Nepal – making a failure out of a success


After an extended visit to Nepal in 2018 I realized that the countries agricultural problems could be summed up as 1) a deficit in horticultural knowledge, 2) a lack of equipment and 3) a failure to use appropriate technology.

I concluded that Nepal had the climate to be highly productive all year round. What it needed was an educational and research station where intensive horticulture and fertility management could be taught and novel ideas developed into working.

So when I left in February 2019 I left loaded up with soft furnishing goods bought from India and Nepal that I intended to sell over the summer. I posted most goods ahead and then carried more goods on the flight back. I hoped to raise £10k however it was a struggle and at times I found myself carting 50kg of goods on a bus to markets where I failed to even cover the bus fare home. I did though manage to sell some and so in November 2019 I returned with some tools and £3500 in cash; a third of what I had hoped to raise. However it was along with my knowledge and passion what I had. It was also to be the last ‘push’ for, having spent the last 13 years trying to help NGO’s and farmers build sustainable projects, I had had enough of engineered failure.

2018 Reconnaissance Survey

During my visit in 2018 I had laid down some foundations; I made some inquires and through those some connections. I further executed a reconnaissance survey on the terraces above Sedi village and concluded that whilst the soils were poor they could, given the climate, be far more productive than they were. The problem lay in a lack of basic knowledge in soil and plant husbandry. sedi-reconnaissance-survey

map of sedi reconnaissance area

So it was here on my return that I first started, with the guest house owner and on the terraces I had previously surveyed . However the owner had not taken on board any of the advice I had given him in the reconnaissance survey and it was soon apparent that he had no intention of doing so.

Thus I began to look elsewhere. It though proved to be a struggle for, as has been the perennial problem I have encountered in Asia, everyone you meet is keen on the ideas but shy on practical action. Their interest is superficial and once they realize that progress require effort that interest rapidly withers.



This search led me to ADAOS, a small NGO that was introduced to me by Sushil, a young plant pathologist I had met on a bus from Kathmandu. We had discussed ideas on the bus and later met to discuss them further. Sushil showed me several sites to begin a compost operation; one of which was ADAOS. A small NGO running a retirement home for Nepali cows and whose main stock in trade was bottling the urine for human consumption. back-in-the-shit

new vermiculture bed

They also had a fledgling vermicomost operation and were interested in nursery production. Their unshakable belief in the medicinal benefits of ‘holy cow’ urine though put me off.

It was also far from a suitable site with poor access and a lack of water but I could at least help them improve their compost and vermicompost operation and as it was already February I needed to start something, to put something practical into operation so I agreed to show them how to make better compost. 3-2-1 compost

This developed into a basic strategy to produce compost and manufacture potting compost for nursery production. I moved to an apartment to be nearer and then a few weeks later the Covid19 lockdown came in. The attitude changed, and as foreigner I was seen as the source of Covid19 and thus found myself barred from the site. Plants I had raised for the growing operations withered in their pots as Narandra constantly failed to pick them up. It was clear the end of the road had been reached. ADAOS

Lockdown also saw a puppy I would name Pinto come into my life. Whilst I had not intended on keeping him the extended lockdown saw me becoming attached and I determined to eventually take him back to the UK with me. a-rescued-puppy


Whilst working with ADAOS I met Santosh Koirala, who was minding his fathers joinery shop and who got the joke on the back of my t-shirt (Greta was angry but I’m fecking livid). On inquiring further I learned that he had spent 15 years in the States where he had completed a degree in chemical engineering (Texas A&M) and a doctorate in bio-molecular engineering (Lincoln). He was potentially an ideal partner for the biochar and biodiesel projects and so I returned and raised the ideas with him. Santosh was interested but before we could discuss the ideas further Lockdown intervened and progress stalled until July.


