Big Data on the Farm: Weekly Review 10/13 – 10/17

Big Data and Big Agriculture by Adam Lesser on Gigaom

Gigaom, the blog focused on emerging technologies, is tuned into the influence of big data in agriculture.  The research arm has released a new report reviewing a variety of data driven services and their potential value-add for agribusiness.

Key findings include:

  • There will be more incentives to leverage new technology to increase crop yields and manage risk as global population increases, environment volatility grows and petroleum dependent agricultures is increasingly sensitive to fossil fuel pricing,
  • Opportunities for big data applications in agriculture include benchmarking, sensor deployment and analytics
  • Key challenges for companies entering the market include proving the effectiveness of data centric technologies to improve yield as well as building trust with farmers.

 Today’s Farm Requires Access to Wireless Broadband by Jonathan Adelstein on Farm Industry News

There have been many improvements in agriculture over the years. Perhaps one of the biggest and most impactful new developments is that the “Internet of Things” now includes “Farm Things”. Much of today’s agriculture equipment depends on access to wireless networks and this broadband-powered farm equipment along with laptops, and other devices are crucial in efficient farm management.

Wireless services such as John Deere’s JDLink enable farmers to monitor the productivity and maintenance of machines while they’re operating, and allow them to assess their effectiveness after use and improve their productivity. The wireless data transfer technology also enables farmers to access their data from anywhere, making management simple and convenient.

All these benefits, however, rely on the continued improvement and expansion of our wireless networks. This requires building next-generation wireless infrastructure to bridge the wireless gap and meet the high demand for data use.

Cropin – Transforming Agribusiness Sector by Leveraging ICT on ProductNation

Krishna Kumar is the CEO of Invested Development’s portfolio company, Cropin, one of the leading players in the emerging agriculture technology sector. CropIn leverages advances in information technology and applies it to the agriculture in the form of cloud-based farm management solutions. The CropIn team is working on creating a traceable and predictable  food supply chain by building a network of ERP and Business Intelligence solutions that stakeholders can use to monitor and communicate with farmers on the field. Read the full interview in which Krishna shares his journey and perspectives on the agribusiness sector.

 The Big Data Bounty: U.S. Startups Challenge Agribusiness Giants by Karl Plume on The Globe and Mail

As opportunities for Big Data have surfaced in the agribusiness sector, big agriculture companies such as Monsanto and John Deere have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on technologies that use detailed data on soil type, seed variety, and weather to help farmers cut costs and increase yields. As the ag tech space heats up, a number of small tech startups are launching products giving their bigger counterparts a run for their money. These products are powered by many of the same data sources, particularly those that are freely available such as the National Weather Service and Google Maps. They can also access data gathered by farm machines and transferred wirelessly to the cloud.

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Progress in Solar for Energy Access: Weekly Review 10/6-10/10

Access to clean, affordable energy for the rural poor is an issue that we are actively trying to solve. Solar power is a great solution, but solar products often have large up-front costs and the rural population can be skeptical about purchasing technologies they know little about. Entrepreneurs are taking the initiative to overcome these obstacles by creating innovative financing models or technical solutions such as integrating pay-as-you-go technologies with solar products, notably our own portfolio companies SolarNow and Simpa Networks. This week’s articles highlight the progress we’re making in achieving global energy access.

Four Reasons Pay-As-You-Go-Solar and Digital Financing are Unlocking Energy Access for All by Justin Guay on Huffington Post

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) solar companies are expanding energy access to the 1.2 billion people without access to power by making high-quality, clean energy products readily available to them. These PAYG technologies can expand more rapidly and begin to build a credit history for the population living beyond the grid when combined with branchless banking and mobile money. The Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) published a report (co-authored by our Entrepreneur in Residence and Simpa Networks co-founder Jacob Winiecki) explaining some of the factors that have converged to make today such an opportune time for the PAYG sector.

Reason 1: Solar Got Really Cheap
Reason 2: The Market is Exploding with Growth
Reason 3: Quality and After-Sales Service is Improving
Reason 4: Mobile Phone and Mobile Money Penetration Unlock Solar

The report also recognizes that while these converging factors mean an exciting future for PAYG, the sector is not homogeneous. To address this, it lays out various models that are succeeding in the PAYG sector including solar product categories with examples of companies, different models for digitizing payments, options for pricing and financing terms.

Pay-As-You-Go Solar Startups Sign Up 100K Solar Users in East Africa by Katie Fehrenbacher on Gigaom

PAYG solar products that tap into cellular infrastructure and micropayments are emerging across rural Africa and India. M-KOPA recently announced that it has signed up 100,000 customers for its cell phone-enabled solar service and released its third-generation solar product. Co-founders Nick Hughes and Jesse Moore started M-KOPA with the idea that they could use M-PESA to finance electronic assets before they realized that Kenya lacks the reliable power that electronics need. So instead, they built a service that offers rural customers access to solar panel products that taps into mobile networks for billing cycles and customer alerts.  They have partnered with mobile carriers such as Safaricom and have developed into a sizable company working with 700 entrepreneurs and shop owners who sell its solar products.

