TRANSFORMING LIVES AND LIVELIHOODS:
The Digital Revolution in Agriculture

7-8 August 2017, Canberra

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Stuart Higgins

Stuart has 16 years’ experience in leading, managing or contributing to international research for development, primarily for multilateral agencies such as the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (Rice Policy in Laos), World Bank (Value Chain Studies in Africa) and Asia Development Bank (Irrigation Evaluations in Cambodia). Over the past five years, he has led multiple research activities on behalf of DFAT and ACIAR, predominantly in Eastern Indonesia, including the Mobile Acquired Data (MAD) Research Series.

The MAD series aimed to evaluate the tangible ‘value-add’ of digital data collection apps deployed within ACIAR-commissioned projects and programs, and to understand the impacts of technology on the relationship between smallholder farmers and researchers.

Prior to moving into the international research for development sector, Stuart was a primary producer (cotton & grain) on the Darling Downs in Queensland. He holds a Masters in Agricultural Science from University of New England, is a recipient of the Vincent Fairfax Ethics in Leadership Award, and delivered an award-winning radio series (‘Grow Your Own’) on ABC Radio National.

Stuart Higgins Paper Crawford Fund Conference 2017

Stuart Higgins Presentation

Do MAD researchers add value to smallholders?

Abstract

This presentation explores the deployment of mobile acquired data (MAD) via tablet-based apps in research for development initiatives. It assesses the pros, cons and unexpected consequences in the field, for both researchers and smallholder farmers, using the ACIAR funded, University of Queensland Vanuatu Beef Project as a case study.

Background

In 2015, ACIAR sought to understand the potential benefits – intended and unintended – that mobile acquired data (apps on tablets) might deliver to its funded projects. In pursuit of this, AgImpact (an R4D company) was commissioned to design and manage a small research activity (SRA) which reviewed nearly 20 ‘off the shelf’ apps, then conducted three weeks of field testing in Indonesia surveying beef producers, in partnership with the University of Udayana.

The SRA concluded (see full report) that the use of apps for in-field research has significant potential to improve relationships between researchers and smallholder farmers by improving two-way information exchange in near real time. Key findings, inter alia, were:

  1. Survey times were reduced by approximately 53%.
  2. 93% of farmers found the use of apps informative when research results were provided to them in near real time.
  3. 73% of farmers found the overall survey experience using apps to be positive.

By mid-2016, the SRA had gained momentum and evolved into the ACIAR Mobile Acquired Data (MAD) research series, now involving nine ACIAR projects adopting apps in research for the first time.

An exemplar project, led by the University of Queensland, (Increasing the productivity and market options of smallholder beef cattle farmers in Vanuatu) designed and built apps featuring auto-calculation functions, look-up tables and case histories, to track changes in cattle production performance and cattle prices for individual animals in real time.