In a not-so-distant future, rice and oil palm producers in Colombia will have access to realistic estimates of what their yields will be and the amount of greenhouse gases their fields emit in real time.


The estimates will come from an online platform that will run algorithms based on data generated in a three-year project involving CIAT and several Colombian and U.K.-based organizations. The platform will go by the name of Ecological Productivity Management Information System in Colombia, or EcoProMIS.


Funded by the U.K. Space Agency and led by Rothamsted Research, the project aims to allow rice and oil palm growers in Colombia to have thriving livelihoods without harming the environment.


The project is a first for CIAT, as it will use space technology, i.e., satellites, to monitor how crops will perform under certain conditions.


“With satellites, I can see what’s happening on a plot in the municipality of Santa Rosa Villavicencio without having to go there,” said Dr. Michael Gomez Selvaraj, a crop physiologist and country lead for CIAT’s work under the project.


Selvaraj and his team at the CIAT Phenomics Platform will also use drones and sensors under the project. These will measure soil moisture, wind speed, rain, relative humidity, and the soil’s pH level, among other conditions.


The project likewise involves gathering on-the-ground data. Fedearroz, Colombia’s national rice growers’ association, and Cenipalma, a research center that’s a subsidiary of the national federation for oil palm growers, Fedepalma, will engage farmers to do this.


The farmers, along with technical advisers, will conduct surveys on crop production and biodiversity and share the results via smartphones. They will likewise collect plant samples.


The purpose of the exercise is to enable farmers to develop skills on how to best manage crops and enhance their understanding of the impact of farming practices on productivity and the environment.


To measure greenhouse gas emissions in real time, CIAT will install flux towers on the trial sites.


All the data generated through various means will feed into a model that can forecast, for instance, the yield based on the quantity of fertilizer and water used. It can also say the amount of carbon captured in the soil.


“If you’re imagining a future, where farmers are getting paid for the amount of carbon they’re sequestering, you should be able to get some of these numbers quickly,” said Dr. Ngonidzashe Chirinda, a soils scientist at CIAT and who will oversee activities related to greenhouse gas emissions at the trial sites.


Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a priority for Colombia. The country has pledged to cut these emissions — the bulk of which come from agriculture, forestry, and other land uses — by 20 percent by 2030.

Although EcoProMIS will focus on rice and oil palm, the intention is to adapt the Web platform for other crops, such as cassava and forages, in the future, according to Selvaraj.


Use of the platform is free for members of Fedearroz and Cenipalma. There’s a plan to come up with a commercial version for large agribusinesses, government entities, crop insurers, and food processors. Agricultural data analytics firm Agricompas will develop the paid application.


International nonprofit Solidaridad will also create a protocol for collecting data to determine the socio-economic impact of the project on smallholder farmers.