Wednesday, August 30, 2017

The importance of investing in human capital for the reform of national agricultural research

I was recently browsing an interesting publication by The World Bank, titled Agricultural Innovation Systems - An Investment Sourcebook (you can find the full text as PDF here) and came across the really interesting use case of Brazil, and how its investments in human capital to improve its agricultural research sector took place through a long-term plan and by securing the necessary funds from various sources:

In 1963, the Brazilian government took a high-level decision to build a human capital base for a modern agricultural sector. With financing from the United States Agency for International Development, four American land-grant universities assisted four Brazilian universities in strengthening BSc level training for a decade followed by another four years of support for postgraduate education. In 1971–72 more than 900 Brazilian graduate students were studying agricultural sciences in United States universities. This experience with building human capital in programs in agriculture is directly linked to political decisions by the Federal Government and the Ministry of Education to pass the University Reform Act of 1968, which linked promotions to higher graduate degrees and required academic staff to work full time. 

In 1972, when the government established the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (EMBRAPA) to coordinate its national agricultural research program, EMBRAPA continued to invest in human resources. It launched a massive human capital improvement program that sent 500 agricultural researchers for PhD programs and spent 20 percent of its budget from 1974 to 1982 on training in Brazil and abroad (World Bank 2007a, 39). Today, one-third of EMBRAPA scientists have a PhD, half have an MSc, and the balance have a BSc or equivalent. 

The most important lesson from this experience is that Brazil did not reduce public expenditure on its core agricultural institutions some 40 years ago when foreign investment waned. Instead, by mobilizing high level political support, Brazil built a strong human capital base to sustain a globally competitive agricultural research and extension base.


The EMBRAPA network
The use case drew my attention because of my previous collaboration with EMBRAPA (in the context of a couple of projects) and because it clearly shows how a carefully designed and long-time plan can lead to important results - we all understand the importance of agricultural research in the development of a country's agricultural sector so I will not go into details.

Note: The text comes from Module 2: "Agricultural Education and Training to
Support Agricultural Innovation Systems" of the aforementioned publication and is authored by Charles J. Maguire, Senior Institutional Development Specialist at The World Bank. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

e-Forum on ICTs and Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition

The e-Agriculture Community of Practice, in conjunction with a number of key partners namely the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the Global Data on Agriculture and Nutrition (GODAN), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the World Bank have organized an upcoming online discussion themed, e-forum discussion on ICTs and Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition.

This online forum will take place between 19th of June and 14th of July 2017 on the e-Agriculture Platform.


The purpose of this discussion is to explore how information communication technologies (ICTs) can be used in facilitating the fair use of open data in agriculture and nutrition by farmers in general and especially by the more vulnerable among them such as family farmers, rural women and the youth engaged in farming as a livelihood.

The e-forum focuses around three main topics, on which participants are invited to comment:
  1. The role ICTs play in the use of Open Data in Agriculture and Nutrition for family farmers (link)
  2. Do you have any case studies that demonstrates the benefits (or damages) of the use of ICTs and Open Data? (link)
  3. What investments are needed in your opinion to reap open data benefits and how can farmers be protected from the effects of open data? (link)
If you are interested in sharing your thoughts and experiences on these topics, you only have to register on www.e-agriculture.org. The discussions will be guided by pre-selected subject matter experts from different organizations and is facilitated by a team representing GODAN, CTA and FAO. 

I am excited to be among the subject matter experts invited to participate in this interesting discussion and hope that the discussions will lead to useful outcomes.

See you there!

P.S. For those really interested in the topic, check out the related call from ICT-AGRI (in the form of a short questionnaire).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

EIP-AGRI Seminar "Digital Innovation Hubs: mainstreaming digital agriculture"

Between 1-2 of June 2017, I had the opportunity to participate in the invitation-only EIP-AGRI Seminar titled "Digital Innovation Hubs: mainstreaming digital agriculture". The Seminar took place at the luxurious Lyrath Estate at Kilkenny, Ireland and I attended on behalf of NEUROPUBLIC.

Simply put, DIHs are structures that aim to facilitate the adoption of innovative digital tools and services by SMEs (and companies in general), allowing the faster digitization of their processes. Stakeholders of DIHs (and potential members) include technology providers, innovation brokers, farmers' organizations, business incubators, investors / funding bodies etc.

