Climate Edge

Bringing Data to Action

We are developing low cost weather stations and integrated decision support software to provide farmers with tailored decision support.

Use Case

The biggest question facing farmers working in tropical agriculture is how to maintain a stable and sufficient income from crop production in an era of climatic and economic uncertainty? This is why we have developed the ‘Growth Cycle’. The Growth Cycle uses local level data collection, and big data learning, to provide tailored decision support to farmers. By taking environmental data at a farm level and combining this with socio-economic information and farmer preferences we can present farmers with a range of appropriate management options specific to their circumstance. This approach stems from our ethos that farmers should have the opportunity to not just adapt to climate change but to grow their businesses based on their own values, putting the control back in their hands!

Potential

Agriculture is responsible for the livelihoods of over 1.3 billion people worldwide and climate change is having a major impact on every one of them. The effects are especially devastating in tropical agriculture (600 million people) where weather patterns are less predictable and the ramifications are greater. While there have been improvements in climatic research and adaptation technologies, there is still a lack of information reaching the producers themselves. How does an individual farmer know when their farm conditions are sub-optimal? Or know which conditions they should focus their limited capital? For many the answer is they simply don’t know. This is what the Growth Cycle addresses and the potential benefits to farmers and the whole supply chain are therefore monumental.

Business Case

The technology we are developing can be monetised in two ways; a one off payment for the low-cost weather stations, and a repeat subscription for the decision support software. We intend to drop production costs and therefore price by working at high scale levels, whilst sustaining a profitable business. To make our tools accessible to farmers in initial years we plan to distribute with the help of cooperatives and producer organisations through micro-financing support. We are already working in partnership with Fairtrade International, HRNS, Lutheran World Relief and the CLAC. Our hardware has been trialled on 10 Fairtrade farms, and our software will be trialled on 150 farms with HRNS in 2017. These channels also helps us access larger numbers of farmers, and provides a route to scale.

Objectives:

  1. Significantly reduce the impact of pest and climate related shocks with the farmers using our technology.
  2. Significantly increase income (and other measures of livelihood) of farmers through improved crop production or guided diversification.
  3. Encourage real development through information provision and decision support, to promote farmer independence in the long-term.

Team Climate Edge

London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Ideation stage / Published December 1, 2016 by James Alden

Ideation stage

We haven't been able to rid the laptops completely, but we are still making progress!

Farm data collection workshop in Matagalpa, Nicaragua / Published November 30, 2016 by James Alden

Farm data collection workshop in Matagalpa, Nicaragua

This is a picture from our trip to Nicaragua earlier this year, where we ran a workshop exploring the ways that data collection from individual farms can be used to tailor decision support at a local level.

Does big data mean big progress? / Published November 30, 2016 by James Alden

Does big data mean big progress?

Developing an agricultural system that is both productive and sustainable is one of the most pressing tasks that we collectively face. Unfortunately, breakthroughs seem to be few and far between; demand is growing and the pressures faced by farmers are continuing to worsen. As a result there is a risk that any sign of progress may be heralded as the answer to all our problems. Big Data is a key example. In this blog post we discuss the merits and disadvantages of Big Data and try and pick a path that benefits farmers rather than analysts.

During a press release at Expo Milano 2015, Rabobank presented a fascinating and insightful report that examined the role of data in our farming system.

Rabobank argues that business as usual is simply not a viable option and that innovative solutions must be at the heart of development. Fred van Heyningen (Global Head Food and Agri Banking at Rabobank) explains the need for a ‘smarter food system’ supported by data and technology to be able to begin to tackle these drastic issues:

“A smarter food system is more productive, less wasteful, and more profitable… It combines technology and data to change the way, as well as the speed, at which decisions are made and to optimise the use of resources to produce and deliver the food consumers need and where they need it.”

I believe that the most important message of this report is that Data is used to support farming. Regrettably, in so many cases Big Data becomes the centre of attention, obscuring farmer needs. An example of selling the tool rather than the solution. It is easier to jump on the back of the tremendous progress in the tech industry and directly apply it to farms rather than building integrated solutions from the field up. This is particularly acute for farmers with fewer resources, such as smallholders, who end up being provided with shiny new technology when the biggest gains may be made if they had access to a cheap strimmer rather than a machete.

A major issue that can be perpetuated through a focus on Big Data is the concentration of funds at a high level. Money ends up being poured into teams working to develop new communication systems, new sensors and new analytical methods. Unfortunately, unless they make tangible progress at this high level the support never makes it to a field. Ultimately this increases the cost of farming rather than decreasing it.

