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Leveraging the power of people and technology to improve, and incentivize trust among stakeholders in the food system

Bringing transparency and improving trust, by enabling data, information and knowledge flow, between stakeholders of the food system

Photo of Dharani Dhar Burra
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Pulse Lab Jakarta

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Our vision is to use the power of people and technology, to drive a positive change within the food system. While the technology part of the solution is provided by Pulse Lab Jakarta, the vision and the solution itself is inspired by the people and their challenges. Knowledge about people and their food system is provided by The Agriculture and Forestry University of Nepal. The Agriculture and Forestry University of Nepal (Chitwan campus), is a public agriculture university, that focuses on the provisioning of holistic education, and conducts research to develop sustainable solutions for the agricultural sector in Nepal. The focus is to increase crop productivity, and quality of agricultural goods, increase rural wages while maintaining biodiversity, and promote local innovations, all towards the improvement of livelihoods of farming communities.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://www.pulselabjakarta.org/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • Under 1 year

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Jakarta

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Indonesia

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kavrepalanchok district in Nepal

What country is your selected Place located in?

Nepal

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

Ninety percent of fresh vegetables coming into Kathmandu, the capital city of Nepal, come from the nearby Kavrepalanchok (Kavre) district. Unlike many other districts in Nepal, farmers in Kavre district, are blessed with good infrastructure (such as roads and mobile network), and relatively better access to major markets in Kathmandu. Since 2016, media reports and surveys from various developmental agencies, show that consumers in Kathmandu, are increasingly getting concerned about the health impacts, due to the high levels of chemical residues in the vegetables they buy from the market. In fact, living in Kathmandu, we see the changes, such as rapid increase in the number of services offering clean (i.e. organic/chemical-free) vegetables and fruits in Kathmandu. Similarly, we see extensive advertisements on TV, that show “magical” solutions, for home-use, that can wash away chemical residues in vegetables.  

As part of a project on food safety previously, we undertook an exercise in Kavre district, to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and practice of farmers about agrochemical use. During the course of this exercise in 2016, we were able to reaffirm certain facts, such as a high proportion (approximately 70%) of farmers in this district use agrochemicals, predominantly pesticides. We also obtained much more nuanced knowledge about farmer behavior in relation to agrochemical use, that was in opposition to normal convention (described in the later sections), which led us to spend more time inside the community, and in the process build strong relationships with its members.     



Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Kavre, is located approximately 30 km east to the capital city Kathmandu, and nestled in a mid-hilly area, with a subtropical climate, all year round. The climatic conditions all throughout the year, make it ideal to cultivate a wide variety of vegetables, with tomatoes, potatoes, cauliflower, carrots and brinjals being the most predominant ones. Close proximity to the capital city, and the ability to grow high value vegetables, all around the year, is a major reason behind farming (i.e. vegetable cultivation), as the main occupation in this district. Most of the vegetable cultivation is intended  for sale, however, more households are starting to dedicate a minor proportion of their plots, to cultivate vegetables for home consumption (reasons described in later sections).

In comparison to other districts, farmers in Kavre are relatively rich (per capita income of 1,399$/year,compared to the national average of 1100$/year; 2011, Central Bureau of Statistics), and are better off than their peers, in terms of access to basic services such as hospitals, electricity, water etc. Additionally, most families in this district can afford, and have access to assets such as motorized irrigation systems, mobile phones etc. Farmers in Kavre, predominantly undergo limited schooling (upto primary school), however in the recent past, families are starting to send their children to nearby bigger cities, for education and work. Interestingly, despite having undergone limited schooling, farmers in Kavre are keen learners, and tend to experiment, and adopt new solutions quickly, in comparison to farmers in other districts. The demographics and language of this region are also diverse, with a mixture of ethnic groups, speaking either Nepali and/or Tamang. Despite this diversity, the social and economic conditions, and adoption rates of new solutions have been similar across, and throughout demographics. Youth out-migration (specifically men between the age of 27-40), out of the rural districts to urban and peri-urban areas, continues to have a significant impact on the lives of farmers in Kavre. This has resulted in women playing an important role in the agrifood systems of the district. It is safe to ascribe key characteristics, and transitions within the local agrifood system, to high rates of youth out migration, and pronounced involvement of women in the agrifood system. For instance, remittances, as a result of children working in nearby bigger cities, enable farmer households in Kavre to invest in assets such as glasshouses and farm mechanisation. High rates of out migration, and increased engagement of women,  have therefore led to prioritization of solutions, that simplify and promote,their engagement in the agrifood system.    



