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Researchers Improve Farmer-Centered Forecasting App

Published: Friday, 14 Apr 2017
Author: Ali Hussain
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Forward-thinking researchers Clare Sullivan and Johnson Semoka, two grantees funded through the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation, are piloting a new and improved version of the mobile soil management tool known as SoilDoc, first developed through the Earth Institute (EI) at Columbia University with support from the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Renamed SoilDoc + Climate, the updated app incorporates data related to climate forecasts that gives farmers more information from which to make decisions. Sullivan, of EI, and Semoka, of Tanzania's Sokoine University of Agriculture, are currently managing the project as it undergoes field testing in the Morogoro, Junbae and Mbeya regions of Tanzania.

By harnessing data from the built-in GPS function, or generating data from manually-entered GPS coordinates, the app provides the user with information about historical precipitation trends, and the effects of El Nino and La Nina global temperature patterns.

Designed to be used by agricultural extension service providers, agro-input dealers, and importers, Sullivan said the app can improve income generation, and ultimately enhance food security and resiliency. By integrating weather and soil conditions to better predict the seasonal changes, SoilDoc + Climate can help reduce risks and maximize investments for farmers and extension workers.

"Decisions based on site-specific soil conditions and weather forecasts will provide cost-effective use of inputs, such as fertilizer, and higher returns on investment, combined with surplus production," Sullivan said.

So, how does it work?

SoilDoc + Climate diagnoses soil in a farmer's field using mini-versions of laboratory meters to perform a suite of tests that assess nutrients and soil physical properties. All the instruments are battery powered and provide on-the-spot tailored results and recommendations, even in the most remote locations.

Designed to be used with 7-inch tablets, the app works on Android devices and is available through the Google Play store.

Housed within MSU's department of International Studies and Programs, the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation addresses critical pressures on the world's food supply by creating, testing and enabling the scaling of solutions. GCFSI takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire food system and considers major environmental, economic and social trends, as well as workforce development needs that will impact future food security. Launched in 2012, GCFSI is one of eight development labs established through the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development.