Use of Mobile Communication Technology and Information Flow for Crop Yield and ROI Optimization
Pakistan’s high potential for producing food is an internationally established fact. However, agriculture sector in Pakistan is facing significant challenges. Some of these challenges are:
i. Shortage of water and power.
ii. Rising cost of inputs.
iii. Extremely high post harvest wastage of farm produce.
Fortunately, progress in mobile communication and information technology has the potential to provide significant support to farmers in surmounting these challenges. Some of the technologies that can be leveraged include:
i. Mobile communication and smart consumer devices like phones, pdas etc.
ii. Internet and cloud computing.
iii. Cost effective satellite imaging and image processing.
iv. Plant growth modeling and simulation.
v. Knowledge synthesis and data mining.
Integrated use of these technologies can lead to optimization of individual farmer’s operations as well as accurate estimation of total farm production at a fine grain spatial as well as temporal resolution. These fine grain estimates can be used to minimize waste by optimizing use of current supply chain infrastructure as well as accurately identifying gaps in this infrastructure.
A number of efforts have been made to leverage mobile communication to assist farmers. These efforts have had mixed results. A detailed literature search on this topic is beyond the scope of this document. One of the key short comings in these efforts has been a lack of analysis and understanding of farmers’ end-to-end information flow requirements. This document describes farmers’ information flow needs for optimizing crop yield and ROI. Major steps in farming, farmer’s information needs for each step, sources of information, challenges and bottlenecks in receiving information and technologies for addressing these challenges are described.
2. Major Steps in Farming
A farmer takes following eight major steps from crop selection to harvesting:
i. Crop Selection
ii. Land Preparation
iii. Seed Selection
iv. Seed Sowing
vi. Crop Growth
3. Farmers’ Sources of information
Farmers typically rely on following sources of information:
i. Agriculture department of provincial government.
ii. Fellow farmers.
iii. Field agents of seed, pesticide and fertilizer companies.
iv. TV and radio programs.
4. Challenges and Roadblocks in Information Flow
Farmers typically face following challenges in receiving timely and personalized information:
i. Farmer has to travel to offices of agricultural department for information. This is a costly and time consuming activity. Availability of government officials is unpredictable.
ii. Radio or TV programs are broadcast at a predefined schedule which may or may not be convenient for the farmer. Information should be available to the farmer on demand and should be personalized to his needs. Majority of farmers in villages either do not have access to newspapers or lack of education makes their access limited.
iii. Most of the information broadcast may not be specific to a farmer’s needs.
iv. Fellow farmers don’t have best or most up to date knowledge.
v. Field agents of pesticide or seed companies are unable to pay frequent and timely visits to all farmers.
5. Use of Mobile Communication and Information Technologies
A number of information flow problems can be resolved by leveraging information technology to maintain comprehensive personalized knowledge about a farmer’s operations, simulation and modeling tools and two way asynchronous communications between farmers and the IT system using mobile communication technologies.
Cost of these technologies has decreased beyond expectation. Pakistan has one of the least expensive mobile communication networks in the world. Reasonably priced intelligent mobile devices are capable of taking good quality images and sending these to experts for diagnosis. Large scale computation for decision making is available all over the world at very affordable prices. Plant growth modeling and simulation technology is maturing.
6. Farmers’ Information Needs
Farmers’ information needs for each of these steps are presented next.
6.1 Crop Selection
- Comparative pricing of different crops. For some crops government releases prices of the crop at the time of seeding.
- Market demand and sale potential of the crop.
- Budget required for the cultivation of each crop.
- Feasibility of the crop considering climate and quality of land.
- Crop productivity compared with other alternatives.
- Affects of any disease in previous crop and steps needed to minimize this impact.
- Fertilization needed to bring land to its normal fertility depending upon the previous crops and fertilization used.
- Layout and design of the field with respect to crop and efficient irrigation.
- Latest techniques for leveling the fields and their cost.
- Price and quantity needed per acre
- Average yield and Sprout to sown ratio.
- Suitability to particular area and climate.
- Water requirement.
- Resistance to diseases.
- Distribution offices.
- Appropriate time to sow seed.
- Weather information at sowing time.
- Best method for the sowing of seeds.
- Seed sowing depth.
- Critical time for irrigation.
- Amount of water to be given to the plants.
- Frequency of irrigation.
- Number of plants per unit of are. At times more than optimum number of seeds sprout. Farmers have to reduce density for healthy growth of other plants.
- Average growth rate of the crop in normal conditions.
- Comparison of crop growth rate, leaf size, crop color etc. with expected growth for given conditions and input.
- Interventions needed to maintain expected growth.
- Frequency, quantity and method for fertilization.
- Proper time, frequency and method for plowing.
- Proper time, frequency and method for weeding.
- Expected pest and virus attacks, symptoms of such attacks, precautionary measure that can be taken in advance to avoid these attacks, immediate actions including pesticide to be used to kill pests and viruses, quantity of pesticide be used per acre, most effective method for pesticide spray, avoid health issues related to pesticide spray.
- Proper time and method for harvesting.
- Comparative market rates.
- Proper crop storage.
- Cost of transportation.
6.2 Land Preparation
6.3 Seed Selection
6.4 Seed Sowing
6.6 Crop Growth
Pakistan’s agriculture sector is ripe for leveraging information technology and mobile communication to optimize crop yield and ROI. Fortunately, several advances in technology have taken place internationally as well as in Pakistan. Key challenge we face is to develop comprehensive understanding of farmers’ information flow needs and develop integrated solutions that provide information to farmers, when and where needed, at their convenience. Success of this initiative strongly depends upon receiving accurate and timely information from farmers. The IT system should be capable of efficient information flow management, knowledge synthesis and information delivery to the farmer. This will be possible only if farmers perceive value in information this system provides them.