What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

1396

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

381397

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

A combination of market and consumer demands, and the ability to afford technologies and solutions (as a result of household remittances from outmigration), have and continue to catalyse changes in the Kavre’s agrifood system. Traditional practices and knowledge are being replaced by intensive production, that are heavily reliant on agrochemical use (especially pesticides). Farmers invest in a variety of agrochemicals (since they can afford), and spray upto 8 to 10 times (much higher than the average of 5-6 times/season across Nepal) in a season. Although farmers complain about health issues and ascribe it to the use of chemicals, they continue to do so. This problem is exacerbated due to the fact that there is improper training on the use of agrochemicals. Unfortunately, agrochemical use is driven by fear (of losing crop and income). Impacts on farmer incomes are devastating, indirect, and are felt, only in an event of  unexpected climatic or financial shock. Un-measured agrochemical application also has long term consequences on the health of the environment. 

There are clear signs, which show that consumers are becoming concerned about the potential health effects, as a result of consumption of agrochemical laden food. The demand for clean food (e.g. organic or chemical free) is rising, and will only become predominant in the near future. 

It is fool-hardy, to assume that the farmers aren’t aware of these issues. It is the financial compulsions and cultural practices, which prevent them from changing their practices. However, few farmers are starting to follow different practices. For instance, some are starting to segregate their plots, for home consumption and sale, wherein agrochemical use on the plot, dedicated for home consumption is  measured, to the one dedicated for sale. Although this ensures relatively clean food for the family, the farmer still loses money, by not using a part of the plot for sale, which would otherwise fetch additional income. 

The above is a good example wherein, traditional knowledge, using alternative approaches (such as changes in management practices, biological control etc.) are being revived. Revival of traditional knowledge, is also being forced by improper implementation of government policies. Although their implementation has regulated availability of agrochemicals, it does not provide/promote alternative solutions. Either ways, such (and many other such) approaches are not being adopted at scale, as business-as-usual, provides much higher and consistent financial returns, as opposed to the alternative approaches. 

Although consumers are increasingly getting concerned, most of them are unable to afford clean food, despite availability of services, promising to do the same. Even those who can afford, can only trust the “label”, as process underlying certification are opaque. The issue gets further complicated, as the high costs of clean food are ascribed to the certification process.    



Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

An unbiased inspection of issues associated with agrochemical use, reveals that the root cause for this specific challenge, is the lack of transparency, trust, and information asymmetry, across stakeholders within the food system. Currently, food and money flows through the food system, but data, information and knowledge doesn’t. While on one end of the food system, the consumer does not know where the food comes from and how it is grown, which is driving their worries about potential health impacts of agrochemical residues in their food. Even those who can afford clean food, are still left lurching in the dark, as they are unaware of the processes that underlie certification. On the other end of the system, farmers don't have up to date knowledge, and/or incentives to adopt and practice measured agrochemical use. This paradox is interesting, as farmers and the consumers, are aware of the challenge, however it is business as usual, as the farmers do not see an incentive to change practices, while consumers currently cannot afford clean produce. 


We imagine a food system, wherein farmers can record their farm management practices (including agrochemical use), and are able to share this directly with the consumers. Since the farmer enables access to this information, and is able to answer the concerns of the consumers, the farmer can sell his/her produce at a premium, that is significantly lower than the cost of clean food, as the information provided to the consumer is relatively “raw”, and does not entail the “cryptic” process of certification.

 

Now that transparency and trust is enhanced, consumers will be able to pay that premium. The extra premium is a reward to the farmer for being transparent, but also is an incentive to transition towards practice of measured use of agrochemicals. More importantly, we envision a food system where the consumer has the choice to decide, if a product is clean or not.


