Innovation Challenge Finalists Pilot Sustainable Farming Solutions

 
In November 2019, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), with the support of Dalberg Advisors, launched the Better Cotton Innovation Challenge – a global project seeking creative ideas and solutions to improve sustainable cotton farming practices around the world.

The first round of the challenge aimed to uncover innovative approaches and/or existing solutions to two identified challenges:

Challenge One: Customised Training
Innovations to help bring customised training on more sustainable farming practices to hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers across the globe.

Challenge Two: Data Collection
Solutions that could reduce the time and cost of farmer data collection to enable more efficient BCI processes.

A jury composed of external experts, BCI representatives, IDH representatives and the Dalberg team assessed 87 applications and shortlisted 20, before selecting five candidates to progress to the final phase of the competition. The five finalists now have the opportunity to pilot their sustainability-focused solutions in the field with BCI Farmers.

Meet the Finalists

Finalists Challenge One: Customised Training for Farmers

EKutir

Ekutir’s solution restructures training content into shorter, easily digestible modules delivered to farmers at the appropriate time of the year. It also provides individually tailored, immediately actionable advice to farmers based on a combination of their progress in the cotton growth cycle and real-time weather data. Ekutir’s solution automates the delivery of general training content and creates several delivery routes that cater to both literate and illiterate, smartphone-enabled and smartphone-less farmers.

WaterSprint

Water Sprint offers an interactive Decision Support System (DSS) which is designed to help farmers manage their crops by providing actual and forecasted measures of soil, climatic and agronomic conditions at local and regional levels. On the basis of the measurements, the system computes the required need for irrigation, fertilisers and pesticides. This proposed technology will use remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to gather data from satellites and formulate and communicate information to farmers through a smartphone app.

Finalists Challenge Two: Efficiency of Data Collection

Agritask

Agritask offers a platform to manage the entire cotton verification process, including digital data collection, field inspection planning, remote sensing and other technologies. Its mobile app enables farmers to keep records digitally, and for Field Facilitators (field-based staff, employed by BCI’s Implementing Partners, who deliver on-the-ground training to farmers) to document inspections digitally. Agritask enables remote monitoring via satellite and virtual weather stations and provides agronomic advice to farmers. It can also integrate with other technologies such as voice-based mobile apps to facilitate data collection.

CropIn

CropIn’s proposed solution is a digital farm management solution (that has both mobile and web interfaces) that enables complete digitisation of farming processes. The platform empowers data-driven decision-making and provides complete visibility of people, processes and performance on a near real-time basis. It enables farmers to efficiently manage farming practices, while also ensuring they are adhering to compliance and certification requirements. The solution will help farmers to address issues such as pest and crop-health and manage budgets and inputs, helping farmers to maximize their returns.

Ricult

Ricult is an integrated Artificial Intelligence based digital platform that collects data directly from farmers (through mobile phones) and via remote sensing, satellite imagery, processing mills, middlemen and other cotton supply chain actors. The platform processes and analyses the data and generates actionable insights which are then distributed throughout the agriculture ecosystem through mobile phones and a web-based application. The generated insights are both predictive and diagnostic and will help farmers in improving their yield and crop health, while also enabling cotton mills to gain access to yield forecasts.

Field Trials

The field-level trials provide an opportunity for the five finalists to test their proposed solutions in a real farming environment. To support the finalists, each organisation has been paired with one BCI Implementing Partner who will support them during the eight weeks of the trials.

The trials are now underway in India, Pakistan and Israel, after facing a slight delay due to Covid-19. Travel restrictions and social distancing requirements have also led the finalists to come up with alternative approaches to conduct many of their trial activities remotely, such as data collection and delivery of training sessions. Despite the challenges, the trials are going well and should be complete by the end of September.

Once the field-level trials have been completed, a new jury composed of Implementing Partner representatives, BCI representatives, IDH representatives and the Dalberg team will assess the finalists and select the final winners based on a six-point criteria: impact, technical performance, likelihood of adoption, scalability, financial sustainability and team capability.

The final winners will be announced around the end of October! We look forward to sharing a further update then.

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Sustainable Farming Solutions Shortlisted for Global Better Cotton Innovation Challenge

 
In November 2019, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), with the support of Dalberg Advisors, launched the Better Cotton Innovation Challenge – a global project seeking innovative ideas and solutions to improve sustainable cotton farming practices around the world.