The Seminar aimed at enabling a wide variety of stakeholders, including policy makers, research and technology organisations, SMEs, investors and other actors from the agricultural sector to share knowledge, expertise and needs to develop Digital Innovation Hubs for agriculture. Starting from the basics, it provided all the necessary introductory information (what is a DIH, its expected roles, potential members of DIHs etc.) and during its course, it required participants to provide their views on the envisaged barriers which could challenge the setup and operation of DIHs. On the 2nd and last day of the event, participants were asked to provide their input on potential use cases where DIH would be valuable. All these took place in the context of breakout sessions, where participants were grouped in teams working on a specific theme/topic, followed by plenary sessions where the outcomes of the groups were presented. I really liked the interactive approach of the event (btw, excellent facilitation by Vincent Tiel Groenestege!), which kept everyone involved and alarmed and discouraged us from responding to emails and checking our social media accounts :-)

I am personally interested in the theme of the seminar, as it combines innovation and digitization in the agrifood sector, based on networking and exploitation of existing resources. I would love to find the opportunity to be more actively involved with that and have the feeling that I will get it through the Action 16 of the Greek Rural Development Programme. I strongly believe that the future of farming is digital and data production, especially at farm level, will significantly boost food production, thus contributing in addressing the global food security issue.

During the event, I had the opportunity to make some new and interesting connections. At the same time, I came across some familiar faces, including but not limited to:
  • Daniel Azevedo, Senior Policy Advisor of COPA COGECA; a person I meet quite often lately;
  • AIOTI WG06 members, including chair Luis Perez Freire, Phillip-Andreas Schmidt (Bayer Crop Science) and Raul Palma (Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center - also a partner of our DataBio H2020 project);
  • Spyros Fountas (Agricultural University of Athens); one of the few Greek researchers working with precision agriculture / smart farming (and a collaborator of NEUROPUBLIC in several occasions) - also the coordinator of the prominent SmartAKIS H2020 project.
  • Peter Paree from ZLTO, an acquaintance from the CAPSELLA H2020 project (back in my Agroknow days); an open-minded person working on opening up data in the agro-biodiversity context.
Yeap, I was there!
I also had the pleasure to meet and talk with EIP-AGRI team members, such as Iman Boot, Pacôme Elouna Eyenga & Quico Onega. The whole team did an excellent work with the organization and the facilitation of the event, leaving us participants with the sole task of providing our feedback where needed.

All in all it has been an interesting and fruitful event which provided me with food for thought / homework (should I say officework?) and only left me with the dire need to attend the next one of the series - the Agri Innovation Summit (AIS 2017), which will come as a natural follow up of this event. Will I make it there in the end? ;-)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Contributing to the Knowledge and Performance Management journal

Information and Knowledge Management (especially in the agrifood sector) are among the topics I really love and have personal interest in. I was always intrigued by the way that information (and knowledge) can be organized and shared, facilitating its retrieval and exploitation and
the added value that metadata provide to the corresponding resources. I had the pleasure to combine this interest with my professional activities, being actively involved so far in a wide variety of work related to these topics, including metadata, knowledge organization & classification systems (such as controlled vocabularies and ontologies), linked (open) data and semantic Web etc. Some of this work has been documented in the form of Project deliverables, blog posts and even research publications.
I recently received an invitation by Kozmenko Science Publishing on me joining the team of reviewers for their Knowledge and Performance Management journal. I happily accepted the invitation and found myself in the team, along with respected researchers and scholars from all over the world. I like reviewing the work of others and I have past experience as a reviewer of both journal and conference submissions so I am eager to start contributing to the journal by providing my own reviews on the upcoming submissions.

This only made me realize that it has been quite a long time since I last worked on a publication...


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Presenting NEUROPUBLIC’s Smart Farming Project in Money Show 2017 Conference

On Saturday 20/5/2017, a workshop titled «The implementation of a project for the production of “intelligent” early harvest olive oils through smart farming and the first global clinical study on people with Mild Cognitive Impairment» took place in the context of the 28th Money Show 2017 at Thessaloniki, Greece. I was there, representing NEUROPUBLIC.



The workshop was organized by YANNI’S OLIVE GROVE, which participates in NEUROPUBLIC’s Smart Farming project, in collaboration with GAIA EPICHEREIN, Perrotis College of the American Farming School and the Greek Association of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders. I had the pleasure to visit the olive groves of the company some months ago (as well as to get to know the owners, the lovely Prodromou family, namely Yannis and Evi) and so I had a first-hand experience of the work that takes place there.

