Category Archives: International Development

Harvesting the Agricultural Potential of Drones

Source: MIT Technology Review, 2016

The world’s food system sits at a precarious intersection. Rising temperatures and erratic rainfall, political instability and conflict throughout the developing world, and rapid movement of people to urban hotspots are just some of the global trends threatening global agricultural production today. Experts predict the global population will increase to 9.7 billion people by 2050, greatly increasing the demand for food and pressure on an already constrained global food supply.

At the same time, biological advancement has enabled the production of genetically engineered crops resistant to pests and droughts, promising future resilience from climate change. And governments around the world have committed to increasing agricultural production through legislation and agricultural investment plans.

Today, scientists, agricultural experts, government officials, and farmers are preoccupied with tackling one of the biggest questions: how can we maximize global agricultural production to feed a growing world?

Solutions to this problem were presented at the ICT4Ag conference in Washington, DC where technology geeks and agricultural experts had some truly innovative answers: mobile phone apps, Uber for tractors, and drones. Yep, you read that right: the same technology used in military strikes and modern warfare is being applied to Rwanda’s maize fields and Benin’s cashew farms.

At first it might be difficult to make the connection between drones and agriculture. Established 12,000 years ago, agriculture is literally one of the oldest practices of humankind. Drones, on the other hand, emerged only in the last century, with commercial drones gaining popularity over the past ten years. Growing food requires basics inputs – good soil, water, and the sun. Drone technology draws from new advancements like remote sensing, high-optic cameras, and gyro-stabilization (the technology behind how drones are able to smoothly fly through the air).

However, agriculture and drones are not as distinct as one might think. Rather, the two concepts are important complements to each other. With strained natural resources and a growing global population, we can no longer afford for agriculture to be a practice of the past. Could drones be a missing piece in the global yield gap puzzle by maximizing effective agricultural practices and empowering farmers?

The Perks of Drones in the Sky

Drones have the potential to transform the ways smallholder and low-resourced farmers in developing countries make key decisions with better data.

Drones can pinpoint areas where crops are damaged faster and more efficiently than a farmer or extension agent could do through field monitoring or random sampling. Farmers are able to identify areas of concern earlier and more accurately, which in turn increases the likelihood of success from efforts like additional fertilizer or pesticides. Identifying problem areas in a field early is critical in ensuring a good crop yield.

Drones can help farmers save significant costs by targeting an intervention on areas that need it most. Instead of applying pesticides or fertilizer to an entire field, farmers can reduce costs (and health risks) by focusing on one problematic part. Farmers also save money by knowing exactly where they should plant certain crops in their field. Differences in slope or soil quality even within a field can produce different yields, so farmers can maximize their investment by planting more effectively. Some estimates find drones can reduce planting costs by 85 percent.

What’s even more effective is that when layered with weather and climatic information, drones can help low resourced farmers anticipate rainy or dry periods and make better decisions regarding pesticides, watering, and fertilizer use. Not only is that great for the pocketbook but also for the environment.

Drones can also help farmers secure land rights over their fields, by providing clear images of field boundaries. This benefit is especially important for female farmers who face a higher risk of land grabbing by male family members or the community.

Drones help empower smallholder farmers with more information about their fields. When farmers can see the images and maps captured from drones, they gain a new perspective of their livelihoods. Farmers gain power when they have more information and can make more informed decisions.

Current Challenges

Using drones to increase agricultural productivity for low resourced farmers is not without its challenges.

One challenge is, unsurprisingly, cost. Although the price has decreased substantially over the past few years, drone services still prove prohibitively expensive for most smallholder farmers in developing countries to afford. In some emerging economies, medium to large scale farmers are currently helping facilitate demand for drone services. Elsewhere, groups of smallholder firms are banding together to create aggregate demand for these services.

Government drone regulations can also restrict the use of drones for agricultural purposes. Approximately 77% of African countries lack drone regulations. This can make it very difficult for organizations promoting drone use in agriculture.

Progress Towards a Drone-Friendly Future in Agriculture

So what does a world with drones look like? Turns out, we already have a pretty good idea. The agricultural drone market is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2024 as governmental policies become more favorable and services expand.

Development organizations like We Robotics and RTI International currently provide drone services to low resourced farmers around the world. Investors are already taking notice of drone entrepreneurs like Ranveer Chandra, a former Microsoft researcher, who is developing a system using drones and soil sensors to improve soil quality of smallholder farmers. And attention is also focusing on startups like Kenya’s SunCulture, an agro-solar organization that sells drip irrigation systems and uses drones to determine the placement of their systems.

A future of drones and shrinking yield gaps in agricultural fields around the world is on the horizon. Now we just need to ensure that these services are accessible and affordable for the smallholder farmer to use.

Emily is a second year Masters of Public Policy candidate studying agriculture policy and international development.

The Other Election: Choosing Earth’s Governor

Source: United Nations

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) skipped the first World Humanitarian Summit in May. The summit produced groundbreaking agreements on a range of humanitarian issues. However, expert opinions are mixed on how effective these changes will be, due to the absence of the permanent five (P5.)

