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Big Data is Helping Small Farms in Africa

By  Victoria Koepnick  on  

Vulnerable farmers in sub-Saharan Africa have to contend with multiple threats to their livelihoods, but thanks to a collaboration between technology providers and one innovative NGO, their crops are now much safer.

Using Earth Observation Technology to Ensure Better Crop Yields

The international nonprofit CABI uses science and technology to solve some of the world’s thorniest problems in agriculture and the environment, and its recent project, the Pest Risk Information Service (PRISE), is bringing big data to small farms in Ghana, Kenya, and Zambia. The service uses earth observation technology, satellite positioning, weather, and pest lifecycle information to forecast the risk of outbreaks including insects, mites, and pathogens.

When farmers receive notifications of a potential outbreak, they can take preventative steps to reduce crop losses and manage risk – ideally ensuring better yields.

A Better Life through Big Data

“Because of the increased income from my farm, my kids can now go to a better school and the life at home has improved because I can provide the basic needs for my family,” Walter Wafula, a farmer in Kenya, told the BBC. Wafula is one of approximately 2,000 farmers currently using the system.

PRISE uses computational and modeling processes to work with disparate data sets. This is done on “JASMIN,” a supercomputer located in Oxfordshire, England that analyzes data streams and issues a pest forecast each week.

Contributors to PRISE include King’s College London, UK Space Agency, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Centre for Environmental Data Analysis. It was through STFC that Quobyte got involved, supplying the software storage infrastructure for JASMIN to ensure the environment can support the data-heavy workflow and present a timely forecast.

Quobyte Scalability for Increased Output and Improved Accuracy

Quobyte’s Data Center File System provides a massively scalable, fault-tolerant, high-speed storage infrastructure. Databases and sophisticated analytics such as those used by PRISE are no challenge for JASMIN and Quobyte, which can scale to thousands of servers and hundreds of petabytes.

PRISE, which today is able to issue forecasts a week or more in advance, will roll out in more countries early next year, and there are plans to further bolster the service. The system will accordingly collect data from several additional countries, including crowdsourced data from the field – literally, from the fields, supplied by farmers – to increase output and improve accuracy. Quobyte is confident the storage infrastructure can grow in size by the planned tenfold and beyond without any extra burden on administrators.

Worldwide, crop losses from pests and diseases are an estimated 40 percent, according to the UK Telegraph. By alerting farmers to take simple precautions, spray a pesticide, adjust irrigation, identify a disease, big data has the ability to impact not only the subsistence of individual farmers and their families, but to impact world hunger too. As temperatures rise and drought conditions increase due to global climate change, farmers will likely encounter new threats, new pests, and new diseases, which makes information even more critical moving forward.

Quobyte is sincerely grateful to our colleagues at STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory for the opportunity to collaborate on this project that has demonstrably improved the lives of thousands of people, and will do so for years to come.

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Written by

Victoria is the VP, Marketing for Quobyte. She continues to be living the dream of bringing hot new data storage technologies and products to market.