We envision a food system, wherein there is improved transparency, trust is incentivized, that enables farmers to move towards sustainable practices, and more consumers are aware about the processes involved in producing their food. Central to such a transparent food system is data, that can be extracted from the information provided by farmers to the consumers. Over time, this data can be used to build actionable decision support systems, that will enable farmers to practice optimal agrochemical use, which over time can result in reduced negative impacts on the health of the environment, and on the health of the farmers and the consumers. 



High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

The problem of agrochemical overuse and its potential impacts are obvious, and every stakeholder in the food system, specifically the farmer and the consumers are concerned. However there are a host of  fundamental, deep-rooted constraints, if not addressed, will make it difficult to solve this problem. On the farmer end, there isn’t a clear short and long term financial incentive, for measured/reduced use of agro-chemicals. The narrative has largely been around negative impacts on health and environment, which the farmer understands, but does not buy the argument, as the ability to feed the family is of a higher priority. On the consumer end, clean food is not affordable. 

Our vision is for a food system wherein consumers can afford to know how their food is produced, as a result of farmers enabling this information. Enabling of information can be monetized, that in turn can help farmers, continue trying and practicing measured agrochemical use. Data generated from this process, can be used to build tools and services, that farmers can use for measured and planned use of agrochemicals.

While in the shorter time frame, consumers are able to know processes that lead to producing their vegetables, while incentivizing farmers to transition to, and practice alternative approaches, focused on measured use of agrochemicals. In the longer time frame, the data can be used to build services for farmers, while also the net negative effect of agrochemical use will be a lot lesser, than if it is business as usual. 

 



Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

The priorities of Kavre’s food system have evolved over the past years. The focus in the past was to produce more food, from limited land area, at low costs. However, now the priority is starting to shift towards the production of high quality food. In this case, high quality food refers to food that is produced with minimal/measured use of agrochemicals (i.e.clean food). In the past, and even until today, farmers have heavily relied on agrochemicals, so as to be able to produce consistently,and cater to the demand for volume in the markets. Not surprisingly, the farmers do understand the impacts of their current agrochemical practice, on human and environmental health. In fact, farmers also complain that purchase of agrochemicals leads to financial burden, as agrochemicals are often expensive, while the cheaper ones, often cause health issues to farmers upon use. Therefore the problem is obvious. However any discussions for change, have always hit a dead end, as the proposed solutions, do not answer to the financial compulsions, for both the farmers and the consumers. 

The fear of losing the crop to a pest/disease, and being unable to feed their family, superseeds, any other solution that pushes them towards regulated agrochemical use. It is important to understand that it is practically impossible to grow vegetables in Kavre, without the use of pesticides. Farmers do tell us that by combining traditional/alternative knowledge of pest and disease control, with reduced pesticide use, one can prevent crop loss to pests and diseases. However, farmers in Kavre are only able to make ends meet, by only relying on agrochemicals throughout the season. Therefore, even though farmers have the knowledge, and want to make a difference, there isn’t a system that enables and incentivizes farmers to do so. 

On the other hand, lack of information about various agrochemicals, that go into producing the food, is making consumers increasingly concerned. There is a solution for this, wherein certain  services, use processes (that are opaque), to certify if a particular produce is clean or not. This is an expensive solution, and a large section of the consumers cannot afford certified clean food. This gets further complicated as, exorbitant costs of clean food are ascribed to the opaque certification process.

Our vision for the Kavre, is to have a food system, which has solutions that can answer to the above mentioned compulsions of both the farmers and consumers. A socio-technological transformation that leverages, the power of people and technology, is required, to improve transparency, and incentivize trust in the food system. 

While currently, food and money flow within the system (albeit disproportionately) between stakeholders, information does not. We envision a food system without information gaps and information asymmetries, which will contribute to addressing the financial compulsions of both the consumers and farmers.

What if there is a  system, which one end, enables farmers to supply farm management information (either manually or automatically), including agro-chemical use, and on the other end enables its access to the consumers. We imagine a system, wherein the farm management information gets stored on a digital-sticker (akin to a QR code), that goes onto the final package. This digital sticker is then scanned by the consumers to know what (and how much) has gone into producing their food, based on which, they choose to buy the product (especially knowing that it is improbable to produce vegetables without the use of agrochemicals) . The consumers pay a premium, as they are able to access this information. 

