By Sylvia Pineda
IDB Lab, CIAT and SoftBank partner to promote smart rice farming in Colombia
The Inter-American Development Bank, through its innovation lab – IDB Lab, approved US$2 million funding for a project that will improve the productivity and sustainability of rice farming in Colombia.
The project, led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), will implement a new technological solution called “e-kakashi,” a service that combines internet of things (IoT), big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and cyber physical systems (CPS) to transform agriculture into a real-time, data-driven science. In brief, e-kakashi is an agriculture AI brain developed by SoftBank Corp. (SoftBank) that collects larger amounts of environmental data in the field and weather information, processes and analyzes this data with agronomical knowledge then combine with farming experiences, evidence and practices to help farmers navigate the cultivation process and create an optimal rice-producing environment.
Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) has the potential to become a worldwide powerhouse in the production of food and other agricultural products if its available resources are leveraged wisely. To fully realize this potential, actions must be taken in raising productivity in an environmentally conscious manner. Increasing yields and doing so in the existing production area through sustainable agricultural practices will have to be accompanied by new technologies and innovations which allow producers and other actors to maximize the efficient use of resources along the value chain.
e-kakashi has been already tested in Colombia by CIAT in pilot rice paddies located inside the CIAT facility in Cali. This pilot has been conducted within the framework of a Japanese government program called SATREPS, the Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development. IDB Lab’s project, will be the first trial of e-kakashi aiming for a commercial level implementation and expansion outside Japan. Initially, the project will help small-scale rice farmers (who have, on average, 5.9 hectares each) in the Cauca and Valle del Cauca Departments. Later, it will seek to expand its coverage to the Arauca and Casanare Departments.
Additionally, e-kakashi contributes to solving environmental problems such as unstable water supplies and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Flooded rice paddies emit as much as 500 million tons of methane worldwide, which is around 20 percent of total human-made emissions of this gas. The warm, waterlogged soil of rice paddies provides ideal conditions for producing methane. SoftBank has been developing the e-kakashi solution to track and calculate optimal water levels at each phase of plant growth not only to enhance agriculture productivity but also to reduce methane emissions.
The project will have two phases: (i) to prove the effectiveness of the proposed solution in actual rice fields in Colombia in collaboration with CIAT, SoftBank, local rice farmers, and local rice milling companies; and (ii) to scale up the solution among smallholder farmers (of rice and other agricultural products) in the other locations in Colombia and beyond.
The total financing for the project will consist of a US$500,000 grant and a US$1.5 million equity investment. While the grant resources will be used for the first phase, the equity investment is expected to be made together with SoftBank and other co-investors for the second, scale-up phase. This will be to set up a company or a vehicle through which the e-kakashi solution package will be marketed in LAC countries.
The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a CGIAR research center. CIAT develops technologies, innovative methods and knowledge that enable farmers, especially smallholders, to make agriculture more competitive, profitable, sustainable and resilient. Headquartered in Cali, Colombia, CIAT conducts research for development in tropical regions of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. https://ciat.cgiar.org/
About SoftBank Corp.
Guided by the SoftBank Group’s corporate philosophy, “Information Revolution – Happiness for everyone,” SoftBank Corp. (TOKYO: 9434) combines telecommunications services with cutting-edge technologies to create and operate new businesses. SoftBank Corp. serves more than 44 million mobile consumer and enterprise subscribers in Japan, and as part of its “Beyond Carrier” strategy, is redefining industries by leveraging its unique strengths as a network operator to fully harness the power of 5G, big data, AI, IoT, robotics and other key technologies. To learn more, please visit www.softbank.jp/en/
About IDB Lab
IDB Lab is the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, the leading source of development finance and know-how for improving lives in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The purpose of IDB Lab is to drive innovation for inclusion in the region, by mobilizing financing, knowledge, and connections to co-create solutions capable of transforming the lives of vulnerable populations affected by economic, social or environmental factors. Since 1993 IDB Lab has approved more than US$2 billion in projects deployed across 26 LAC countries. As of October 29, 2018, IDB Lab is the new identity of the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF). https://idblab.org