Tue | Dec 7, 2021

Markland Murphy |Using technology in agriculture to navigate climate change

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2021 | 12:16 AM
File 
Fruits and vegetables on display at the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show.
File Fruits and vegetables on display at the annual Denbigh Agricultural Show.
Markland Murphy
Markland Murphy
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Climate change has already begun to change the way we live and will continue to drastically threaten our livelihoods for the foreseeable future.

Extreme climate events continue to wreak havoc on Jamaica’s farming and agriculture sector. The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in Jamaica, the impact of extreme climate events on agricultural produce accounts for almost 20 per cent of the total impact on the country. For any country, those are fearful odds given the importance of agriculture to ensuring food security and sustainability. In response, the Government of Jamaica has made climate-change adaptation one of the major outcomes of the Vision 2030 National Development Plan for the country.

Our response to the challenges facing the agriculture sector and climate change must be transformational through the use of science and technology to improve agricultural practices. An aspect of science, data science, otherwise known as precision agriculture, is increasingly becoming an important element to guide agricultural practices in many other countries; from the acquisition of historical data of farm operations, including the monitoring of the behaviour of plants and animals, to remote daily monitoring of farm activities through to the accurate prediction of farm yield. This precision agriculture must be normalised into Jamaica’s everyday farming activities. Therefore, the role of the College of Agriculture, Science and Education must be to demonstrate and actively train and retrain farmers to improve their practices with sound scientific information and technological tools.

APP DEVELOPED

Forging ahead with the innovation of technological tools, the college, through its research efforts, in collaboration with the Alligator Head Foundation developed the FarmAssist Mobile App, designed and developed by me. The core purpose of the app is to serve as a support tool for farm supervisors such as extension service officers and farmers. It provides the users with real-time weather information and forecasting to apply adaptation strategies against the effects of climate change. Also, incorporating a localised farmers’ almanac, the app offers further assistance in the farmer’s daily farm operations decision-making from pre-harvesting to post-harvesting activities.

APP FUNCTIONS

FarmAssist is currently available free in the Google Playstore and provides the following functionalities:

• Captures current temperature, maximum and minimum temperature, sunset and sunrise times, windspeed and humidity.

• Temperature reading in Celsius, Fahrenheit, and Kelvin

• Five-day forecasting

• Graphical representation of temperature variance

• Specified farm location

• McDonald’s Farmers’ Almanac with seasonal planting and animal requirements

• Calendar view of farming activities.

Although these ventures are expensive and require extensive research effort, the ability to provide this and other tools to the local farmers for free or at minimal cost is critical to the growth and development of the agricultural sector, which when transformed will be important to our very existence. Therefore, the formation of partnerships with stakeholders such as the Alligator Head Foundation presents the college with a permanent platform to continue the development of research projects that are beneficial to small farmers.

SMALL FARMERS VULNERABLE

Small farmers, in the Jamaican context, are those farmers who operate farms on less than five acres of land. These small farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change mainly because they still depend on rain-fed agriculture, cultivate relatively small areas, and lack the financial and technical support to invest in more climate-smart agriculture practices. These factors make this group prime targets for cost effective, sustainable, and immediate intervention. Our small farmers are finding it harder to consistently and sustainably grow enough food to meet increasing demand. Our interventions at this level must focus on creating logical long-term solutions to impact the overall agriculture sector and sustain the livelihoods of hard-working local farmers.

Our team has already commenced discussions with the Rural Agriculture Development Agency with the aim of the app serving as a support tool for the agency’s extension officers as well as ensuring the uniformity and consistency of the knowledge-based support offered by its cadre of extension officers.

There are already advanced plans to develop FarmAssist Pro, which will have embedded in its operations disease detection and management, the integration of the Jamaica Agriculture Market Information System to ascertain the farm gate and market prices across parishes and markets, and a discussion forum for future data-science analysis.

Much support is needed to continue this effort from both the public and private sector, however, as stated by one thoughtful author, “it is by tiny steps we ascend to the stars”, therefore, we are stepping in the right direction.

- Markland Murphy, is the research coordinator and acting director of Special Projects at CASE, he is also the developer of FarmAssist Mobile App. Send feedback to markland.murphy@case.edu.jm.