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was resolute. “The absence of these leaders from this meeting does not provide an excuse for inaction,” he said. “They have a unique responsibility to pursue peace and stability, and to support the most vulnerable.” However, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon’s last day in office is December 31, and his tenure is almost over; the election for his successor is already underway.

Continue reading

Can WhatsApp be used for policy innovations in developing countries?

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/87244355@N00/376781013/

When I was traveling through the gorgeous and remote Kerala Backwaters in India last year, I met a bright teenage entrepreneur named Amit, from the local fishing village. He owns three canoes, which he uses as taxis to transport locals and tourists from village to village. This story is as old as time, except for one thing: it was 2015, and his business depended entirely on the popular messaging app WhatsApp.

Amit uses WhatsApp to coordinate with his employees (other young men from his village), who operate his canoes in the area. He also pushes messages about canoe rates and locations to a growing list of customers (he believes he can find enough customers to invest in more canoes). Even as I finished my canoe ride, Amit made sure that we were connected — just in case I had friends coming to the area. “Hey bro, make sure you add me on WhatsApp.” Always hustling.

Continue reading

Sanford LAC presentation event

Logo_SanfordLAC

On Tuesday 24th the Sanford Latin American and Caribbean Group (Sanford LAC) held a reception to formally launch the student group to the Sanford Community.

The passionate discussions we had in our first meetings about what is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as with the region’s immigrants in the United States, led us to create a permanent group that could work as a platform for all members of the Sanford Community to promote academic, social, cultural or career initiatives related to the region.

Sanford LAC, which is led by both MPP and MIDP students, is the first student organization with a Latin American and Caribbean focus at Sanford. Currently, we are 23 students from eight different countries: Mexico, Chile, Peru, Dominican Republic, Brazil, USA, France, and Ecuador.

The ties between the Sanford School of Public Policy and Latin America and the Caribbean are strong. Not only are there 19 students from this region currently pursuing their master’s degree at Sanford, but also one of the first projects of the Duke Center for International Development was to serve as the Secretariat for the Central American Peace Commission in the late 1980s. The Commission successfully drafted the Arias Peace Plan to unite the region.

Throughout the years, Sanford faculty have provided advice and conducted studies around the region on different topics including economic, social, and environmental policy. So far more than 90 students from Latin America and the Caribbean have graduated from Sanford and more students will come.

Sanford LAC’s objective is to build on these strong foundations and bring Sanford, Latin America, and the Caribbean closer to each other. In order to achieve this objective, our mission is to:

Lead and support academic, career, outreach, cultural, and social efforts of the Sanford community focused on Latin America and the Caribbean in order to strengthen collaboration and engagement between the region and Sanford.

In addition, we have defined 4 strategic lines. The first one is Academic Affairs. We would like to increase the discussion about Latin American and Caribbean issues by creating discussion groups between faculty and students, bringing speakers, and participating in conferences. For example, on February 14th some members of Sanford LAC participated in two panels at the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

The second strategic line is Networking and Career Outreach. We would like to increase networking opportunities with Duke Alumni interested in the region. We have also started to create partnerships with other Latino groups at Duke, such as the Latino Student Council, and the Working Group of the Environment in Latin America (WGELA).

The third strategic line is Branding Sanford in LAC and vice versa. We would like to support incoming Sanford students from the region. We also want to promote Sanford in LAC and attract talented students.

Finally, our fourth strategic line is Community and Integration. We would like to organize cultural events, such as potlucks and Spanish conversation clubs. At the same time we want to get involved in community activities with local Latino population.

We kindly want to express our gratitude to Dean Kelly Brownell, Prof. Fernando Fernholz, the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and to the MPP and MIDP staff who have supported us during this process.We extend the invitation to join Sanford LAC to all the members of the Sanford community interested in any way in this region.

Sanford LAC 2

Follow us on twitter: @Sanford_LAC and/or join us on Facebook

Our Winter 2015 Print Journal is Here!

Our new print edition is out! After months of hard work, the Sanford Journal of Public Policy is proud to announce that our Winter 2015 print journal is ready to go, and we couldn’t be more proud of it.

Sanford Journal Spring 2015 Print Journal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Continue reading

Children Orphaned by HIV/AIDS in China Deserve Your Attention

“If everyone can live for others, others will live for you. I have no regret.” –Dr. Gao Yaojie

Eight years ago, the short documentary “the Blood of Yingzhou District” introduced me and many people in mainland China and around the world to an extremely vulnerable group—the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS in China. The film presents the stories of several of these children. Some lost their parents. Others contracted the disease themselves. Gao Jun, at the age of 3, was isolated in the village—even his relatives were concerned about allowing their children to play with him.

The issues raised significant public attention in those days. However, in the past two years, it seems the initial outrage caused by the issue has faded. Exposure on media is rarely seen. The government has yet to develop a clear national action plan or policy for protecting and empowering the children impacted by the disease. Thus, I believe in the need for increased attention on children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

Image from the documentary “The Blood of Yingzhou District”

Continue reading