Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 7th 2016 Contents SUNDAY 7TH AUGUST, 2016 – UWI TODAY 7
In May 2016, AgriNeTT, a research project started by
Computer Science lecturers at UWI St. Augustine was
recognised at the World Summit on the Information Society
(WSIS) in Geneva. AgriNeTT placed in the top five among a
host of international projects in the area of technology and
agriculture. This outstanding recognition would not be its
last. It’s easy to see why.
AgriNeTT is an archetype for what research can be and
the contribution it can make to Caribbean society. Its focus
is on food production (one of the pressing issues of our
time) but taking a multidisciplinary approach that includes
specialists in computer science and agriculture. The project
collaborates with organisations and individuals in the wider
society and at the same time, provides opportunities for
students to gain real-world experience.
“We feel encouraged,” says Dr Margaret Bernard,
Project Lead of AgriNeTT, on the recognition that the
project has received. “It shows that at the regional and
international levels the potential impact of the research is
Infusing ICT into Agriculture
Dr Bernard is surprisingly mellow for the level of
responsibility she holds as Lead, among her other duties.
Apart from her role as project lead, she is Senior Lecturer
in the Department of Computing and Information and
Technology (IT) as well as Deputy Dean of Graduate Studies
and Research in the Science and Technology Faculty. She
emphasises that though she might be the most recognisable
face for AgriNeTT, it is very much a team effort, “Many
people have contributed in significant ways to the success
of this project”.
Why is AgriNeTT so well-regarded? AgriNeTT is
a project that uses information and communications
technology (ICT) to develop the agriculture sector and make
it more internationally competitive. The project consists of
two Open Data Repositories (online resources that collect
up-to-date information on production and topographical
aspects of local agriculture) and four mobile applications
The apps provide farmers tools for information on crop
prices (AgriPrice), record keeping (AgriExpense), land and
soil (AgriMaps) and crop pest diagnosis (AgriDiagnose).
Of the four, only AgriDiagnose is still in development, the
others are available for download and use at the Google
Play app store.
Collectively, AgriNeTT provides incredibly powerful
tools for farmers as well as policymakers and agriculture
Dr Bernard gave the example of AgriExpense:
“At present, many farmers don’t keep proper records.
They don’t track their expenses and tie them into revenue
and profit. With a tool like AgriExpense they can record and
use the data like any business. This can help them in getting
loans, crop insurance and private sector investment. We
don’t have these things because we don’t have the hard data”.
And the data itself, collected on the open source
platforms, could be of immense value to the sector when
crafting policy or in dealing with the export requirements
of other nations.
Because AgriNeTT is an effective solution for the
issue of food security, it makes sense that it would receive
the recognition it has. The project was selected at the 2016
WSIS because it falls in line with United Nations’ Sustainable
Development Goal number 2, “No Hunger”. WSIS is hosted
by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the
UN’s special agency for ICT.
Planting Digital Seeds
BY JOEL HENRY
This year, AgriNeTT was also given the FRIDA Award
(which recognises innovative practices that further the
development of Latin America and the Caribbean) by
LACNIC, the region’s Internet registry. In Trinidad and
Tobago, AgriNeTT won a UWI-NGC award for Best
Research Team – Encouraging Multidisciplinary Research.
Dr Bernard says the projects multidisciplinary and
collaborative approach is one of its greatest strengths.
Computer Science and members of the Agriculture Faculty
worked closely on the project and project teams partnered
with organisations such as the Ministry of Food production,
NAMDEVCO, CARDI and many others.
“One of the big things for the University that has come
out of this project is the extent of collaboration we have been
able to forward,” she said.
That includes students. Throughout the project’s life
span, AgriNeTT has employed students on short contracts,
providing them with mentorship and the opportunity to
work on an actual and large-scale project.
The Future of Caribbean E-Agriculture
AgriNeTT does however, have challenges. For the
project to move from innovation to game-changer it must
become adopted by the people it was designed for, the
farmers. And though it would seem that the benefits of
the technology would make them eager to do so, it’s not
“You really are looking at a lifestyle change for them,”
Dr Bernard says. “They have been practising farming in a
certain way for the last 40 years. To change that pattern is
Focus groups, meetings and “hand-holding” exercises
have all been part of the AgriNeTT outreach to farmers. In
addition, they have concentrated their efforts on the younger
generation, as well as agricultural extension officers, who
they hope will be technology ambassadors.
Dr Bernard acknowledges that adoption is the major
challenge and should be the focus of the project’s next
phase but there is one major issue – funding. AgriNeTT
was a recipient of a UWI TT Research and Development
Impact Fund award, a three-year grant for projects with a
high potential for a positive impact on society. That three-
year period has now ended and the project must find new
funding to continue. At present, the team is seeking new
For any parties seeking viable solutions for the regional
agriculture AgriNeTT seems a smart investment. In fact, the
project has already moved beyond T&T. Presently, members
of the team are working with the Jamaican Ministry of
Agriculture on an AgriMaps app that is specific to the
island. And beyond AgriNeTT, the Computing and IT
Department is working with CARDI on two region-wide
This is perhaps AgriNeTT’s greatest accomplishment,
unleashing the potential of technology on Caribbean
farming. The door for ICT innovation in agriculture has
been opened. As the Caribbean moves forward it may one
day look back at the contribution of this seminal research
Dr Margaret Bernard................... Team Leader
Prof Carlisle Pemberton............. Agriculture Expert
Prof Patrick Hosein....................... Open Data
Dr Wayne Goodridge................... Pest Detection
Dr Rene Jordan............................... GIS Application
Dr Gaius Eudoxie........................... Agriculture Expert
Kyle E. Defreitas............................. Software Developer
Kiran Maharaj ................................. Software Developer
Omaira Avila Rostant .................. Administrative
Terrence Heywood........................ Farming Community
Shamin Renwick ............................ Senior Librarian
Some members of the team pose at an event banner: (l-r) Wayne Goodridge, Rene Jordan, Kiran Maharaj, Shamin Renwick,
Kyle De Freitas and Margaret Bernard
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