Leaving Elegance to the Tailor: Leveraging digital tools for smart decision-support in agro-ecological systems
“Having experienced the extreme hardship associated with crude farming during my childhood, and current deficiencies of national extension systems in sub-Saharan Africa, I am persuaded that deployment and adoption of digital agricultural tools is a promising pathway to lift millions of farmers out of poverty,” says Dr. Julius Adewopo, 2019 laureate of the Agropolis Fondation Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Young Promising Scientist.
Dr. Adewopo has been diversifying his scientific research interests and activities in order to contribute in addressing major challenges related to management of agroecosystems, on one hand, and development of digital tools for agronomic decision-support in smallholder farming systems, on the other hand. His research seeks to generate data-driven evidence regarding sustainability of intensively managed agroecosystems. He has also been leading new approaches to collect data on crop yield and commodity prices, which are both critical variables for early warning on food security.
“Fortunately, we now have the basic tools and technologies, so I keenly seek to transform the realities of farmers by empowering them to improve their livelihoods through enhanced access to tools, information, and resources needed to optimize their farm-level returns,” adds Dr. Adewopo.
During his doctoral studies at the University of Florida, the Nigeria-born scientist pioneered research on the long-term (>22 years) effects of land-use change on soil carbon in subtropical agroecosystems. His novel, system-focused research integrates methods for in-situ assessment of changes in soil carbon stocks, soil CO2 efflux, and the stability of soil carbon under land-use management gradient. At the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), he has led geospatial aspects of a project focused on innovative co-development and co-validation of smartphone-based tools for digital agronomic decision-support among smallholder maize farmers in Nigeria, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.
“Also, I have led multi-locational application of drones in smallholder maize farms to assess its potential for rapid mapping of farm-land area and in-season grain yield and variability estimation,” notes Dr. Adewopo. Finally, in collaboration with European Commission Joint Research Center (EC-JRC), he developed an unprecedented smartphone-based, daily food-price crowdsourcing application from 750 pilot-volunteers in Nigeria which has generated 100,000 data-points within 6-months, covering diverse market-segments in the region of interest.
Together with his colleagues, Dr. Adewopo’s scientific endeavors continue to generate impacts by contributing towards the improvement of farmers’ livelihoods, and strengthening of national extension delivery systems across multiple national frontiers. He is advancing the use of digital tools to rapidly collect and integrate rich geo-referenced data to improve system-level decision-support for smallholder sub-Saharan African farmers. “For instance, my research on the application of UAV-derived geospatial data for yield and agronomic assessment, coupled with real-time commodity price crowdsourcing, is considered as top-priority for farmers and commodity aggregators who often make trade deals/contracts based on unreliable yield expectation and non-transparent prices,” he argues.
In the next two to five years, Dr. Adewopo and his team anticipates that their intensive data-driven insights will support rapid and timely agricultural data collection that can empower governments and institutions to deploy relevant interventions such as measures to minimize market-related shocks, based on anticipated magnitude of yield variability prior to the season’s end.
Dr. Julius Adewopo is an Associate GeoData Scientist at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Kigali, Rwanda.