Hackers design innovative solutions to feed the world in a changing climate

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Latin American hackers design innovative solutions to feed the world in a changing climate during a Hackathon on the sidelines of the COP20. Photo: K.Feijóo (CIAT)
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Dec 18, 2014

by

Jose Luis Urrea and Vanessa Meadu (CCAFS)

Regions

Winning teams in CGIAR hackathon use open data to design practical tools

Climate change puts agriculture and farming at risk, threatening some of the most vulnerable people in the world. But decades of agricultural research and climate data are a rich resource, if only someone could unlock their potential. A climate change, agriculture and food security Hackathon challenged innovators to develop solutions to a more food-secure future – and some of Latin America and the Carribbean’s most talented minds answered the call.

The Hackathon was organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), with the support of the CGIAR Consortium, and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) on the sidelines of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru.

The winning innovation tackled a crucial problem: helping farmers more accurately predict when to plant their crops each season. The prototype tool, developed by a group of enthusiastic young people from Colombia called “GeoMelódicos”, is an easy to use, web-based platform to plan seasonal crops and planting dates. It analyses information from different agricultural and climatic databases, effectively replacing trusty farmers’ almanacs, which are now out of date due to climate change.

The tool combines data on historical production and climate trends, historical planting dates with current climate trends and short-term weather forecasts, to generate more accurate information about optimal planting dates for different crops and locations.

Latin American hackers design innovative solutions to feed the world in a changing climate during a Hackathon on the sidelines of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima, Peru, The winning innovation was the result of a two-day gathering at the International Potato Center (CIP) campus in Lima, which gathered teams from countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, including Peru and Jamaica. The Hackathon challenged developers to synthesize available datasets and turn them into useful insights and information for farmers in the region better manage climate variability. The final products were developed in less than 24 hours.

Ten years ago, very few people had a cellphone,” said Andy Jarvis, a senior scientist with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which contributed some of its datasets.

Nowadays, everybody has one, even in rural areas. The problem is that there are no apps to help producers understand how to deal with the challenges of climate change. The Hackathon helped kickstart innovations to close that gap.”

The winning proposal also includes the possibility to send critical information such as forecasts, planting and harvest dates by SMS, in order to reach the most basic cellphones. Louis Reymondin, a senior scientist from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and one of the judges, lauded the proposal. He explained:

They had a very strong and clear idea, and the source code is flawless. It’s a very functional and useful prototype with great possibilities for scaling-up.”

The second-place winners were the Peruvian team “Via Soluciones” with a cellphone app that tackles water scarcity, a challenge for farmers around the world. Called Illapa, after the Quechua goddess of water, the solution could help farmers make better decisions about how much water to use for irrigating different crops. The prototype application combines climate data and information from a tool that directly senses a plant’s water use, to calculate water needs in real-time. This could be a life-saver for farmers in times of drought.

Winners of the Hackathon received their prize from Andy Jarvis and Ana LoboguerreroBoth winners and runner-ups received their awards during a workshop for policy makers and researchers from Latin America, who need better tools and approaches for planning and decision making in agriculture under climate change. “What we saw was really promising,” said Edwin Rojas, Director of Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food of Guatemala , who attended the workshop. “These are the kinds of innovations that we need to systematize information and make informed decisions to address food insecurity and climate change issues in the agricultural sector,” he said.

The winners received a prize of USD $3,000 and will discuss opportunities to finalize the development of the product. Meanwhile, the runner-ups received a prize of USD $2,000. Both proposals will be showcased in the fourth International Conference on Climate Services held in Montevideo Uruguay, on December 10-12, 2014.

View the video of the #Hackathon CCAFS COP20

While the UN climate change process continues to sideline issues related to agriculture, practical solutions are urgently needed.

Negotiators are struggling to hammer out a new political deal on climate change, but we have demonstrated that  we have the knowledge and solutions are within our reach,” said Ana Maria Loboguerrero Rodriguez, who leads the CCAFS Latin America research program. “Action is needed now, and scientists are ready.”

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