Following the easing of restrictions we met, visited the Amar Singh Chowk site and agreed a basic plan to build a training and research operation built upon a working nursery. The four months of lockdown meant time was of the essence if things were to be in place for the new year. First was the manufacture of compost and then to start building the raised beds. Plans were drawn up, agreed and work commenced. The full story will be written up but for now there is the overview I produced in December

The Successes

Water Hyacinth Organic Fertilizer

At the end of lockdown last year I was able to gather some water hyacinth from the Fewa lake. Most was used to make compost but some I kept aside and using a basic barrel press extracted the liquid. In total 50 ltrs was extracted and held onto for a liquid fertilizer trial. The trial was executed over 4 weeks in February and proved extremely successful.

Basil growth after twice weekly feeds of 1) 50ml water hyacinth extract (WHE), 2) 50ml of mineral nutrient solution (MNF), 3) 50ml water (control) over a 4 week period.

A paper for this will be written in due course and there is still time to turn the control of water hyacinth from an expense for the municipality to a benefit to the municipality and environment. All it requires is the willingness to do so.

Raised beds: Continuous Cropping

Whilst the raised beds were intended for seed production and teaching they provided an opportunity to demonstrate the benefits of all year round intensive cropping systems. Originally this was to be done using cold frames but with the decision by Santosh to cancel building the greenhouse, bamboo supports and plastic were erected to produce a hybrid cold frame and green house. Whilst the project was started the decision by Santosh to starve both the project and myself of funds and the subsequent theft of my dog meant that only the first crop was ever planted.

Biochar: the abandoned project

Biochar is an organic carbon that has a long half life and can be made from any carbon based material from wood wastes to plastic. Biochar has the potential to improve agricultural land and sequester carbon to address climate change. Nepal’s soils are low in carbon and in many cases this could be addressed with biocar additions. Furthermore I had interest from both National and International institutions to partner on biochar projects.

Carbon Sequestration Opportunities in the Agricultural Land of Nepal

The Failures

Why ADAOS Failed

It has to be said that ADAOS was always going to be a temporary engagement. The sites was unsuitable and the superstitious beliefs always going to get in the way of proper progress. It didn’t help that I was misled at the start into believing that I was dealing with a committee when in truth all decisions were Naranda’s. When the Covid lockdown begun those same irrational beliefs simply morphed into xenophobia and I was cast out like the proverbial leaper.

Why CESAR Failed

CESAR had much more promise and with Santosh having spent 15 years in the States where he gained his degree, masters and doctorate before doing several years work in industry I erroneously believed that things would be different. However;

  1. Santosh did no work. When we agreed to partner to build the project we agreed to split the work load whereby I was responsible for the design and operations to build the infrastructure whilst Santosh would take care of admin and communications. Sadly whilst I executed my side of the agreement Santosh did not do his and when I complained he openly admitted such but then did nothing to address it. If anything he came over as ‘entitled’ and if to add insult to injury then did less. The project could not survive if the admin and networking were not executed.
  2. What Santosh did do he then corrupted. There was in truth only one thing Santosh did: set up the NGO. Something only he could do as NGO’s in Nepal can only be set up and contain Nepali nationals on the board. Santosh took a long time to set the NGO up and when he did the board consisted of four family members none of whom had any interest in CESAR. This included the treasurer, secretary and vice chair. Thus as chair he did not have the casting vote but the majority. Not only was this in contravention of CESAR’s own constitution but it meant I was not dealing with an organization but an individual; one who ruled completely and who was similarly not committed to the project or prepared to do the bare minimum.
  3. Santosh agreed to a plan and then changed his mind after half the infrastructure had been built. This just creates crisis and increases the amount of work I have to do.
  4. Santosh refused to address issues such as water, rubbish burning and security. Water was a constant issue with a complete failure to provide as agreed sufficient storage. This included water for domestic use. Rubbish burning by the residents was common practice and went against the whole ethos of organization. Santosh addressed this by paying for the rubbish to be collected but did not enforce the collecting and disposing of rubbish and so the burning continued. Not one single bag was ever collected.
  5. Security, particularly the leaving open of gates by the residents was a major concern that I raised constantly but was ignored and one that ultimately led to the theft of my dog.

