Large gains in agricultural productivity are needed to ensure food security for the coming generations. Successful plant breeding programs search through thousands of plants to find the highest yielding plant types which will become new improved cultivars. Behind this factory-like approach to finding improved cultivars is a critical need for data management. A typical breeding program will produce hundreds of thousands of data points in a given year. Inefficient and poor handling of this data decreases the genetic gain of the breeding program, consequently reducing the rate of increase in food production.
While data handling has been a limiting area for breeding programs in the past, advances in computing have provided simple solutions that can address the needs of plant breeding programs. Handheld field computers, barcoded seed stocks, and electronic weigh scales are simple innovations that have the potential to drastically improve the realized rate of gain simply by allowing efficient collection of more data in a shorter time with fewer errors, but remain unimplemented in many breeding programs.
Many different developments must be made to provide food security in Africa over the coming decades. Equipping breeding programs with data capture and management technology is a small but critical piece of that work. By placing a handheld field computer in the hands of every breeder and technician [One Handheld Per Breeder (OHPB)], we will be able to effectively allow sub-Sahara Africa programs to stay up-to-date with data management solutions and efficiently run their own breeding programs.
This project will serve to support, equip and enable breeding programs currently supported by McKnight while developing suitable approaches for large-scale technology deployment in breeding programs across the world. The direct benefit of this approach will be to make these programs more efficient and reliable, bringing additional benefit to the current investment that has been made by the McKnight Foundation for variety development and research.
The larger impact of this project is to serve as a guide for developing a simple approach for equipping breeding and research programs across Africa with flexible, low-cost technology platforms to enable more efficient and robust research. A low-cost, simple technology package developed here will enable rapid adoption of new technology in breeding programs with a minimal investment.
We are working to design custom data collection and management software to be run on a hardware package which will be deployed in breeding programs in Kenya and Uganda. Data acquisition will be improved through the use of electronic data capture and barcoding, making data available in a shorter period of time, reducing errors from data transcription, and making data more accessible through relational databases.
By using low-cost Android™ consumer devices and keeping all software developed open source, we will keep costs to a minimum while allowing community involvement to be at a maximum. Android™ has many third party devices (scales, barcode scanners, sensors) which can be used in conjunction with main devices to truly reach the OHPB goal.
To ensure the greatest impact, we will evaluate hardware from both consumer and commercial markets to determine the utility and durability of different hardware combinations. We will evaluate the efficacy of the handheld field computers, barcode readers, electronic scales, and label printers in the breeding programs and adjust our packages based on feedback from the breeders and technicians.
Working with independent developers, we have already created and tested several different Android™ applications. The most prominent, Field Book, has garnered interest across the globe and is actively being developed. We’ve also created several “Tablet Tools” including an Inventory application that communicates wirelessly with an inexpensive scale.
Support and funding for this research was provided by the McKnight Foundation.