The speakers of the Workshop were:
  • Dr. Kyriaki Zinoviadou, Assistant Professor at the Department of Food Science and Technology of Perrotis College, who focused on the topic of organoleptic characteristics of olive oil and their improvement through the adoption of modern cultivation methods,
  • Me, as the Outreach & Networking Manager of NEUROPUBLIC, presenting the Smart Farming project of the company, focusing on the collaboration with the YANNI’S OLIVE GROVE company and explaining how data can lead to improved production in an environmentally friendly way, and
  • Mrs. Eftychia Lazarou, from the Greek Association of Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders, who presented initial results from the clinical study that is currently in progress and concerns the positive effect of early harvest olive oil in the Mild Cognitive Disorder.

The speakers presented different aspects of the multi-awarded in international competitions early harvest olive oil of YIANNI’S OLIVE GROVE, starting from the production (see the collaboration with NP in the context of its Smart Farming project), its improved organoleptic characteristics (see the collaboration with the American Farming School) and its potential beneficial properties for human health (see the collaboration with the Greek Association of Alzheimer disease).

The panel was coordinated by Mrs. Evi Psounou-Prodromou from the YIANNI’S OLIVE GROVE company; as regards the audience, the workshop was attended by olive producers, representatives of companies working from various aspects with olive oil etc. The workshop was concluded with a tasting session including early harvest olive oils and olive products of ANNI’S OLIVE GROVE by the specialized international expert Dr. Zinoviadou, at the Ephessus Room of the Hyatt Regency Hotel.


I was happy to be among the speakers of the workshop, and to have the opportunity to talk about our smart farming project - especially as a core component of a multi-actor approach that leads to the high-quality outcomes of the aforementioned early harvest extra virgin olive oils.

A description of the event (along with the description of an additional one of the series) is available here (Greek only).

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Working out of office: My "on-the-go" setup (2016 version)

(Why 2016 version? Just because some new parts have not been extensively tested in 2017 - read below for more info!)

I usually have the opportunity (and I say so, because I consider it to be a great opportunity) to work away from office. Don't get me wrong; I like my working environment - I still love changing setups and have found that new working environments improve my productivity.

My current office setup consists of a desktop Windows 10-powered PC (not the fastest around but does the work) with two screens connected (a habit that I got a couple of years ago, when I was using a 17-inch laptop at work with a screen attached), a Logitech mouse and a Microsoft keyboard, along with piles of printed documents and hand-written notes, newspapers focused in agriculture (stored in a bin behind my desk), a weird smartphone stand and pens/pencils/post-it notes. I also have a diary where I keep my daily notes (To-Do lists, notes taken during meetings - I avoid using notebook sheets for that - etc.).

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My work (especially in the past) included several days/weeks of work outside the office - including trips abroad for project meetings, Conferences and Workshops, meetings with customers and collaborators, field visits, training opportunities etc. Therefore, I had to adapt to a digital nomad approach, where I could have access to all my work (e.g. emails, documents and notes) all the time, even when I was away from office. I therefore tried and tested (under real circumstances) different tools, setups and approaches, in order to ensure that being out of office would not affect my productivity. Some of the key components are the following:

1. Backpack: I cannot imagine a trip abroad without a backpack - and I mean a good one! This is where all important stuff goes, including my laptop (or tablet) and charger, mouse, documents related to the trip including passport and maps, boarding passes, things to read or review during the flight/trip, pens/pencils/markers/notepads, my diary, smartphone and wallet etc. For such kind of trips you need an elegant but still durable backpack (water-resistance is also an essential feature). I currently use a Lufthansa Boeing 747-8 Collection Backpack, which is suitable for laptops up to 17,3' and has plenty of pockets for all stuff I need to have with me.



2. Laptop: One of the most essential companions during a trip. I am not processing video when I am on the go, so I do not need the most powerful laptop available. I have used several significantly different laptops, each one having advantages and drawbacks: my 17-inch Toshiba Satellite provided ample working space but was bulky, heavy and short on battery power, my 11,6-inch Acer netbook was ultra portable but lagging to catch up with basic tasks even with Linux installed, my 15,6-inch basic Acer Aspire laptop providing a balance between portability and performance, with surprising good battery - for a €300 laptop!).

I recently started traveling with my 10,1-inch Windows Tablet (Z3735F @ 1,33GHz, 2 GB RAM and 32GB storage), accompanied by a bluetooth keyboard (Logitech K480), a travel mouse and an external hard disk (where most - if not all - of my work is synced). By using a tablet with a detachable keyboard I have the flexibility to use tablet only (lighter) when reading e.g. at the airport or during a flight and easily convert it to a mini-laptop during the meeting or at the hotel room. Performance of the tablet is adequate for typical usage (e.g. editing slides and documents, web browsing and social media - even for watching movies if there is time for that!) and tiny screen is usually not an issue: sometimes I even have the option to plug it to larger screen (if available) or the hotel room's TV (not as frequently as I would like, I have to admit). Battery life time is usually adequate for a half-day meeting but power sockets are usually available.