This wasn’t about money but interest and commitment to the project and the lack of concern about the security and well being of others. Santosh liked the idea of CESAR as a route to advance his Doctorate in bio-molecular engineering but when it came to the crunch not the idea of doing any work towards achieving this. When I started to complain not only did he do less but he also withheld funding. I was in the last few months starved into submission, no water, no gas and no food. In hindsight I wish I had walked away in January, after he decided to ditch the plans we had agreed a few weeks earlier and starve me of funds, but I wanted to complete the hyacinth and continuous cropping projects, I had put a lot of time and effort in and so I wanted something for my labours. The theft of my dog, a month later, a consequence of Santosh’s failure to address security was the worst of all possibilities. Hence I now regret continuing, had I left in January both myself and Pinto would already be back in the UK. Instead I will likely return on my own, financially broke, emotionally drained and bereft of all hope for planet Earth. Pinto


The irony here is that despite the failures of Santosh CESAR was proving to be a success. I had single handedly got the interest of international and national partners and was on target to build a first class teaching and research establishment. In all likelihood I would have succeeded in creating this in less time than the five years originally envisaged and similarly at a fraction of the costs. However this was only possible if others contributed and whilst I remained the only person committed, the only person doing any work then the project was doomed to fail.

I would aver that it wasn’t too much to ask for the organization to be created honestly and with an active and committed board; or for Santosh to make the necessary calls and arrange meetings with relevant civil departments. In particular turning an expense, the invasive water hyacinth, into a resource. The work was a success, the projects were working but whilst I was the only contributing partner I was in the end just another man’s slave.

Nepal whilst being one of the few countries that has the resources and climate to become a successful and sustainable agricultural society sadly lacks the will to do so. As the saying goes you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink and thus a success is turned into a failure.


I created this page to give some better images of my dog Pinto who was taked from Amar Singh Chowk of on February 8th.

Pinto was last seen getting on a bus to Hospital Chowk after which he disappeared.

I believe he has been taken and is now tied up or fenced in somewhere.

If you know where he is I am offering a 50,000 Rs reward for information leading to his recovery.

please send a photo via whatsapp on either of these two numbers

mobile 98 28 78 4793

whatsapp +44 7487 400 792

Pinto is a small neutered male of appro 11kg. He is vaccinated and microchipped and was due to be taken with me back to UK. If he is not found soon I will have to leave without him

Pinto’s story

Pinto came to me as a small puppy I rescued a year ago on the 2nd day of lockdown here in Nepal. I was sat at my PC, working or reading the news when I heard a commotion outside. I recognized the yelps and growl of a puppy so went to investigate.

Outside I found a neighbor pushing a tiny drenched puppy, for she had just poured a bucket of water over it, with a broom. I realized this little thing stood little hope of survival and so I went back inside and retrieved a basket I had bought to make a planter, an old sack, some string and some scissors to make a lid. I then went back out and the puppy had already ran into another neighbors garden. I went in and told the householder that I would catch him.

He was tucked into some plant pots and was snarling. So I quickly stitched a lid onto the basket and then took a small broom and waived it at he. As he lunged at it I grabbed him with my other hand, put him in the basket and then tied the sacking down.

This was him when I got him home.

more to come as I will share Pinto’s story from lockdown, our moves and our project work in Nepal.

