This is a journey that goes back to 2011. It started off when a group of equally minded university academics from Sri Lanka, Australia, Italy and the USA, felt the desire to use their combined knowledge to solve a challenging problem


Smallholder Farmers

The estimated 500 million smallholder farmers in developing countries are amongst the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people. 80% of them live below the poverty line which has led to a generational cycle of farmers causing self-harm as well as committing suicide. 

This is the basis of our vision, empowering smallholder farmers to create a better life.

We travelled to the rural villages of Sri Lanka to meet the farmers. We listened to their hardships, issues and their hope of receiving a better income at the end of each growing season.

Endless amounts of research uncovered that farmers and many other stakeholders in the agrifood system do not receive accurate, up-to-date or complete information in a format that they can use. Information could be accessed through different channels, but none tailored the information to the individual needs of the farmer and therefore, constraining its usefulness.

With the insights gained through deep research, field trials and projects, this laid the early foundations for WIDYA to develop a technology platform for Smart Agrifood Ecosystems and partner with local organisations to deploy this across farmer communities.


OUR JOURNEY…SO FAR

Canal Digital Agri-Food Ecosystem

Maharashtra, India

2021 – Present

This project is to create a Digital Agri-food Ecosystem in an area irrigated by the 125km Nandur Madhymeshwar canal in Maharashtra, India. This canal system provides irrigation water to 43,000ha of farmland and supports the livelihoods of 55,000 farmers.

Objectives

  • Enhance the water distribution and management to agricultural land to optimize yield for the available water
  • Increase yield through timely crop advisory and introducing good agriculture practices
  • Enhance market linkages through creation of aggregated markets
  • Reduce logistic and transaction costs through data driven planning and efficient coordination

Home Gardening Project

Sri Lanka

2020 

To provide a solution to the fruit and vegetable shortages as a result of the COVID pandemic, Ruhuna University, Sri Lanka and WIDYA partnered to develop a mobile application to support home gardening. It provides general guidelines in organic farming, crop cultivation knowledge, pest and disease control information and a crop calendar. It has a user-friendly UI and supports three languages (English, Sinhala and Tamil), enabling anyone who is interested in growing their own vegetables in their gardens and to be self-sufficient. Based on the demand, information of many new crops were added to support a larger community using the home gardening app. 

Pest and Disease Management Project 

Sri Lanka

2019 – 2020

Crop disorder incidents such as pest and disease attacks are the major cause of crop losses and can adversely affect agriculture production. A novel approach centered on empowering farmers by providing context-specific information via a mobile-based system to identify crop disorders was developed. It also provides guidance to manage the identified crop disorders using recommended control measures. This work overcomes the limitations of existing attempts to use various computing techniques to identify crop disorder incidents. The developed system can identify most crop disorders instantaneously, mitigating the factors that make crop disorder identification complicated. For the rest of the cases, the system provides a mechanism to identify crop disorders with the help of subject experts. 

The artifact was evaluated with a group of paddy farmers in Sri Lanka. The responses of the evaluation study suggest that the system was able to identify 70.8% of the crop disorder incidents reported by the farmers instantaneously and provided them with the relevant control measures on time. The farmers’ perceptions of various usability indicators revealed that they were highly satisfied with the assistance provided by the system. Further, farmers have mentioned that the application of agrochemicals and associated expenses were significantly reduced. In addition, it was also observed that the yield quality and quantity, and overall revenue have increased compared to the previous cultivation seasons. 

Exploring Digital  Extension Models

Telengana, India 

2017

After the Mobile-Based Information System (MBIS) was developed, important processes were developed to support cultivation on ground. One development was creating Package of Practices (PoP) that describe the steps involved and what is required when growing a crop. This information was provided to the farmer via a crop calendar. This extended version of the Mobile-Based Information System (MBIS) was trialled in the State of Telengana, India, at four locations with 1,600 paddy farmers, under the name Gyan Kisan. 

The main objective of the pilot project was to understand how farmers and support staff react to the new technology, support their growing activities, and understand issues on ground.  A qualitative evaluation was carried out to assess the utility of the mobile app.Majority of farmers indicated how useful it can be in their cultivation processes with most able to navigate through the application with ease with a few indicating difficulties. These findings were used to improve the application and a new version of the app was released.

Empowering Farmers: Mobile-Based Information System (MBIS)

Sri Lanka, Australia, Italy & USA

2011 – 2016

An international collaborative research group explored ways to overcome agriculture over-production problems in Sri Lanka where farmers are trapped in a poverty cycle. They are unable to make informed decisions due to lack of access to timely, context-based actionable information to achieve a good revenue. 

MBIS was developed with empowerment attributes in mind. It captures farmers’ decisions such as what and how much to grow, and computes current level of production in real-time. This enables active farmer engagement and informed decision making.

The evaluation of the impact of the MBIS showed a statistically significant positive change in empowerment levels of farmers. The average increase of the empowerment levels for the group because of using the MBIS were; 25% in self-efficacy, 11% in sense of control and 6% in motivation. 

The usage of the MBIS was further analysed by using the logs of various activities farmers carried out on the application. These showed that there was a significant correlation between how farmers used the application and behaviour which is dependent on their motivation, self-belief and ability.

Future technology developments of WIDYA are based on these findings.

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