Tuesday, July 17, 2018
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Bits & Bytes e-zine, Vol2 #4: The Rada Open-Data Project

image1 The Agricultural and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sectors have been identified to play key roles in Jamaica’s economic growth as outlined in the 2013 Memorandum of Economic and Financial Policies (MOEF). Rightfully so, these sectors are probably the most feasible options to offer the greatest entrepreneurial opportunities to the widest group of citizens with the least barriers of entry. Both are very diversified, integrated and scalable. They are more open and receptive to youths, neither gender biased nor capital intensive; therefore making them the most attractive areas for potential investments and economic activities.

For many, the business of agriculture is associated with the production and sale of produce (crops and livestock) and value added products. However, this is only a single view of one of the biggest global industry. In Jamaica’s context, Agriculture contributes approximately six percent (6%) to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annually and is also a major employer of labor. In order to successfully play the pivotal role anticipated, the Agricultural sector will have to rely on the enabling capabilities of ICTs to realize meaningful national and economic development.

The Agricultural Open Data Project provides the framework to accomplish the required synergies between agriculture and ICT to commence the process of future economic development of the sector. The project emanated from ongoing partnership since 2009 through the Code Sprint competition event of the annual Slashroots conference. The agricultural datasets were provided from theRural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries databases. It was realized from the prototype applications (apps) developed in the competitions that the datasets possess far greater value to a wider user community than in their current use.

Since then work continued on an engaging relationship between Agriculture, Academia and the local Technology Community to benefit from the collective wealth of data, knowledge, research resources and technical expertise resident in these constituents. Consultations continued between Mona School of Business and Management (MSBM) and RADA resulting in closer examination of the datasets; extracting, modeling and reviewing information in multiple views. It was agreed that the richness of the datasets needed to be explored beyond its present scope; and as such a 3-day design thinking workshop was held in March 2013. The workshop brought together sector stakeholders to participate in brainstorming solutions to mitigate the challenges of Agriculture in Jamaica. The workshop provided substantial input to pursue future initiatives. One very important such issue is the scourge of Praedial Larceny.

image2 The challenge of Praedial Larceny (PL) or the stealing of agricultural produce has been plaguing the agricultural sector for years and the measures/systems put in place to curb it have not yielded the expected levels of success. In order to increase the likelihood of effectiveness, this project employed a multi-stakeholder approach; incorporating technology, educational institutions and key government agricultural organizations to develop solutions that will lead to the arrest, containment and eventual reduction of PL.

On June 20, 2013, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between RADA and MSBM for the Open Data in Agriculture partnership. This also signaled the commencement of the Code-for-the Caribbean Fellowship Programme (CftC); a six-month project under which the open data initiative was implemented. The partnership served as a pilot for a broader regional initiative of CftC, which seeks to partner with innovative government agencies, such as RADA, to improve agility, openness and the adoption of a participatory approach to building solutions. Under the CftC fellowship program, teams of technologists are embedded within government institutions to enable a new approach to creating and delivering services that embraces new technologies. The process centers around an iterative citizen-centered approach to service design, and produces software and tools that are built for re-use across government.

There is increasing evidence that Open Data presents tremendous opportunities to be a catalyst for value added use of government data to enable varied stakeholder interests. The project explored some ways in which ICTs can utilize datasets of agricultural data; in one instance, crops, livestock and prices stored in RADA’s Agri-Business Information System (ABIS) and MOAF’s Jamaica Agricultural Marketing Information System (JAMIS) respectively were made available for use.

During the six-month exercise, three (3) Fellows were embedded and introduced to RADA’s organizational operations, interviewing and interacting with key personnel in Management, Field Operations, Technical Services and ICT. Through this integration they experienced the functional activities of field work as well as direct exchanges with farmers and other agricultural stakeholders. This opportunity fostered and enabled a greater appreciation for “Extension work” as it exposed them to the realities and challenges encountered by Extension Officers, Farmers, the Police and representative organizations such as JAS. These experiences were integral in guiding the design and development process for the solution ideas that resulted from the project.

At the project closeout event held on March 15, 2014; two (2) solutions were demonstrated; HarvestAPI and CLIP SMS. HarvestAPI is an open-data platform for sharing agriculture sector information. This Application Programming Interface (API) was developed using Open source software, such as PostgresSQL, Python, Apache and Django. CLIP is an SMS app developed to assist the Police to query HarvestAPI to access information on the Agricultural Produce receipt book and farmer related information. The intended stakeholder community users include; the Police (JCF), software developers, business operators and other interests in and along the agriculture value chain desirous of improving their business decision-making process and identifying investment opportunities.

This phase of the project involved RADA, MSBM,Slashroots Foundations, Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries (MOAF), Jamaica Agricultural Society (JAS) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF).

Written By: Brad Clarke – ICT Manager, RADA


Category: Bits & Bytes