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International analytics award goes to CGIAR centers for sustainable agriculture tools

The 2020 IAAA award recognizes groundbreaking data systems and tools helping more than 150,000 farmers in Mexico.

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A researcher demonstrates the use of the AgroTutor app on a mobile phone. (Photo: Francisco Alarcón/CIMMYT)
A researcher demonstrates the use of the AgroTutor app on a mobile phone. (Photo: Francisco Alarcón/CIMMYT)

While technology and data analysis have revolutionized farming in high-income countries, farmers in low-income nations have often been left out. New tools developed by CGIAR centers are narrowing the digital divide for smallholder farmers. These tools are increasingly gaining international notice beyond the field of agriculture, as a recent international award attests.

The 2020 Innovative Applications in Analytics Award (IAAA) was awarded to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). Their tools, which help farmers to increase productivity, use more sustainable practices and access markets, topped bids from international technology companies and universities with projects applied to various fields.

“The award from this collaboration highlights the strengths of bringing together our research centers under One CGIAR,” said Daniel Jiménez, an Alliance scientist who was part of the winning team. “It shows that we can collaborate and compete at the highest level when it comes to applying science to global challenges.”

CIMMYT, CIAT and the IIASA won with their ‘Integrated Analytics for Sustainable Agriculture in Latin America’ projects. Finalists included projects focused on a wide range of analytics tools used in pricing, optimizing gas transmission, taxi guidance and management of hospital discharges.

A farmer in Mexico uses the AgroTutor application in the field. (Photo: Francisco Alarcón/CIMMYT)
A farmer in Mexico uses the AgroTutor application in the field. (Photo: Francisco Alarcón/CIMMYT)

“The IAAA award emphasizes novelty and creativity in analytics applications along with real-world impact,” said Pallav Chhaochhria, Director of Equities Trading at Citigroup and co-chair of the IAAA selection committee, during the virtual award ceremony.

The winning submission recognizes groundbreaking data systems and tools by publicly funded researches and field technicians who advise more than 150,000 farmers who participate in MasAgro, CIMMYT’s bilateral collaboration project with Mexico for sustainable maize and wheat production.

The multi-disciplinary team developed a system to track over 500 variables during the growing cycle at each plot monitored. These variables are subsequently analyzed in combination with geographic, weather and market data obtained from open sources of information. Data analysts and researchers mine these databases to find correlations or patterns that help identify limiting factors and the best management practices for each plot.

The resulting analytics feed an application called AgroTutor — available on Android and iOS — which offers free information to farmers, including historic yield potential, local benchmarks, windows of opportunity, recommended agricultural practices and commodity price forecasting.

“Although sophisticated data analyses have been used in agriculture before, small and medium-sized farmers have seldom benefited from a combination of systems and tools that offer predictive and prescriptive site-specific analytics,” said Andrea Gardeazabal, Information and Communication Technology for Agriculture, Monitoring & Evaluation Manager for CIMMYT’s Integrated Development program. “MasAgro and AgroTutor have proven that resource-constrained farmers can benefit from high-end innovative analyses.”