Agricultural production in the Caribbean is constrained by limited access to up-to-date, local information. However, recent ICT developments in the region have created e-solutions to these challenges, improving crop production and reducing pests and diseases as well as post-harvest losses.
In the Caribbean, a crop forecasting system addresses supply and demand challenges in the agricultural sector by providing information about produce availability. The web-based platform, created by Grenada’s Marketing and National Importing Board (MNIB), is updated via field officers who visit farms and capture various information about production capacity. The farm data collected includes location, irrigation and water sources, crops planted (quantity and harvesting period), and pesticide and fertiliser use (frequency and type i.e. organic or chemical). In less than 2 years since its launch, approximately 25% (565) of MNIB’s 2,100 registered farmers are using the system.
One of the key challenges to improving agricultural production in the region is a lack of timely and reliable information, a Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and CTA publication reports. “The crop forecasting system allows for better planning of agriculture production – we now know what the market will accept and can properly advise farmers on what to plant or not, based on the number of farmers we have in the system and what they are planting,” MNIB’s CEO Ruel Edwards explains. “The system has also improved efficiency in the agriculture sector as we can now undertake improved targeted procurement and marketing, monitor and track production, and advise on what, when and where produce is coming from, and thus improve farmers’ profitability by matching demand and supply,” he adds.
Before the crop forecasting platform was established, typical monthly produce loss was approximately 10% of purchases, but this figure has now been reduced to under 3%. In the long-term, MNIB would like to have at least 80% of its farmers using the system and to even expand it to other islands. To help achieve this target, the agency is working towards improving the system’s user-friendliness and reporting capability. “Eventually, we would like to refine and integrate this into a single regional platform and, thus far, we have brought Barbados on board,” Edwards reveals.
One of the key challenges to improving agricultural production in the region is a lack of timely and reliable information
Barbados entrepreneurs are also pushing ahead with their own ICT applications. One of the most successful is CropGuard, a web and mobile pest management system initially developed for CTA’s 2014 AgriHack Talent Caribbean programme. Following the competition, where CropGuard were awarded €4,000 for second place, developers Troy Weekes and Leonard Seale from the Addis Alem Cooperative Society Limited launched the app in 2015. Today, 200 farmers use the system informed by 60 agricultural officers and experts, including pathologists and entomologists. “CropGuard is a user-friendly, intuitive ICT knowledge-sharing platform designed to enhance agricultural production by bringing together stakeholders from across the value chain to solve pest and disease problems before they manifest and spread,” Weekes explains.
Losses from pests and diseases usually account for 30-40% of production but, by using CropGuard, farmers receive pre-emptive information about potential threats and have real-time access to an experienced network of specialists, who can assist in diagnosing pests and diseases, and provide advice to address the situation. Previously, farmers would have had to wait between 3 and 21 days to obtain a credible pest and/or disease diagnosis; CropGuard takes just a few hours. With this information Weekes explains that, “Farmers can react quickly and suppliers also have access to insights on product demand.” This allows them to ensure they have adequate stocks to meet changing demands as a result of pests or diseases. Weekes continues, “Aggregated information from the system is shared with researchers, regulators and policymakers, and training of farmers [on system use] remains ongoing. We have also recently concluded research in Jamaica and are working on consolidating this information to create a database of content for a wider Caribbean audience.”