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Next Generation Digital Tools for Smallholder Farmers in Haiti

Columbia student Nadia Asgaraly (center) guides Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) agronomist Georges
Dency (left) in using a beta data management app while Timote Georges, SFA Executive Director, looks on.

The students are part of a 'capstone project' providing a real-time consulting service to the Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) before graduating in May. Specifically, the students are key members of a larger team (which includes the Better Sourcing Program and RCS Globalfocused on developing a revolutionary new data management system that will help smallholders growing cotton and other crops to be more productive and profitable, while incorporating blockchain technology that will help potential cotton export customers like Timberland, Patagonia and Vans achieve increased transparency and efficiency.

"A week of meetings with farmers, agronomists, field agents and various groups affiliated with the SFA has given us tremendous insights as to what is needed in the unified data management system we are helping to develop," said graduate student Nadia Asgaraly. "We came armed with questions and we left with answers that have taken our work to a new level of understanding based on the reality in the field."

Columbia students interviewing SFA staff about data management needs.Among the goals of this new data management system is to help farmers get access to data so they can make informed decisions as to what to plant based on projected crop prices, track their own cost of operation, compare prices for inputs and anticipate fluctuations in crop prices. Additional possibilities include access to weather forecasts, guaranteed purchase agreements, mobile payments for crops made in real time, advances against future harvests and one day even crop insurance.

"Seeing in person how our work back in New York will directly affect the lives of these amazing people in Haiti gave us a tremendous sense of responsibility," said graduate student Mario Ponsell, who added, "It's an honor for us to play a role in this life changing program." 

The Columbia and SFA team on the ground in Haiti (left to right): Natasha Villacorta, Sheldon Cheng,
Yefei Wu, Timote Georges, SFA Executive Director, Liuliu Zhang, Hugh Locke, SFA President, Nadia
Asgaraly, Huanqi Xiao and Mario Ponsell.

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