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New Sites – New Hope

As a last ditch attempt to save planet Earth I have decided to concentrate my efforts through my own web sites and new blogs… To this aims I have re-uploaded the Persephone Habitat and Soil Management Site (if I hadn’t you couldn’t read this) so all my old posts are now back up and available to read. I will in time revise the site so that it continues to serve it’s original purpose: to provide free information and advise on building sustainability. I will also use it to continue to blog on environmental issues and developments. I have similarly set up several sub-domains which I will use to both blog and share detailed news on relevant projects I am involved with. These include: my Photo-Blog Here I will post short light-hearted posts supported by images and photo galleries. The site will act as a main repository for all my images which are available for personal use subject to correct attribution and linking back to the site and for purchase of higher quality prints (copyright and re-use) click to register with the site I have also created a site for Nepal . This site will concentrate on the projects I am working on that are related to Nepal. In addition to myself there are currently three other contributors but as projects progress I hope to increase the contributors so that a network is created that integrates the projects and shares information and resourses in a cooperative capacity. Click here if you want to contribute I will similarly be creating new pages for the Persephone project, I originally created a sub-domain but until there is more than just me working on it it doesn’t need it’s own site. It’s purpose is to promote the data ecosystem I believe can be contribute to tackling climate change on a global scale. Through the Persephone Project I hope to build a network and connect with people who have the web and app development skills to build the data ecosystem I envisage. One that can provide subsistence farmers with access to critical knowledge and to similarly act as a means to build a data cooperative so that those farmers can share resources, plan and market their produce collectively. Subsistence farmers number some 600 million people world wide (UNFAO), add in the family and that number jumps to over 3 Billion (half the worlds population). It is also within this group that the greatest population growth is occurring, the UN estimates between now and 2050 Africa will account for 50% of the worlds population growth. So it is with the poor that the greatest amount of work needs to be done and it is with the poor that the Persephone Project will concentrate its efforts. If you have web, app, database, distributed network or blockchain skills and think you can help then contact me  here. I will, when time permits revive my old blog conceptual-reflections. It was originally created to provide me with a place to vent my frustrations and keep my red flag waving antics off phasm. Age hasn’t subdued that need so I still need it but feel the above sites are not the right place for an ‘angry old man’ to spout venom. I will provide links once it has been revived. As a one man band who would rather be growing vegetables and chasing butterflies it is though a slow process. Building the sites and writing the posts as well as trying to phyisically build projects takes time and effort and there is only 24 hours in a day, six of them I need for sleeping. But we march on regardless, we continue to try to save ourselves from ourselves for failure is not the absence of success but giving up, and I haven’t yet reached that point. As long as one flower remains, there is hope. and I will cling to that hope regardless of how futile others think it is. Thanks for reading and please leave a positive comment or better still registered with any or all the sites above and (once I’ve set up the newsletters) you will get notifications of new posts. Regards Malcolm McEwen (aka Greenman-23)

The Persephone Project


Primary Mission statement

“Build a Comprehensive Data Network for Agriculture and the Environment”


The Persephone project has arisen out of the ongoing need to find a comprehensive solution to our growing agricultural and environmental woes. It presents a framework in which to holistically address our shared problems and to collectively design equitable and efficient solutions to them.


The main objective of the Persephone Project is to build a comprehensive ‘closed loop’ data framework to improve the production, sustainability, quality and consumption of agricultural products.

The Persephone Project further recognizes that stakeholders are integral to and the ultimate object of the system and so will adopt a ‘Wealth Creation through Distribution’ policy based on Metcalf’s law. The project has the ambitious target of reaching and including a billion small farmers over the next seven years in order to provide:

1) Access to relevant agricultural data

2) Tools to manage natural resources equitably and sustainably

3) Access to virtual and physical marketplaces

4) Automated mechanisms to manage produce logistics and authenticate origin.

In addition the framework will aim to generate significant ‘real time’ land use and environmental data at the local, state and national scales in order to provide markets and governmental bodies with accurate crop and environmental data.