The Challenge was divided into two categories:

Challenge One: Customised Training
Challenge one sought innovations to help bring customised training on more sustainable farming practices to hundreds of thousands of cotton farmers across the globe.

Challenge Two: Data Collection
Challenge two sought solutions that could reduce the time and cost of farmer data collection to enable more efficient BCI licensing processes.

A total of 87 applications were submitted before the January 2020 deadline – 36 applications for the customised training challenge, and 51 applications for the data collection challenge.

We are delighted that the Challenge received such a high level of interest from organisations all over the world. Thank you to those who took the time to submit thoughtful, creative and practical solutions.” – Cristina Martin, Programme Manager, BCI.

All 87 applications were reviewed by the Innovation Challenge Team, and the top 20 solutions were shortlisted to progress through to the next stage of the challenge. The 20 shortlisted applicants – from India, Pakistan, Greece, Israel, Kenya, Australia and the US – received mentorship from cotton sector experts and BCI as they prepared high-quality, detailed proposals for their solutions, including plans to test their innovations at field level.

A jury composed of external experts, alongside BCI, IDH and Dalberg, then assessed the detailed applications and selected five final candidates to progress to the next phase of on-the-ground trials.

When shortlisting the solutions, the jury considered:

  • Impact: Is the solution effective?
  • Adaptive: Is it adaptive and flexible?
  • Scalable: Is it scalable and replicable?
  • Viability: Is it financially viable and sustainable?
  • Capability: Is the team capable of implementing the solution?
  • Pragmatic: Is the on-the-ground test being proposed practical?
  • X-Factor: Is it novel and new to the BCI programme?

In the next stage of the competition, the five applicants will have the opportunity to pilot their sustainability-focused solutions in the field with BCI Farmers.

In light of the spread of Covid-19 and global travel restrictions, the field-testing element of the Challenge has been postponed until July 2020 in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of everyone involved in the Better Cotton Innovation Challenge. We look forward to continuing this exciting competition with our finalist innovators, and sharing their solutions, later in the year.” – Cristina Martin, Programme Manager.

Find out more about the challenge here.

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Highlights: 2020 Better Cotton Implementing Partner Meeting & Symposium

 
In January 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) convened more than 45 of its field-level partner organisations – Implementing Partners – from 12 countries, for the fourth edition of the BCI Implementing Partner Meeting & Symposium. The annual meeting provides BCI’s Implementing Partners with an opportunity to come together to share knowledge, best practice and innovations across teams, organisation, regions and countries.

We’ve picked out some event highlights in this short video!

The three-day event focused primarily on biodiversity and the practices and innovations being implemented on the ground. BCI’s Implementing Partners had the opportunity to share their successes and challenges, while biodiversity experts took to the stage to share their insights. Guest speakers included Olivia Scholtz, High Conservation Value (HCV) Resource Network; Gwendolyn Ellen, independent consultant; Nan Zeng, The Nature Conservancy; Liron Israely, Tel-Aviv University; and Vamshi Krishna, WWF India.

Sharing practical solutions was a key element of the event and each partner organisation had the opportunity to showcase the methods and tools they are most proud of. This created a great opportunity for hands-on learning, and attendees explored a rich variety of biodiversity practices from different BCI Programme countries.

To further recognise the great work of BCI’s field-level partners, 10 Producer Unit Managers* were shortlisted and awarded for their outstanding efforts in the field. Meet the winners.

The event concluded with each attendee committing to actions to protect, enhance and restore biodiversity in 2020 based on the challenges and solutions identified and tested in the previous cotton sessions.

*Each BCI Implementing Partner supports a series ofProducer Units, which is a group of BCI Farmers (from smallholder ormedium sizedfarms) from the same community or region. Each Producer Unit is overseen by a Producer Unit Manager and has a team of Field Facilitators; who work directly with farmers to raise awareness and adoption of more sustainable practices, in line with the Better Cotton Principles and Criteria.
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Fighting Drought With Better Cotton Farmers in Australia

“Precision irrigation and water-saving techniques are becoming more important as water scarcity concerns rise. The Better Cotton Initiative and Cotton Australia are helping farmers raise their yields, improve their resilience to extreme weather and protect the environment.” Rick Kowitz, Cotton Australia, 2019

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