Big Data is also not without inherent dangers. An important concern is who owns the data and what is it used for. In the wrong hands data can be used to cut farmers out of a supply chain based on flawed assumptions of future change (similar to the issues observed with flood risk mapping). There is no right answer as to how to manage these privacy concerns and we welcome your opinions in the comments below.

So given these potential pitfalls why do we still believe that Big Data is a necessary component of a farming system that works for farmers, corporations and consumers.The final section of this post highlights just some of the benefits of creating a large database of high resolution data.

First and foremost we believe that Big Data has the potential to work at a small scale. Collecting data enables best practice farming techniques to be tailored to individual farmers. This helps prevent a single adaptation technique, such as shade trees, being touted as the answer for all farmers.

Secondly, the analysis of Big Data can help close the knowledge gaps that currently limit progress. As long as the data is taken in a standardised rigorous manner we can begin to address some of the limitations that currently fill the literature.

A third key benefit is that Big Data can be used to measure success. Without long term, high resolution data on individual farms there is no way of assessing the efficacy of adaptation techniques. This means that currently some adaptation techniques are being promoted in the absence of any evidence that they improve farmer welfare.

The final benefit we wish to highlight is the way Big Data can be used to open the doors to other services to farmers. Currently the use of micro-insurance and micro-lending is limited in the realm of smallholder farmers due to the uncertainty of return. Big Data can be used to help understand this uncertainty and thereby facilitate the use of these vital services.
So does Climate Edge think that Big Data mean Big Progress? We believe that it will, as long as it remains a tool to facilitate progress rather than the destination itself.

Exploring our ideas! / Published November 15, 2016 by James Alden

Exploring our ideas!

James and Paul are exploring how sensors can be used to collect data at a local farm level.

Our Team

  • Paul Baranowski Imperial College, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • James Alden Imperial College London, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Gabriel Bruckner Imperial College, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Our Mission

Climate Edge is a social enterprise developing local data collection and feedback tools to offer tailored information to all members of the tropical agriculture network. We believe that everyone should not only be able to choose the environment they want to live in but also create it.

Our Background

Agriculture is responsible for the livelihoods of over 1.3 billion people worldwide, and climate change is having a major impact on all of them. This is especially devastating in tropical agriculture where weather patterns are less predictable and the ramifications are greater. While there have been improvements in research and adaptation, there is still a lack of information that flows to the producers themselves. How does an individual farmer know when their farm conditions are sub-optimal? Know on which conditions they should focus their limited capital? Or know which adaptations they should apply? For many the answer is they simply don’t know. Climate Edge is developing an innovative Decision Support System that helps producers adapt to Climate Change by measuring, monitoring and advising on how to manage the environmental conditions which influence yield and quality of crops. Our weather stations collect data at farm level and our software integrates multiple sources of data with farmer preferences in order to present appropriate management options. We believe that by using our system, farmers can grow a profitable and stable business.

Our Badges

  • Power Team
    Your team has at least three members
  • Design Lab Experts
    Attended at least one of the weekly TFF Design Lab “office hours” sessions.
  • We Famous
    Your project has been covered by your university or other media outlet
  • Get #Social
    Created team Facebook or Twitter page and attached to team page
  • Fan Club
    You have 100 likes or followers on your team Facebook or Twitter
  • Interior Architect
    Posted three pictures of your team workspace
  • Idea Parkers
    Shared a picture of your teams unique “idea parking”
  • Global Foodies
    Posted three facts about global food issues learned in the Explore mode
  • Insight + Insight + Insight
    Shared three new insights your team formulated in the Define mode
  • On Time, On Target
    Shared your Design Statement created during the Define mode
  • Post-it Fiends
    Shared pics of the chaos of the post-it filled Ideate work mode
  • Brain Food
    In the Ideate intro video, Richard shares an important tip while eating an apple. Share a team-apple-eating pic!
  • Expert Input
    Shared three pieces of expert feedback on your concept
  • GIF Masters
    Shared a GIF of the prototype building frenzy
  • Live Testing
    Shared a video of a user testing your concept
  • Way To Go
    Shared a picture of your plan for iterating your project
  • Etch-A-Sketch
    Shared your logo sketching session on your team blog
  • WE DID IT!!
    Submitted Final Pitch, including videos and concept details
The information contained here represents student project ideas developed as the result of brainstorming activities during Round 1 of the TFF Challenge. It does not represent any final business plans or commercial products.