The Persephone ecosystem is modular rather than a single homogeneous structure, with ‘no component within the network relying on another to function and no component essential to the function of the network as a whole’. The Persephone ecosystem is therefore robust and negates the potential for a single point of failure in the network. It’s modular design contains four core and two sympathetic components:

Despoena – Agricultural Resource Database and Management Tools

Paradigm – Agricultural and Environmental Database

Gateway – Entry level Crypto-currency tailored for subsistence farmers

VAMp – Virtual Agricultural Marketplaces

Juggernaut – Semi Autonomous Produce Logistics

IPAL – Independent Produce Authenticity Log


The Persephone ecosystem will be built upon the the ADS stack concept of Application, Database and Storage layers. Whilst it is a complete network capable of supplying critical data to small farmers, opening access to wider markets and improving produce logistics and authenticity it will retain the ability to add other features and to communicate and inter-operate with other electronic networks built upon the same stack architecture.

The Components

Gateway – Entry level Crypto-currency tailored for subsistence farmers

Despoena – Agricultural Resource Database and Management Tools

Paradigm – Agricultural and Environmental Database

VAMp – Virtual Agricultural Marketplaces

Juggernaut – Semi Autonomous Produce Logistics

IPAL – Independent Produce Authenticity Log

Gateway (GTE) – Entry Level Crypto-currency.

A stand alone crypto-currency Gateway will function as a means to raise capital (ICO) to build the other components and then as an entry level crypto-currency for subsistence farmers. With permissioned nodes, large blocks and only verified wallet owners Gateway will be a secure, low cost and user orientated blockchain . Additionally Gateway will introduce three novel features with Wealth Creation, Wallet Recovery and Exodus (a unique solution to the POW difficulty problem).

Despoena: Agricultural Resource Database and Management Tools

Despoena is a database of land use and resource availability complimented by a suite of apps designed to aid crop, soil, livestock and resource management at the farm, catchment and regional levels. At its heart is the Land Use Inventory (LUI); a self performed audit of the farm and it’s resources. By performing the audit and uploading the data to the network the farmer will earn tokens and gain entry to the Gateway token ecosystem. The data in the LUI will then be matched with scientific data in Paradigm to provide the farmer with soil, crop and livestock husbandry advice. The LUI will also supply data to DAO’s which in turn will provide resources management services at the catchment and regional level. Other DAO’s will keep markets via the VAMp informed of crop progress through out the growing season.

Paradigm: Agricultural and Environmental Database

The worlds environmental knowledge in a single accessible commons database is the aim of Paradigm. A structured searchable database that will power the applications of Despoena. Moving beyond agriculture Paradigm will grow to become a repository for all our knowledge on the planets biosphere; a comprehensive library to sustainable manage the Planet’s ecosystem.

VAMp : Virtual Agricultural Marketplaces

Virtual Agricultural Marketplaces will be built so that farmers can advertise their produce to physical marketplaces. Real time data from the DAO’s and the management apps will keep the VAMp up to date with crop progress and expected harvest dates. It is envisaged that the VAMp will encourage a dynamic relationship between the farmers and the physical markets to evolve so that the two plan together. An ‘Agricultural Bazaar’ where farmers can use their Gateway (GTE) tokens to buy and sell certified seeds, tools and other aids to crop production is also envisaged. Both aspects will be engineered and managed to encourage sustainable development and generate real value into the Gateway token ecosystem.

Juggernaut: Semi Autonomous Produce Logistics

Juggernaut is a complimentary service to the existing transport and logistic industries. Using mapping technology it will connect disparate entities in the supply chain and then plan the logistical movements of those goods. With the aim to reduce transport costs, improve delivery times and reduce cargo losses Juggernaut is seen as an intermediate stage to a fully autonomous logistics network.

IPAL: International Produce Authenticity Log

IPAL is a blockchain supply chain tool to track the movement of goods From Farm to Fork and provide an authenticity log to the final consumer.


