and share my experience upon m return to Nepal. I have thoroughly thought through this problem domain and it just seems like a natural route for me to attend this event and share my knowledge in the event. I hope to become the first member of my family to attend an event like this. In the future I hope to commercialize farming, create more production and more job opportunities, and operationalize it to lead to agro-based research work in rural parts of Nepal. My recent focus of the app is scaling to the other mobile devices across different operating systems and to cheap mobile phones, establish research practices in agricultural domain and transfer the technology from Nepal to India and other parts of Africa.

My own personal experiences and life challenges aspire me to come up with a mobile solution in agriculture. I am so thankful for the hardships I have endured and how they have helped me identify ICT in agriculture for the betterment of my parents, my countrymen and entire agro based nations of Asia and Africa. I hope to be selected to attend this event.

This blog post is part of the GCARD3 Youth blogpost applications. The content, structure and grammar is at the discretion of the author only.