Thursday, October 12, 2017

Agriculture, Finance, and Technology: Communicating with Youth

A guest op/ed from 2017 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Akinwumi Adesina--President, African Development Bank Group and 2010 recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award.

Digital technology has been accelerating and improving communications in Africa for over 20 years. In that time Africans have been able to leapfrog the costly landline phase, resulting in 500 million Africans currently having access to mobile phones. Mobile technologies generated 6.7% of Africa’s GDP and 3.8 million jobs in 2015. There will be 750 million African users in 2025, and falling device prices will mean that at least 350 million of these will be smart phone users.

Africa’s “iGDP” (which measures the internet’s contribution to overall GDP) is low, at 1.1%, around half the levels in other emerging economies. But this should rise to at least 5% by 2025, matching that of leading economies such as Sweden and the United Kingdom. However, if the internet achieves the same kind of scale and impact as the spread of mobile phones, iGDP in Africa could account for as much as $300 billion of total GDP, with internet access leaping to 600 million by 2025.

This is impressive growth, but the impact of digital technology on agriculture has been spectacular, and the mobile phone has also become a highly versatile agricultural implement with a large number of uses: in weather prediction and insurance systems, agricultural extension services, and providing access to information about optimal and timely applications of crop protection or fertilizer. It has also been welcomed and valued by farmers as enhancing better and quicker access to crop and commodity prices, new products, services, and market conditions.

More generally, digital technology, with its gender neutral applications, has significant professional benefits for the entire production value chain—by improving accountability and transparency, and for empowering women and young people for whom barriers to adoption have in the past often impeded their potential and contribution.

I took advantage of the benefits of well-applied digital technology during my experience as Agriculture Minister in Nigeria when we developed and used electronic wallet systems to deliver farm input support to farmers through electronic vouchers on mobile phones. Nigeria became the first country globally to do so.

The impact was massive. Over four years, about 15 million farmers were reached. Food production expanded by more than 21 million tonnes over the period. I was particularly pleased that 2.5 million women farmers benefitted. This all occurred by putting a digital technology--enhancing simple but vital communications--at the service of the requirement to reduce the risk of making loans to farmers.

And agriculture as a business is poised to become a much more attractive proposition for young people and entrepreneurs, thanks to the communications revolution that digital technology has produced. The African Development Bank is ready with a slew of programmes and projects to assist them.

In particular, the African Development Bank and the World Bank plan to invest $700 million through the programme “Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation,” part of the Feed Africa strategy for the scaling up of agricultural technologies to reach millions of farmers in Africa in the next ten years.

Communications are critical features in the way some of the bank’s key programmes will operate, including the Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa that will seek out women’s enterprises in order to address the financing gap and access challenges faced by women operating in agricultural value chains in Africa.

Jobs for Youth in Africa 2016–2025 aims to harness Africa’s demographic dividend to drive robust and inclusive economic growth and will help generate some 25 million jobs and positively affect 50 million young people over the next decade. It will do this by creating better-tailored opportunities for self-employment and entrepreneurship, strengthening human capital, and creating durable labour market linkages.

The ENABLE Youth programme will provide access to capital and capacity to young “Agripreneurs” to create 300,000 agribusinesses and 1.5 million jobs in 30 countries across Africa, with an estimated investment of $15 billion over the next five years.

The Bank’s Boost Africa initiative, supported by the European Investment Bank and the European Commission, will support business incubation facilities and create a new class of young business leaders who will become job creators and not job seekers. It will support 3,000 new SMEs; create 25,000 direct jobs and 100,000 indirect jobs; and improve environmental, social, and governance practices in African SMEs. 

"Agriculture is becoming very cool."

Digital communications will be vital for the success of these four key policies, but the image of agriculture itself needs wholesale revision. Agriculture is seen as old and traditional, as a hard and difficult labour that leads nowhere but subsistence.

But the potential of agriculture for economic revival and job creation is largely untapped. With population growth and rapid urbanization, the food and agribusiness industry in Africa is projected to grow to a demand of $1 trillion by 2030 from $330 billion. By 2050, Africa will have the combined population of China and India today. Consumer spending is projected to double to $1.4 trillion by 2020 and triple to $2.1 trillion by 2025, with business-to-business spending to rise to $3.5 trillion by 2025.

The African Development Bank knows that there will be jobs galore in the African agricultural sector in coming years. Innovation and new investments will create a snowball effect as agriculture modernises and aligns with industrial infrastructure and processes to conserve added value and new jobs for the continent.

These are just some of the reasons why agriculture is starting to be seen as a business for innovation, new technology, and investment. Communications will play a significant role in all stages of this growth in potential and in the bank’s efforts to find and apply the funds that will realise Africa’s economic future. The sector is going to create the next wave of African business successes even as investments chase the profits that will be made by the early entrepreneurs and “agripreneurs.”

Let’s face it. With potential outcomes like that, agriculture is about to lose its dusty, dowdy image. Agriculture is becoming very cool.

top pic from dw.com; bottom design from sfdb.org

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Harvest Time's Annual Makeover

I drove back to the old home farm a couple of times during the past few weeks, and as the brown corn stalks disappeared and the combine dust settled, I watched a changing portrait of the traditional Midwest harvest unfold. It’s like modern photography. You click a quick pic of the grandkids and look down at your smartphone and wonder—when did this happen? Where did the film, viewfinder, and manual focus go? 

You drive the Midwest country roads at harvest time and think—where are the smoke billowing tractors, the teenagers hauling in grain wagons, the livestock in the fields?