Whilst all the components in the Persephone ecosystem are stand alone, (none are integral to the whole system), each component will be designed with the others in mind to give fast seamless operation across the network. Separation of function serving to make upgrades and maintenance to the system easier and providing robustness by negating the potential for a single point of failure or attack to the network. The ecosystem herein described should not be regarded as extensive but a summary of what can be achieved.

to read the full concept note please download the pdf document


A Shared Global Data Ecosystem for Agriculture and the Environment


The executive summary of GODAN’s recent discussion document ‘A Global Data Ecosystem for Agriculture and Food’, (the cover of which manages to somewhat capture the problem with the modern agricultural environment), calls for:

..a common data ecosystem, produced and used by diverse stake-holders, from smallholders to multinational conglomerates, a shared global data space..

The report identified stakeholder engagement, provenance in data sourcing and handling, sharing, and collaborative frameworks as key components in developing a global data ecosystem.

Stakeholder Engagement and Data Integrity

However within the agricultural sector “many groups might not have obvious motivation to participate in data sharing and use…” and that “ order to get trust-worthy data, there has to be a direct reward to the data supplier.” The authors further state that “a large part of the motivation for data sharing has to do with how widely it will be shared, with whom and under what conditions.

There is, justified or otherwise, suspicion that data may be misappropriated to the provider’s dis-advantage or provide disproportionate advantage to others. The perceived risk of negative unforeseen consequences can outweigh any potential benefits of sharing data, particularly when those benefits can not be so readily quantified or realized in the short term.

Stakeholders may develop a big brother mentality where they respond by withholding data or deliberately providing inaccurate data in the belief they are better served. This problem is amplified in the provenance of agricultural products, which “undergo a chain of transformations and pass through many hands on their way to the final consumer”. One drop in the veracity of data at any point in the chain potentially undermines all the data in that chain. These issues are sadly though not just relevant to small farmers and supply chain operators but are as prevalent and strongly held by many of the big data holders such as trans-national corporations, governments and academic institutions.

Informed Consent

Whilst the integrity of the source and the veracity of the data are important factors in building a global data ecosystem the authors further identified ‘documentation, support and interaction’ as key to fostering trust. Data providers and users need to interact so as to serve each others needs better and ensure that stakeholders feel included not just sampled. Stakeholders need to be confident that there are no negative consequences or disproportionate benefits from sharing data to the whole ecosystem.

Sharing Frameworks

Where the data is held, who maintains it, the veracity, accessibility and availability to the whole ecosystem as well as who pays to deliver those services are issues that also need to be addressed. A global data ecosystem cannot rely on single large repositories to act as data silo’s or individual data providers to maintain data crucial for network function. Data needs to be distributed and maintained across the system to prevent bottle necks and failure points . The concept of the ADS (application database storage) network  which exploits the distributed network concept could potentially offer resolutions to many if not all these issues.

Data Conformity and Convention

Whilst stakeholders need an environment that is transparent, robust and secure, the data, as does all the documentation and support in that environment, needs to conform to certain conventions. The ‘five star open data maturity model (available, structured, non-proprietary format, referenceable and linked)’ lays out a basic checklist but these properties themselves need to further conform to taxonomies and naming conventions (controlled vocabularies) that are inter disciplinary and facilitate data from different sources being easily related. Conventions which must themselves be explained in and applied to any documentation and support.


In order to get trust-worthy data, there has to be a direct reward to the data supplier

For large stakeholders, governments and corporations that reward may come from the need to provide proof in meeting sustainable development goals and climate commitments, but with smaller stakeholders the same incentives may not apply. The question needs to be asked “what’s the data worth?” or more importantly “what is the cost of not having the data?” Can we achieve global sustainability goals and climate objectives without the majority of stakeholders taking part? If we can’t, is it worth weighting benefits in the short term to favour the smaller stakeholders to encourage them? Even weighting that benefit in the form of payment for engaging, and if so can technologies such as blockchain be used to verify data and facilitate those payments? One possible use for such a mechanism would be for the annotation of data such as satellite imagery.

