Friday, March 28, 2014

An agricultural atlas for Vietnam

Many projects I am currently working on, have a study site in Vietnam. Having detailed geographical data therefore becomes crucial. I just got access to the data to the agricultural atlas of Vietnam produced by my supervisor.

Find whole atlas and the pdf of each map here.

If you need the data, don't hesitate to contact me!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Setting new frontiers in Earth monitoring : or how new satellites are going to change our lifes

This morning i was discussing small scale study area maps with a colleague of mine. Very soon the discussion drifted to high resolution images. He draw my attention to this New York times article about a start-up that is about to launch low cost satellites, to collect new images of Earth.

Unlike the satellite that we use today, it will be possible to have an image of every location on earth every day, allowing to monitor earth on a daily base.  In addition, the satellite will fly on lower elevation than the current satellites, so give us more detailed images.

Why is this so cool?
Yes i can do more accurate maps of my study sites, but I wonder if anyone is really waiting for them. But the big revolution is that this technology allows to count trees or check how rivers are changing on a daily base. It means that one can monitor for example deforestation in the Amazon daily and intervene faster if there is illegal logging takes place, or monitor floods and plan rescue in a more efficient way, or support precision agriculture in the developed world... And God knows, maybe we would have found the missing Malaysian aircraft faster?

In any case i am looking forward to see this new product on market hoping that it will be easily accessible for science in the developing world, so that we can operationalize the content of these images for the poor.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Icow : how the kenyan mobile revolution also contributes to agricultural developement

M-pesa, the mobile payment system invented by Safaricom already years ago, allows to send money by mobile phone. It has revolutionized how people make transfers, in particular for women with micro credits. With m-pesa, they can directly reimburse their credit as they earn money, they don't need to keep it in the house until the payment day and in this way they avoid that their husbands use the money for something else (drinking)...

The developed world, that did not know about this technologies until recently, is now realizing that Africa has developed its own solutions and every day is pushing them further, as the above extract from the Swiss news shows.
The latest Kenyan mobile phone innovation is icow, a system that sends you weekly tricks and tips about dairy farming. It also allows you to register your cow and get personalized information such as reminder about which cow needs to vaccinates. Finally it also allows you to get the phone number of your nearest vet.

A pretty cool mobile phone solution that does not even need a smartphone... maybe one could use this information for crowd sourcing

Monday, March 10, 2014

Get the crowd to save the world! and a reflection on crowd-sourcing in the developing world

I recently discovered that one of my task in my job was to get the geo-wiki for livestock working. A geo-wiki is a platform that allows crowd-sourcing your map. Crowd-sourcing? It means asking people out there to validate your map.
To validate the global land use map, Steffen from IIASA and his team have developed a game, named cropland capture, that shows satellite images and photos to the player who must decide if he sees cropland or not. Land-use maps are usually based on satellite images and use an algorithm to decide what the land use is. So there is always a pretty high chance of an error. Verifying a global land use map is mission impossible for one person, but if the whole world contribute we might get a pretty accurate map quite fast! The game has been a big success, a big parts of the world could be validated.

I had my big doubt about how crowd sourcing could be an option for the developing world. Most of the areas i worked it in Ethiopia had no mobile phone network, so no internet, no electricity so no option to recharge a phone, and a smartphone was an item for the fancy high society. However Kenya is different, it is the place where m-pesa, payment via sms has been invented (a functionality that is yet to be implemented for the Swiss mobile phone networks). Many people have mobile phone coverage, and the leading local telecom provider is providing the already very famous (at least for those who know me) Huawei smart phone that gives you the whole android functionality for about 60 usd. So the problem of crowd-sourcing in Kenya is not a technological one, but a motivational one : how can we convince farmers to log on an app and pay for the internet connection in order to report to us about their number of cows, the way the hold them or how they manage manure? The idea is to offer something to the farmers for free for which they usually have to pay for, for example the weather forecast. A farmer can consult the official weather forecast for free if he reports to us about some of this farm practices. An idea that we are going to test in Kenya this year. Not later this week end, i was introduced to the techie community in Nairobi, the young freaks setting new frontiers of how new technologies can improve the lives in the developing worlds... a crowd we definitely will want to involve into the project.

Also the team is working on a phone app which geo-references your landscape pictures from your fields or trips. These pictures are then used in the game to validate the land-use map and give us a better picture of what is really happening on the ground.

This is definitely an amazingly fascinating part of my job which will take some time until it is fully set up! In the meantime wanna help us to save the world and validate maps? play crop capture here!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Fishing on Mount Kenya?

Recently, I joined a trip with some friends of mine to Mount Kenya. Yes, you know that's the place where people go to see elephants. But I usually do things a bit differently, so i went to see fish.

Some years ago, the Kenyan government has acknowledged that it is impossible to control protected forest areas, such as in Mount Kenya. Instead of having lots of policemen facing the mission impossible to make sure that no tree is cut, the Kenyan government rent out licenses to use the forest to communities, when the use is sustainable and does not threaten the natural resources base of the forest. In this way, the communities "own the forest" if there is illegal use, they will report to the authority. It is a quite smart way to manage forests in a developing country...

The first trout fish community, the ponds are covered to avoid that birds "go easy fishing"
Trout fish farming is such an non-competing use of the forest. Trout fish can be farmed in ponds that are colder than 18 degrees in which there is always running fresh water. Hence river water from Mount Kenya can be diverted through the ponds before joining the river again. In this manner there is no impact on this downstream communities.

A pond for growing trout fish, it has always running water, otherwise the fish dies
We visited two communities. The first has a fully functioning closed system that allows to produce the whole cycle from the fish fingerling to the trout fish for the market. This community even is testing an asexual breed, which is produced by a research center and which should grow faster than the normal fish.

This video shows a demonstration how to catch the "parent fish" and extract the eggs. The egg extraction needs a lot of experience, as a fish can only be out of water for less than 1 minutes and 30  seconds. These eggs are then kept indoor, in a small basin until they become fish fingerling. From there, they are kept in small wooden boxes that have running water, until they are big enough to survive in a small pond. From the small pond they will be moved to the big pond. A trout fish needs 10 months to come to maturity. A parent fish can produce eggs for about 2 -3 years before it needs to be replaced.
The extracted fish eggs
The fish fingerling, kept inside
Basin for fingerlings before they are big enough for the big ponds
This community also produces it own fish food with fish leftover, soy flour they buy on the market and other farm residues.

The machine to make fish food
The second community we visited, just has three functioning ponds, but run out of capital to construct other ponds, or the infrastructure to produce their food or the fish fingerling. The community of 25 farmers from the surrounding villages got the licence for the forest, and produce little fish but they have big plans. Next to a complete infrastructure, they also want to create an eco-lodge where people can enjoy the forest and come fishing. As trout fish has a huge potential and there is a market deficit, this is a promising project. 
The ponds of the second community, can yield at 6000 marketable fishes
Any idea where this community could get funds to develop further? then let me know!

The community members presenting their projects