Most of the research results published by agricultural researchers in academic journals are in English. As a result, the vast majority of farmers and extension workers in developing countries – who do not speak English or often do not have access to libraries – cannot retrieve these research results. Information that would otherwise be useful to farmers is not reaching its potential beneficiaries.
To build a bridge between agricultural research and farmers, Philip Parker and his team at INSEAD, a business graduate school with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, is developing Toto Agriculture with partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grameen Foundation, Farmer Voice Radio and Farm Radio International. Toto Agriculture is an online collection of localised agriculture-related information such as weather forecasts, soil health, planting tips and pest management. It is an agricultural content engine that uses more than 750 sources of agricultural knowledge to produce on-demand information in as many as 60 different formats.
Most importantly, the combination of structured and unstructured data available in various formats – text, audio, video, calendar, charts and maps – on Toto Agriculture has also been translated into over 100 languages. Farmers, community knowledge and extension workers, rural radio hosts and agricultural call centres can use Toto Agriculture from any desktop computer with an internet connection and extract data for any of the 180 countries represented. It is even possible to filter some data themes by state or province or other smaller entities.
Entering www.totoagriculture.org in your browser’s address bar loads the website homepage, known as the dashboard. The column on the left side is divided into agricultural data themes such as weather, soil, plants, livestock and aquaculture. Each category has links leading to specific data and formats. Clicking on a link opens a new page (the column will stay) where data attributes, such as language, localisation or size of package, are set to refine the search.
The dashboard’s functions were developed with rural radio and agricultural extension call centres in mind. It is used as an interface to search and display data that will help prepare radio programmes (a requirement by Farmer Voice Radio) or give timely information to operators at a call centre (a requirement by Grameen Foundation).
Country-specific versions of the dashboard can be accessed using a sub-domain. In Uganda, for example, people using Toto Agriculture are advised to use the country’s sub-domain site: http://uganda.totoagriculture.org. Replace Uganda with any other country name to access localised content available in different dialects. Localised content is marked by an icon representing the country’s flag in the left column on a sub-domain site. The globe icon points to information relevant to any world region.
The crop calendars are one of the most popular tools. A radio station can open the interactive calendar and see what should be the most relevant topic to discuss at a particular time of the year. Colours are used to distinguish between phases of the planting season for the major crops: clicking on one of the colours will bring up a window with additional information and tips for that particular phase.
The dashboard can be also used to prepare interactive voice response systems, send videos to smartphones or share tips via SMS.
The universal app
Partners of the project are developing an app for Android devices to help community knowledge workers disseminate the necessary information in the field. The app will carry only the agricultural information specific to the country in which the community worker is active in order to save storage space.
Preliminary tests made during the development of the app, currently in its beta phase, have shown that weather data and the soil diagnostic tool were popular. The device’s GPS enables users to extract the geographical coordinates of their location to find the best weather polling station and share accurate weather forecasts. The app also features a step-by-step guide to soil type identification that also shows useful tips and factsheets.
Toto Agriculture is a work in progress. Its development is guided by its partners’ requirements, and at the moment anyone can use the dashboard. People are encouraged to volunteer by providing or validating translations: just click the volunteer button on any page and choose what you would like to contribute. In terms of adding or removing content, only partners have access to the engine, and you first need to contact the developers to receive the necessary permission. A 2.0 version is currently being developed.
G8 – Open Data for Agriculture website
Toto Agriculture homepage