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3. Documents (digital): A connection to the internet is not always available (e.g. in airports, hotel rooms and even meeting places), but still I need to have a copy of my work as a reference at all times. My work exists in Dropbox, so I only have to copy my Dropbox folder to an external hard disk before the trip. All changes of documents are then synced with my Dropbox on the cloud - it is a great convenience! On top of that, all photos taken with my Windows Phone (ranging from event photos to scans of receipts) are available on OneDrive and synced with my laptops.

4. Software: I like to travel light (not that I manage to do so in all occasions), so I tend to reduce the amount of printed material I carry with my while travelling. To do so, I have to replace traditional tools of the trade with digital ones. For example, I keep in Google Calendar all important dates (deadlines & milestones for project tasks, dates for events like Conferences etc.). I use Trello for organizing my work/tasks and efficiently allocate my time to each, Google Docs for keeping notes during meetings, working on large documents and allow collaborative work with colleagues, as well as Evernote for check lists and for draft blog posts (I like the formatting better). These eliminate the need to carry around diaries, notepads and even printed versions of documents.

5. Tools of the trade: It is obvious that it is hard to skip all printed versions of documents; for example, I personally still find it more convenient to go through documents in their printed form, take notes with color pens, highlight parts with color pencils - and the fact that you don't have to care about the status of your reader's (e.g. laptop/tablet) status is a bonus! So I always carry blue/black/red pens with me, a couple of markers for highlighting text, post it notes etc., as well as a number of USB sticks (to share files when internet is not an option), a laser pointer (not only it is a handy tool, usually overlooked, but also makes you look more professional), business cards in an neat aluminum case etc.

This is more or less what I use to keep myself productive while being out of office - and it has been successfully tested in numerous occasions. As a gadget-junkie and a curious mind, I tend to find new tools and ways to improve my setup, testing and integrating them in my workflows. Traveling might be challenging, but only if you are not well-prepared for it! 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Presenting NEUROPUBLIC's smart farming project in the si-Cluster meeting

On February 7th, 2017, a special meeting took place at the premises of the Corallia innovation hubsi-Cluster members were invited to join and make a 5- min presentation of their work (always related to space technologies) to the Minister for Digital Policy, Telecommunications and Information Dr. Nikos Pappas and the Secretary General Dr. Lefteris Kretsos, among others. The meeting was organized in the context of the recent announcement about the establishment of the Greek National Center for Space Applications, as a part of a series of meetings between the Minister and Greek organizations (both public and private sector) that are activated in the space technologies ecosystem.
The aim of the specific meeting was to inform the Minister about the si-Cluster ecosystem which are surely of relevance to this announcement and focus on applications based on space technologies which are developed and applied by Greek companies and research / higher education institutes (which are members of the si-Cluster). NEUROPUBLIC, as one of the si-Cluster members was one of the companies that had the opportunity to present their work to the officials of the Ministry. The company was represented by its CEO Mr. Giannis Mavroudis and me, and our presentation focused on its low cost smart farming services that the company designs and implements in the context of its smart farming project that takes place in various locations all over Greece.


The presentation referred to the role of various data and technology types, such as remote sensing, in the smart farming services of the company, the low cost of the services for the farmers as well as on the multiple benefits that they reap through the improvement of their yield both quantitative and qualitative, the reduced production cost and the improvement of their competitiveness in the market through the added value assigned to their products. Another important point of our presentation was the expertise of the company, obtained through its long-time collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), the technologies of which NEUROPUBLIC adapts and implements in the Greek agricultural sector.

Despite the fact that the time for the presentation of our work was limited, the Minister expressed his interest on our approach and the actual results achieved so far. Since agriculture is one of the key sectors with the potential to support the country's efforts for increased exports, the few agricultural applications of space technologies draw the attention of the special visitors.


All in all, I was really happy to participate in this event and have the opportunity not only to meet the Minister but also be a part of the effort contributing to the space technologies' ecosystem in Greece. Special thanks should go to the organizers of the event, who managed to set everything up in such a short time and cater for the needs of each individual participant of the event. We can only hope that the effort (referring to the presentation of the work of more than 20 Greek organizations) will lead to something substantial, in alignment with the ambitious plan of launching the Greek National Center for Space Applications.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Discussing smart farming in Greece in the KATANA Roadshow Athens

OpenCircle, an equity crowdfunding platform developed by Parnasse S.A. – and a consortium member of the KATANA Horizon 2020 project, organized on February 2nd 2017 a meeting (KATANA Roadshow Athens) at the premises of Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) in Athens, Greece. The event aimed at informing Greek potential stakeholders about the possibilities of applying innovative ideas and the funding opportunities offered by the project.