M-KOPA is not the only one using cell phone infrastructure to enable solar in rural areas. Invested Development’s portfolio company, Simpa Networks is growing a successful PAYG solar network in rural India.

Checking Out Solar at the ‘Light Library’ by Kat Harrison on Next Billion

SunnyMoney, leading international charity SolarAid’s social enterprise, is one of the largest sellers of solar lights in Africa. Up until 2013, it focused on selling portable solar lights in rural areas to build a market for better access to clean, affordable energy. Over the years, SunnyMoney has gotten requests to use and tests the lights to build awareness, trust, and demand without undermining strategies to build a sustainable market. In response, SunnyMoney designed the Light Library, a distribution model that gives would-be customers that opportunity.

The Light Library model involves SunnyMoney donating sets of solar lights to public schools in rural areas, enabling students to borrow the lights at a small fee. This gives their families the opportunity to see how the solar lights can fit and improve their lifestyles, as the lights enabled them to save money they were spending on lighting alternatives.

The study resulted in 35% of the school population buying solar lights, a higher update than SunnyMoney has seen across its other programs in Africa. In addition to increasing exposure to solar lights, the model seems to have reduced the perception of risk. SolarAid released a guide to the model that shares the full results of their evaluation, drawing conclusions on the usefulness of the model in building a sustainable market for improved access to solar products.

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Gender Lens Investing: Weekly Review 9/29 – 10/3

In the impact space, we frequently consider the social impact of our investments. A tangible way of looking at impact is through environmental, social, and governance (ESG) metrics. Many of our peers focus specifically on the gender lens, a social metric in the ESG framework. Check out the following recent articles that discuss the tangible impact of gender lens investing and the admirable work of our peers.

WIN-WIN 2.0: Connecting gender lens investing with clean tech by Najada Kumbuli on Nextbillion

In 2012, the Calvert Foundation launched the Women Investing in Women Initiative (WIN-WIN) with a goal to raise capital from investors to invest $20 million in organizations that empower women and girls globally. The investment portfolio is designed with gender-specific indicators to track the impact generated from the portfolio organizations. Through the investments in social enterprises like The Paradigm Project and Envirofit International, Calvert found that traditional sources of household energy in emerging markets (notably kerosene and wood-burning cookstoves) pose serious health risks to those exposed, specifically to women and children.

To address this issue, the Calvert Foundation has committed to investing an additional $20 million through WIN-WIN in organizations and enterprises that provide clean household technologies and fuels. These solutions, including cookstoves, solar-powered lights, and rechargeable batteries, have become a source of economic empowerment for women and girls while improving their health and living environments.

Africa: Investing in Female Scientists to Feed Africa on AllAfrica

In a recent interview, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, director of the African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) fellowship program in Kenya, spoke about AWARD’s work supporting the careers of female agricultural scientists in Sub-Saharan Africa. Africa is facing a rapid expansion in agricultural production in response to the need to feed the growing population. Rutenberg believes that it is important to invest in female researchers as women currently produce the majority of Africa’s food yet are extremely underrepresented in agricultural R&D.

NexThought Monday- Between the CEO and the BoP: Root Capital report focuses on the often overlooked role of women as “middle managers” by Willy Foote on Nextbillion

Willy Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital, believes that women across the economic spectrum are critical to unlocking long-term economic development. Through working in agriculture and supporting rural enterprises, Foote has seen a significant impact on women’s economic empowerment yet has always wondered how Root Capital’s loans and financial training supports women differently than men and how they could begin to address existing barriers and improve their impact on women in the long run.

Root Capital adopted a gender lens to explore opportunities in agricultural finance and launched the “Women in Agriculture Initiative” in 2012 based on the belief that gender-inclusive businesses can create greater financial and social impact. The first major task was to measure clients’ performance related to gender inclusion. They found that most approaches to women’s economic empowerment have focused on business leaders and women workers at the base of the pyramid, but largely ignored women in middle management positions. To address this, Root Capital released an issue brief, Applying a Gender Lens to Agriculture. The brief discusses the tier of women employees named “hidden influencers” who largely go unnoticed but are critical to a business’ success. It also evaluates how financial products and training programs impact women compared to men and use these findings to explain their approach to gender lens investing.

A Gender Lens for Giving: Women in Philanthropy Urged to Invest More in Women and Girls by Tom Watson on Forbes

A recent report released by Women Moving Millions is requesting that women in philanthropy apply an explicit gender lens to charitable giving and investing.  The report argues that putting money to work to empower women and girls is the key to solving the world’s greatest problems; including poverty, climate change and conflict. Currently, only 7% of all philanthropic dollars are invested specifically in programs for women and girls yet women control 27% of the world’s wealth. The Boston Consulting Group estimated that by 2030, women-controlled wealth will be $75.4 trillion based on an annual growth rate of 6%. This means that women’s charitable giving could reach $1 trillion per year by 2026 if women gave at 1.7% of their disposable income, the lowest percentage on record in the US in the last 40 years. The report is framed as a call to action, asking that women with financial power use it and begin to give and invest with a gender lens.

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