A platform to manage the entire cotton verification process and a system that provides actual and forecasted measures of soil, climatic and agronomic conditions at local and regional level are among the five candidates selected as part of a global project seeking creative ideas and solutions to improve sustainable cotton farming practices worldwide.

The ‘Better Cotton Innovation Challenge’ is a collaboration between the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Dalberg Advisors.

Launched in November of last year, its two-part goal is to track down innovations for customised training on more sustainable farming practices for farmers and to find ideas that could reduce the time and cost of farmer data collection to enable more efficient BCI licensing processes.

Solutions could incorporate machine learning, satellite-based analytics, image recognition or behavioural nudges. A prize fund of EUR135,000 (US$157,851) will be spilt between up to four winners.

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 proposed solutions in a real farming environment. Each organisation has been paired with one BCI implementing partner who will support them during the eight-week period. 

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. Despite the challenges, BCI says the trials are going well and should be complete by the end of September.

At completion, 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.

Finalists challenge one: Customised training for farmers

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.

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 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’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 maximise their returns.

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.

The final winners will be announced at end of October.