This is not a lament, just an observation. Tech and economics have digitally enhanced the traditional Grant Wood farm scenes, and as Cronkite said, “That’s the way it is.”

 
As you cruise the gravel roads, the first thing you notice is the lack of farms. A country section that included three or four traditional farms—two-story house, barn, hog house, shed—now has one or two at most. Fewer farm kids wave as they carry feed buckets to the chicken coop; a family milk cow rarely stands near the barn chewing its cud; and those skinny dogs that used to shoot out of the lanes to chase your car as you drove by are now sitting passively in suburban yards contained by "invisible fences."
Fields have an altered tinge to them too. Combines look like Star Wars military equipment, and grain is augured into huge semi trailer trucks. You don’t see folks out in the elements so often. Not many farmers with padded coveralls and ear-flap hats sit on cabless tractors as they lean into a November wind and try to stay warm from the heat radiating out of the canvas heat-houser. With companies developing robotic machines, you might eventually need to go to a farmer’s computer control room in his office to see a human.

Animals also make fewer outdoor appearances. Some cattle still forage in the harvested fields for dropped ears of corn, but even in Iowa, the hog capital of the world, a resident can drive the roads for weeks without seeing a Wilbur, Babe, or Porky. Pigs used to root in the fields until the snows came, but most have moved into confinement motels—bit crowded, but the room service is attractive, and even hogs appreciate central heating. No comments from them about the indoor toilets.

It might even be tough to find a pitchfork on a Photoshopped farm. Watered-down manure gets hauled to those freshly harvested fields in gigantic honey wagons, and the “fecal gold” gets injected into the ground. I remember pulling conventional manure spreaders that flung the solids and early liquid tanks that sprayed the contents. With an ill-advised turn and a sudden wind gust, the tractor driver could be fertilized as well.
When the autumn sun sets over barren corn stubble and a harvest moon reflects light off metal grain bins, today's farmers take pride in completing a harvest on some of the most bountiful land in the world. The modern portrait of their labors includes hard work aided by technological advances and improved production techniques. But most don’t get the "pleasure" of walking cornfields to pick up the many ears of corn a rusty four-row picker left. Few get to haul bales of hay to cattle in the pasture or break the thin ice that coats their water tanks. And modern farmers miss out on the stimulation you get when you peel your frozen hands from the steering wheel of a John Deere 4020 after driving it from the field in below-freezing temperatures.
I get nostalgic for those harvest days, but I’m starting to think it would have been nice to digitally enhance some of those images way back then. Maybe if I could have airbrushed out my static-filled transistor radio and digitally added a heated cab and sound system to my tractor, I might have been more in tune as I hauled corn and hummed along with the Stones singing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.” 
by dan gogerty (top pic from archivesattic.com and bottom pic from etsy.com)

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Guest Blog: Humanize Yourself!


By: Carl K Winter, Ph.D.

Vice Chair and Extension Food Toxicologist, Department of Food Science and Technology, University of California, Davis

2012 Borlaug CAST Communications Award Winner 


Successful public communication of complicated and contentious scientific issues such as GMOs or pesticide residues in food requires a lot of hard work. While the science of risk communication continues to evolve and best risk communication practices have been identified, development of effective science-based messages pitched at the appropriate level for public consumption is still a daunting task for most scientists.

Scientists may be further frustrated when their carefully constructed public messages fall on deaf ears. In many cases, the intended audience may simply not be receptive to the messenger, regardless of the message, due to preconceived biases relating to the affiliation and/or point of view of the messenger. Academic scientists, for example, may be perceived to suffer from the “ivory tower” syndrome and may be considered overly biased based upon their sources of research funding. Industry scientists may be perceived as being primarily profit motivated and less interested in contributing to the public good. Government scientists are often characterized as bureaucrats more interested in process than public input. How can scientists overcome such biases to contribute their points of view in a public discussion?

Let’s consider an analogy from the field of chemistry. If a chemist wishes to conduct a specific chemical reaction, he/she needs to assemble all of the appropriate reagents, solvents, substrates, etc., in the proper vessel under the appropriate conditions (i.e., pH, temperature, pressure). Simply getting everything together in the proper place may not be sufficient to cause the reaction to begin, however. One must provide a nudge, in the form of applying additional energy, before the reaction can proceed.  In chemistry, this is called the “energy of activation.”

(photo from: americanscientist.org)
For the scientist communicating to the public about a contentious topic, the development of carefully crafted scientific messages is analogous to the effort made by the chemist to assemble all of the components needed for a chemical reaction. Unless, however, the scientist overcomes the “energy of activation” barrier, the audience may remain skeptical and may not be receptive to the message.

If you are a scientist wishing to overcome this activation energy barrier, a great way to do this is to humanize yourself. Scientists are often trained to “let the science do the talking” (translated: “it’s OK to be boring”), so anything you can do to break down this stereotype might increase your audience’s receptivity to your message. Personalize your experiences and tell stories about yourself. Demonstrate your passion for your chosen profession and explain your motivations for doing what you are doing. Illustrate to the audience that you, too, are a member of the community and may have common experiences with many in the audience such as raising a family, belonging to community organizations, or having specific hobbies.

With respect to the topic being discussed, be comfortable sharing your own attitudes and personal behaviors (i.e., Do you seek out organic foods? Are you worried about eating GMOs? Do you feed conventional produce to your family members?). Making such efforts to humanize yourself may not change how the audience ultimately responds to your messages, but it may increase the likelihood that the audience will hear you out or wish to engage with you further down the road.

Good luck!