Transforming agriculture in Mexico

A freely available mobile application developed by IIASA researchers in collaboration with the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIMMYT), is providing farmers in Mexico with tutorials and expert advice to improve their farming practices and crop yields.

The Agrotutor application is an output of the Ecosystem Services and Management Program’s Technological Portfolios and Modeling Techniques for Sustainable Intensification Project. The current version of the application allows farmers to create a user profile and register land parcels and the crops grown on them at different periods throughout the season. The app then provides the farmer with timely agronomical recommendations, potential yield, and financial benchmarking information, as well as historical and forecasted weather data.

The application uses the mobile phone’s global positioning system (GPS) to geo-reference the registered land parcel, and gives the farmer access to very high-resolution Google satellite imagery of the land parcel in question. The farmer can delineate the parcels and introduce basic information such as the crop and cultivar planted (including maturity type and ideal climate), and the planting date. It is also possible to record CIMMYT-promoted parcel technologies and all agronomical activities performed, such as fertilization, irrigation, and pest management, as well as additional detail on these activities including costs, products used, and dosages applied.

Once the basic information and geo-location of a land parcel have been registered, the application provides crop and location-specific information representing large data sets and calculations in a simplified way. This includes the outputs of the IIASA Environmental Policy Integrated Climate (EPIC) crop model, which show potential performance (yield) for five different years for irrigated and non-irrigated areas. Based on extensive CIMMYT ground data, anonymous benchmarking information regarding costs, income, utility, and performance (yield), as well as current, forecasted, and historical weather information, are also included. In addition to these outputs, a series of windows of opportunity are shown in calendar format, where the application suggests optimal periods to execute agronomical activities (e.g., fertilization) on the selected parcels by taking into account growing degree days (from planting date onwards), as well as selected maturity and ideal climate for the specified cultivar. Farmers can also access links to tailor made materials previously developed by CIMMYT, such as tutorials for best agronomical practices.

CIMMYT IIASA Agrotutor mobile application.

Since the application was built in a modular way, future possibilities for expansion include delivering a larger variety of data such as market and financial information with the ultimate goal being to eventually provide farmers with a full Decision Support System. Such a system would use crowdsourced information obtained through the mobile application, which could then be combined with data from price and market forecast models. These models (currently running at IIASA) would in turn give the farmer predicted buying/selling information for a given period or season. By coupling such forecasting systems with machine learning, crop modeling could enhance the results even further, thus simultaneously providing farmers with accurate and reliable technical and financial information. These additional features will be explored during the second phase of the project in 2018.