What do farmers think about big data?

Picture copyright Adobe Stock Image ekkasit919

Big data is said to have the potential to revolutionize agriculture. But will all farmers be able to use and benefit from those large amounts of data from sensors or satellites ? Scientists Fleming et al. focused on the Australian grain industry and identified two contrasting viewpoints – 1 – big data is for big farms and 2 – big data is for everyone. They conclude that the development of big data in Australian agriculture and beyond necessitates addressing key issues around access and infrastructure, opportunities and risks and equality of benefits.

Identifying economically viable uses of biochar from participatory trials in Ghana

Picture copyright Steiner et al.

Urban agriculture in West African cities is characterized by fast crop rotations and high inputs and outputs on relatively small land areas. Scientists Steiner et al. used a novel approach to evaluate the economic realities of farmers in a semi-participatory trial where farmers both produced and applied biochar in their soils. They showed that the use of biochar prompted farmers to improve their plot management. They assess that labor considerations and the availability of feedstock determine mainly farmers technology for biochar production.

The challenges of protected cultivation for smallholders in sub-Saharan Africa

Picture copyright Martin, CIRAD

Vegetable production in sub-Saharan Africa faces numerous agronomic constraints that must be overcome to feed the increasing population and to fight malnutrition. Scientists Nordey et al. reviewed low-tech protected cultivation techniques using soil and/or plant covers, affordable to smallholders. They reckon that such techniques are promising. However, they are not always suitable and need to be combined with other methods to ensure adequate pest control. Their profitability is dependent upon market requirements and product prices.

Agricultural research with farmer-generated data

Picture copyright Steinke et al.

Participatory methods may increase the impact of agricultural research, but raise questions about scientific rigor. Scientists Steinke et al. show that involving high numbers of farmers can generate valid and meaningful results, which bring new opportunities in formal research, especially in remote locations or marginal environments.

The benefits of biochar research on development

Picture copyright Edmundo Barrios

Biochar research activities are associated to socio-economic development and environmental status of countries as reviewed by scientists Mehmmod et al. The authors reveal that particularly low developed countries are focusing their biochar related research on agronomic topics, which indicates their efforts to reduce hunger and poverty. Yet, improving local research capacities and encouraging synergies across scientific disciplines and countries are crucial to foster development of sustainable agronomy in less developed countries.

A new mechanism for funding farmer environmental subsidies

Picture copyright Rescia et al.

Agricultural intensification and farm abandonment in Europe have induced dramatic social, economic and ecological issues. Sustainable agricultural management may solve these issues by providing a viable economic margin and preserving biodiversity. Rescia et al. propose a mechanism of monetary compensation for farmers maintaining or restoring non-agricultural lands in their farms. Using this funding mechanism, conservation of biodiversity would no longer constitute a factor limiting profitability for farmers, but would rather complement their earnings.

A method to help farmers escape the poverty trap

Picture copyright CAO et al.

Escaping the poverty trap and finding win-win paths that protect both the environment and economic development are challenging issues. Scientists Cao et al. propose a feasible plan to improve both the environment and life in Yanan City. The method involves the construction of terraced fields, establishment of fruit tree orchards, implementation of grazing restrictions, and ecological migration. This strategy exemplifies appropriate sustainable governance and development for other ecologically fragile regions.

The comeback of perennial grains in Malawi

Picture copyright ROGE et al.

In Malawi, the rise of pigeonpea and cassava production has created conflicts. Farmers in Malawi cut pigeonpea and sorghum to extend production for more than one growing season. They also grow cassava, a perennial food crop that has a proven track record of abating hunger. Rogé et al. show that research is needed to evaluate trade-offs of ratooned systems, to further develop markets for smallholder farmers, and to breed ratoon crops with yield stability and resistance to diseases and pests.

Psychological control of farm biosecurity

Picture copyright MANKAD

Biosecurity in agricuture and food is a major issue but there is few knowledge on the behaviour and actions of farmers on biosecurity. Mankad reviewed attitudes concerning biosecurity risk, the influence of social incentives and social norms on individual behaviour, and consideration of emotional and cognitive biases in assessing risk. He found that human adoption of and adherence to biosecurity practices is influenced by psychosocial factors.

Using smartphones for agricultural research

Picture copyright DEHNEN-SCHMUTZ et al.

Smartphones are an important part of daily life in all sections of society. They are also increasingly used for citizen science projects. Dehnen-Schmutz et al. investigate how farmers in Britain and France use smartphones for farm management. They found that farmers were very supportive of citizen science projects in agricultural research and highly willing to participate in such projects.