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Grand Prize Winner of Annual "Call for Code" Connects Small Farmers to Big Data

IBM today announced the winners of the third annual Call for Code Global Challenge. The grand prize went to Agrolly, a distributed team of developers from Brazil, India, Mongolia, and Taiwan--students who met at Pace University in New York City and decided to join forces to provide small farmers around the world with information resources that could change their lives.

Their winning entry (also called Agrolly) uses IBM Cloud Object StorageIBM Watson Studio, IBM Watson Assistant, and The Weather Company technologies to provides small farmers with sophisticated data analysis to manage crop planning, improve their decision making, and increase production.

I know, it doesn't sound especially sexy, but the ability to predict accurately which crops will provide the greatest yield and when to plant them--well, that's an absolute cornerstone of successful agriculture. (Take it from an Iowa boy.) The Agrolly platform connects what the team is calling "rural household farmers" with tools that provide an integrated analysis of weather, water, and soil for productive planting. Agrolly was designed to give these farmers--whom, the team points out, contribute the least right now to climate change--the ability to plan production efficiently and circumvent disasters caused by extreme weather conditions.

This is not a nice-to-have capability for these small farmers, Agrolly's project manager and data analyst, Manoela Morais, told me, but critical--often existential--technical wherewithal. Why? Because, although everyone is feeling the impact of climate change and a wrong move does hurt the big operations, a zig that should have been a zag devastates the small ones.

"Our focus is on the small farmers in emerging markets, because they are the ones who need help the most," Morais said during a Zoom interview. "Most of the time people build the technology for the big players, because they can pay money for that. But it's really the small farms where we think we have an opportunity to start to make real change in the farming industry for the long run."

Although this mobile app is drawing on massive, lively databases and riding sophisticated algorithms, the way it works for the end user, explained Ajinkya Datalkar, the team's software developer, is dead simple: "Say I'm a farmer and I want to plant something and I live in Jersey City. I just go to the app, I select the month, the location, and the crop, and then the app will give me information, like whether the temperatures are suitable and there is enough water. It will also tell me if the temperature is suitable for this month, but will not be suitable for the next month. It's tailored to the location. And every time I press the button, it recalculates and gives me the most current requirements. This is information 80% of small farmers do not have access to. Our main goal is use this technology to help them."

Agrolly is currently involved in field work in Mongolia and India, gathering information on the ground to help focus their platform on the real-world needs of the farmers in two of the world's most challenging agricultural environments. Chimka Munkhbayar, the group's Mongolia representative and head of marketing and sales for the nascent company, is currently spending time with local farmers in her home country. The fourth musketeer on this innovative team is Helen Tsai, a full-stack developer from Taiwan. Datalkar is based in India; Morais is based in Brazil.

The Agrolly team, who didn't yet know they'd won when I spoke to them, said they would use the winning resources to build a company and develop an ecosystem and a community. The grand prize is $200,000, so they'll have a little seed money.

Created by David Clark Cause with founding partner IBM, and in partnership with United Nations Human Rights and The Linux Foundation, Call for Code is among the largest "tech-for-good" challenges of its kind. In 2019, more than 180,000 participants from 165 countries responded to the call, creating more than 5,000 applications focused on natural disaster preparedness and relief. This year more than 300,000 developers and problem solvers across 168 countries signed up for the Challenge. Health insurance provider Anthem became a Challenge supporter this year, committing to jointly deploying one of the top solutions from the COVID challenge track.

The 2020 Challenge also includes a dedicated University Edition through a partnership that began last year with the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). More than 10,000 students participated last year.

"What we've done is not only raise awareness of important humanitarian issues," said IBM's Daniel Krook, Chief Technology Officer on Call for Code, "but also provide a bridge to technology to address those challenges by providing the world's 24 million developers with the tools they need and a starting points to take on real issues."

"What sets Call for Code apart," Krook added, "is that we're not just sending developers off to go create without guidance. We actually want them to solve real-world problems. Unlike other 'tech for good' competitions, where it happens once a year and everyone goes home with a prize, we provide real support for the winning team--and many of the runners up. We actually deploy the top project out into the real world."

Last year's Call for Code Global Challenge winner, Barcelona-based startup Prometeo, created an AI-based cognitive health monitoring platform—a wearable device that measures carbon monoxide, smoke concentration, humidity, and temperature to monitor firefighter safety in real-time. IBM helped Prometeo to build and deploy the solution. The first Call for Code winner, Project Owl, developed a solution that helps create a wireless network in areas affected by natural disasters to bring connectivity to the people impacted.

The 2020 Call for Code Global Challenge initially invited participants to take on climate change by building applications on open source software, including Red Hat OpenShift, IBM Cloud, IBM Watson, and IBM Blockchain, and using data from The Weather Company. The goal was to employ technology in new ways that could make an immediate and lasting humanitarian impact in communities around the world, he explained. With the advent of the COVID-19, organizers of the competition expanded its scope to include solutions that mitigate the impact of global pandemics.

The top finishers were announced Tuesday evening during the 2020 Call for Code Awards ceremony, held online this year. Van Jones, CNN political commentator and CEO of REFORM Alliance, hosted the interactive livestream event, showcasing the year's best Call for Code contributions.

Agrolly was among the top five finalist in this year's competition. The list of finalists also included:

  • Business Buddy (Asia Pacific) - Created by a team of students in Australia at the University of Sydney, Business Buddy aims to provide a one-stop-shop that delivers personalized and responsive updates to small businesses to help them weather the financial impacts of COVID-19. Powered by IBM Watson Assistant, IBM Cloud Foundry, and IBM Cloudant, the solution helps determine businesses' eligibility for support from governmental programs, and guides them through the application process via an easy-access portal.
  • OffShip (North America) - OffShip was created by a team of developers in Canada. OffShip is an easy-to-use browser plugin that educates consumers on the effect their online purchases have on the environment. It does this by providing an estimate of the carbon dioxide footprint of each purchase they consider which in turn helps them consider alternatives or purchase and donate carbon offset credits seamlessly. This solution is hosted in the IBM Cloud.
  • Safe Queue (North America) - Safe Queue, created by a single developer in Los Angeles, is a community-driven mobile app that is intended to replace physical lines at shopping centers, small businesses, and polling places with on-demand virtual lines, to enable a safer way to manage entry during COVID-19. Safe Queue was recognized as part of Call for Code's accelerated COVID-19 track in May, and since then has been further developed, tested, and deployed with small businesses across the country. Safe Queue uses GPS location data to create a virtual queue of those within 1000 feet of a location, allowing employees to control the queue digitally, and validating entry with a randomly generated QR code for each customer. This solution builds on IBM Cloud Foundry for web app hosting, HERE technologies for geolocation, Twillio for SMS messaging, and IBM Cloudant to store data.
  • SchoolListIt (North America) - Created by a working mother of three children in North Carolina, SchoolListIt is designed to help families successfully manage schoolwork during the especially challenging circumstances surrounding COVID-19. SchoolListIt compiles information from the wide array of learning apps that teachers use, and makes it easy for students or guardians to understand at a glance what assignments are due and when, while also building a digital community for parents. The solution uses IBM Watson Text to Speech.


Posted by John K. Waters on October 13, 2020