By Jonathan Sumner, Business Development Director
Today we reached another important milestone in the roll-out of the ACCORD programme. Training of the field agronomists at our programme partners – Coffee Management Services (CMS), began in Nairobi. Led by David Mills and Graham Mills of ACCORD technology partner WeatherSafe, the training will equip the agronomists (and their shiny new laptops!) with a range of tools and skills to support their smallholder coffee farmers.
At the heart of delivering the benefits of ACCORD is the WeatherSafe platform. This software platform brings together the core outputs and benefits of the ACCORD programme in one user-friendly portal. Whilst there are many individual features, the platform enables the agronomists to manage three main activities in support of their farmers: monitoring tree health to target restorative actions at any point in time; managing farmer and field data from field trips and scouting activity; creating and sending targeted messages and crop input advice direct to farmers via SMS.
Each agronomist has easy access to all the fields mapped in their areas, overlaid on satellite imagery that is updated on a weekly basis. Health monitoring analysis provides an overview of the ongoing health of the coffee trees in each individual field, meaning that the agronomist can quickly assess where their help is most needed, and which farmers will benefit from their expertise at any point in time.
The integration of the localised weather forecast data, from the network of weather ground stations, and a database of available inputs such as fertilisers, fungicides or pesticides, then equips the agronomist to make the timely interventions that are at the heart of the ACCORD benefits for farmers. By creating relevant, but short and simple SMS messages in the platform, the agronomist can deliver their advice quickly to the farmer via their mobile phone. And, crucially, that advice is customised to each farmer, or to a group of farmers within a local area that will be impacted by the same local weather patterns or have similar crop health or management needs.
As we work through the training this is where the benefits of ACCORD quickly become apparent to the agronomists. The platform does not supersede them, with their specific local knowledge and hard-won expertise. It is in fact a significant enhancement to that expertise and a powerful new tool in bringing the benefits of satellite technology and data to the frontline of coffee production. It integrates sophisticated data analytics and crop health monitoring with the local knowledge and expertise of the agronomist, to make crop management decisions significantly more effective.
Whenever I make one of these field trips and spend time with the people at the heart of producing this magnificent African coffee, I am struck by just how important the human element is in making this sophisticated technology effective on the ground. The CMS agronomists are that critical human link with the smallholder farmers and their cooperatives, providing access to the expertise and the technology that will make coffee sustainable as a cash crop for rural communities in countries like Kenya.
ACCORD is built around the application of new technologies from space and advanced data science, but without the human element it would remain remote from the day-to-day crop management decisions each smallholder farmer must make. Ensuring the new technology is effective in driving farmer decision-making, facilitating better crop management decisions, requires trust. The individual farmer has to trust in the advice in the SMS messages that they receive from the platform. And this is where the agronomist, with his or her local knowledge and expertise, and the relationships they have built up with the farmers, is that critical human link that helps ACCORD build the trust in the technology as we roll it out as a service to the farmers themselves.
After this week, twelve of those ACCORD agronomists from CMS will be back out in the field with a powerful new tool in their bag, and the ability to project their expertise and advice to thousands of Kenyan coffee farmers, in a far more timely and effective manner than was previously the case. Exciting times!
If you wish to discuss this blog with Jonathan, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org
ACCORD partially funded by the UK Space Agency’s International Partnership Programme through the Global Challenge Research fund.