The extra cost that the consumer will have to pay, for a system, will be much lower, than the cost of a certified product, as it removes additional stakeholders and their certification processes. Infact, technologies like distributed ledger systems (on which the blockchain works!), can ensure that the farmer directly gets their share of this premium. Once the farmer gets their share, it will enable them to experiment, or continue to practice alternative, measured agrochemical use based pest and disease management.  Although the incentive is the extra income, which the farmers make by enabling access to information, the data captured over time, can be used to build data driven, decision support systems,that can help farmers use agro-chemicals in an optimal manner .

We question the basic premise of certification and its role in emergent food systems such as in Kavre, especially since, it is not affordable to both the farmers and the consumers. While farmers often have to spend time and money to participate in the “certified” value chain, the consumers have to pay a lot more to buy produce from such value chains. Such a system dis-incentivizes both the consumers and the farmers. Our time in Kavre, made us realize that given all the financial, social, economic and biophysical constraints, it is practically impossible, and unreasonable to expect to produce food, without the use of agro-chemicals. Certification processes are opaque. Therefore, our vision is designed to be rather practical than being idealistic. 

History has repeatedly taught mankind, that simple solutions have significantly higher chances to succeed than fail. The ability to bring consumers and farmers closer using information and knowledge, has the potential to impact multiple aspects of the food system. Farmers in Kavre are richer than their peers in other districts. They have better access to assets such as mobile phones and network connectivity. They are also entrepreneurial in nature. Our vision is attainable, as it not only relies on existing technology, but also expands on existing assets, and human capabilities. 

Additionally our vision leverages on the principles of free market economy and consumer demands, to kickstart a positive cycle, that promotes transparency, as those who don’t, will stand to lose. Those farmers, that are able to provide transparency, at relatively lower costs, will be able to tend to the growing market demand, than those who don’t. 

Additionally Kavre's food system is ideally positioned to experience such a socio-technological transformation, as the vegetable value chain that connects Kavre to Kathmandu, is relatively less complex, with fewer stakeholders between the producer and the consumer. Fewer stakeholders will enable the development and maintenance of a fair system (more context to this is provided in the last paragraph of this section).  

As issues arising out of unregulated and excessive agrochemical use, impact both the farmers and the consumers, it becomes imperative, for both to contribute equally to the vision. This is why we stress on the need for a socio-technological transformation, wherein, the social component is related to the incentives provided by the consumer , in response to efforts made by the farmers to become transparent. Our vision embeds a positive loop, wherein the incentives obtained by the farmer, now enable them to practice sustainable approaches. The more the incentives, the more the opportunity for farmers to follow sustainable practices.   

We dream of a food system, which will facilitate production, sale and accessibility of quality food, wherein basic human principles such as trust is promoted, and farmers are “nudged”, with financial incentives towards adoption and practice of measured agrochemical use.

Humans and their behaviors are central to our vision. However, human behavior is dynamic and unpredictable. Any opportunity to receive incentives can be "rigged". It is possible that some farmers can lie about their practices, and provide information that is not true to the consumers. Patterns in data and related insights, can be used to keep a check on such practices, however the more the checks, the more restrictive the system will become, which could eventually lead to, reduced participation of farmers. However, this can only be speculated, at this point of time. A positive change can only be brought about by a fair and transparent society, and we envision that this will be reflected also within the food system, thereby enabling an environment, which promotes production, sale and access to clean and healthy food.    



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Team

Hi Dharani Dhar Burra 

Welcome to the Food Vision Prize community!

For the last hours before the deadline, make sure you have reviewed your final submission through the Pocket Guide to support you through the final hours of wrapping up your submission. This will give you the most important bullet points to keep in mind to successfully submit your Vision.
Here is the link to the pocket guide: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o8WGMus6-V8GywWdlNwmCpk7I1fMVzcQ/view

Look forward to seeing your submission finalised by 31st January, 5:00 pm EST :)