NEUROPUBLIC was invited by the organizers of the event to talk about the status of Smart Farming in Greece, and present its smart farming project which is currently taking places in various locations all over Greece, in collaboration with GAIA EPICHEIREIN. I had the opportunity to represent NEUROPUBLIC in the event so I compiled a set of slides (reusing existing material and adding my own touch in order to make the slides appealing to the specific audience) that tried to cover as many aspects as possible in the time allocated for this presentation.


Our contribution aimed at highlighting the specificities of the Greek agricultural sector that prevent typical smart farming approaches from being successfully applied in Greece as well as at encouraging participants to participate with related innovative ideas in the open call of the KATANA project.

What I found challenging was to collect sufficient information on the status of smart farming in Greece; despite the fact that there are numerous Greek SMEs providing the necessary hardware and services (though not as a package as NEUROPUBLIC does) and also numerous EU-funded projects that focused on applying smart farming approaches in various Greek cases of crops and locations, only scarce information was available. I found a couple of presentations, descriptions of a couple of related projects (but not their outcomes) and one really useful (and recent) report on precision agriculture in Greece (which provided useful information for some of the slides) co-authored by Prof. Fountas from the Agricultural University of Athens. I know that the Smart AKIS H2020 project will work on a marketplace for smart farming so I hope that all related information will be more easily discoverable and retrievable in the near future. :-)


The event was well organized (big thanks to the organizers - Parnasse S.A.), engaged a diverse audience (including academia, entrepreneurs, students etc.) and my presentation raised some interest among the participants, which was expressed in a high number of questions afterwards as well as after the end of the event. I also had the opportunity to make some really interesting connections meeting people working on smart farming from different perspectives.

ΚΑΤΑΝΑ is a project funded through the Horizon 2020 programme and aims to promote innovative and smart business ideas in the agrifood sector. Through a well-defined process which includes innovative tools such as peer to peer evaluation and Reward Crowd Funding, at the final step 10 innovative consortia will be selected and receive €100.000 each, in order to proceed with the implementation of their ideas.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Internet of Things and Agriculture: AIOTI Working Group 06


The Alliance for Internet of Things Innovation (AIOTI) was initiated by the European Commission in 2015, with the aim to strengthen the dialogue and interaction among Internet of Things (IoT) players in Europe, and to contribute to the creation of a dynamic European IoT ecosystem to speed up the take up of IoT. It involves a high number of organizations from the public and private sector that join forces towards a common goal.

AIOTI is organized in 13 Working Groups that cover different areas of IoT applications; NEUROPUBLIC is a member of AIOTI and one of the contributors to its WG 06: Smart Farming and Food Security. We gladly accepted Gradiant's invitation (the organization leading the specific WG) and so I found myself in Brussels on Sunday afternoon, getting ready to represent NEUROPUBLIC in the meeting which was hosted by the Spanish Office of Science and Technology (or Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas in Spanish).


I was excited to be on the same table with people from organizations such as Bayer Crop ScienceIBMSiemensCEMA (the voice of the EU agricultural machinery producers), COPA-COGECA (the voice of EU farmers and farmers' cooperatives) and Intracom Telecom, to name a few, and have the opportunity to discuss about the current status of implementation of new technologies and the IoT ecosystem in the agricultural context. I was also glad to meet old friend Christopher Brewster from TNO after quite a long time.
During the meeting, GAIA Epicheirein was mentioned as one good use case of application of new technologies in agriculture; I was happy to provide some insights on how GAIA Epicheirein was established and the work done in the context of NEUROPUBLIC's smart farming project that takes place all over Greece. Our new H2020 project DataBio was also mentioned quite a few times during the meeting, as one of the projects that may help push things forward in the specific context (see e.g. the smart farming pilots that NEUROPUBLIC will be responsible for).

The Smart AKIS H2020 project was also presented during the meeting by Ivo Hostens from CEMA, as a project that could be of interest to the scope of the group; more specifically, the marketplace that the project aims to build could be adapted by the WG.

The next steps of the Working Group were discussed during the meeting and there are still points to be addressed but this first face to face meeting of the Working Group gave a boost into the right direction (and also allowed the participants / members of the WG to get to know each other). I have the feeling that NEUROPUBLIC will be one of the important members of the group, due to its unique combination of technology/infrastructure, access to farmers (through GAIA Epicheirein) and application of its smart farming services under real conditions. :-)