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Campus in Abu Dhabi helps make farming easier with new radio technology

Exchange information system to aid farmers in remote areas connect with experts in their own langauges

Professor Philip Parker
Image Credit: Abdel-Krim Kallouche/Gulf News
Professor Philip Parker says farmers can receive information via FM radio or SMS if equippedwith mobile phones.
Gulf News

Abu Dhabi An exciting new system of radio information deployment for smallholder farmers across the globe has been developed at the INSEAD campus in Abu Dhabi.

Called the Dashboard system, the project will enable farmers in remote areas in developing countries to get all kinds of agri-information in their own language.

The Dashboard is being launched by the Farmers Voice Radio (FVR), an initiative funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — in tandem with Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra) — to deliver useful information to smallholder farmers in Africa and remote areas in other developing countries.

This new system will receive inquiries from farmers and convey information to them in their own language, including advice from subject matter experts.

The Dashboard project is being funded by INSEAD, one of the world’s leading graduate business schools with a campus in Abu Dhabi, along with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is currently financing the development of the IT platform; INSEAD also provides matching support in kind, and Professor Parker directs the project on a pro-bono basis.

“This is the largest system of its kind and most of the development was done by our team here in Abu Dhabi,” says Professor Philip Parker, chair of Management Science, INSEAD.

The persons involved in the project at the Abu Dhabi campus include its development Leader, Abdul Ali, programmers Hein Soe Latt, and Zaw Moe Sann.

A truly global effort, Ali coordinates implementation activities in Africa and the Indian sub-continent, and additional persons working on the project located in Europe, North America and Asia.

The system’s aim is to provide the farmers — in their local dialects — with useful information, facts, best practices and advice from developed countries.

The Dashboard was created to allow any country in the world the opportunity to develop a treasure-trove of information that is local or which can be quickly localised.

It is now being implemented in Malawi and Uganda, and is expected to be applied in Ghana, Zimbabwe, India, Mali and Bangladesh soon.

“Remote areas farmers do not speak international languages and no materials have been created for this segment of the population,” Professor Parker said.

“For many, the Dashboard is a ‘starter kit’ to bridge the gap and accelerate the process of creating knowledge platforms applicable to the world’s poorest farmers.”

Access to information

The dashboard gives farmers access to information important to their activities such as local weather reports, types of soil, plant types, agricultural diseases relevant to their area as well as farming tips.

“The system offers many plant tips that are universal in nature and local entities can then edit or modify the content to best meet the requirements of the local farmer, in his own language,” Professor Parker explained.

The Dashboard aggregates information from many sources and experts around the world and is poised to be of great benefit.

The amount of farming knowledge currently varies from one country to another, and often, there is minimal or no existing data available to local farmers and their communities.

The system is being used by rural community radio stations in Malawi, for example, and by other stations that reach remote areas, like the Grameen Foundation in Uganda.

The radio stations use the data from Dashboard for weather reports and agriculture tips.

The system is not designed to replace traditional agricultural extensions that might involve lab tests but rather to complement efforts of getting specialised information to the poorest regions of the world.

Professor Parker says farmers can receive information via FM radio or SMS if equipped with mobile phones.

So, when a call for help is received from a farmer with particular questions, the Dashboard can be referred to for available information and for more complex questions experts from around the world will be consulted.

The “offline system” when implemented in a rural radio station costs about $1,000 (Dh3,670).

Local radio operators will be trained on the system usage and application free of charge.