Collaborative Frameworks

The authors draw attention to the fact that sharing data is only the start; “It is one thing to share data, but to achieve the desired gains from a data ecosystem for agriculture, to draw conclusions across the globe to guide decision making, it is necessary to exploit synergy between datasets efficiently.

Such synergies however arise out of a framework that extends beyond purely agricultural data to one that includes all environmental data. It is a framework that similarly needs to be able to seamlessly integrate with more mundane economic, sociopolitical and legal data and frameworks, an integration that will itself give rise to greater synergies between our economic activities and their environmental consequences. Di-Functional Modelling (DFM), what most of this site is dedicated too, is one such framework.

agricultue-zero-emission02Di-Functional Modelling (DFM)

Designed around the concept of soil fertility DFM was created to model the processes and resources that contribute to the sustainable management of an environmental project. In the normal course these would be the soils of an agricultural unit, a group of units or a component in a unit such as a field, forest or grassland.

However DFM is not restricted to modelling soil fertility and can be used to model other mechanisms in the agricultural and wider environment. [Agriculture in a Zero Emissions Society]

DFM is not though a database, blockchain or application but a framework or ‘ecosystem’ within which the inter-dependencies of the whole system can be more easily visualized. DFM can thus assist in the development of databases, blockchains and applications that are inter-operable and can exchange and verify environmental and agricultural data [Data Databases and Distributed Networks].

agricultue-zero-emission-economicDFM similarly models the processes and functions of an agricultural system relative to the whole. A whole that further extends to the interactions and exchanges that occur between natural systems and the socioeconomic systems they support. These sociopolitical, economic and legal system are themselves nested within the model.

These inner mechanisms are connected to the environment by existing supply chain mechanisms, data from which can reveal the true sustainability or carbon footprint of agricultural goods [TRASE]. Further enhancement of these mechanisms with relevant data should make it possible to trace the ingredients of a chocolate bar from field to retail outlet, every step and any within to give a grand total of the true cost of the indulgence in terms of carbon, habitat or social impact. Once calculated the totals could be added to your own personal tally of GHG emissions, habitat loss and social deprivation. [strengthening the food chain with the block chain]


DFM was though conceived for and is best used to help determine localized land use, crop choices and management strategies based on the available resources and the soil, habitat and hydrological properties. It was not envisaged as a top down tool but as a tool to be applied at farm end; to provide a means to both audit the farm and it’s resources and structure that audit in a way that facilitates integrating scientific data. By repeating the process on successive farms and linking those farms through a content management system each audit would contribute to a greater one permitting each unit to enhance it’s own data with that of neighbouring farms. Extended over a region and the framework would help to manage and allocate resources, plan crop choices and integrate with the natural environment: A Shared Global Data Ecosystem that mirrors the Shared Global Ecosystem we call home.


Towards a Data Ready Farm




 The Sustainable Farm

The sustainable farm and by extension a sustainable agricultural sector and planet, is one underpinned by knowledge and driven by data. Knowledge and data that can contribute to crop and livestock choices, resource management and ultimately reveal the sustainability, or not, of an enterprise.

The data ready farm is thus aware of it’s own resources, the resources of the surrounding environment and the relationship it has with those resources and the markets it supplies.




Local Knowledge: A Land Use Inventory

Whilst technology has a significant role to play, the data ready farm begins with knowledge of itself, the land use (woodland, cultivated, grassland), the inherent properties (soil and water resources), as well as the livestock and crops that depend on those resources. It is a simple inventory at the local scale; one which requires no equipment to perform.

Land Use                       Woodland, Cultivated, Grassland
Inherent Properties    Soil Texture and Water Resources
Land Dependants        Livestock and Crop Choices

The inventory should distinguish land use according to basic habitat criteria: woodland, grassland and cultivated. As this is a farm the cultivated habitats further differentiate into arable (short rotation), permanent (orchards, vineyards, etc) or heterogeneous (covered crops, flowers, etc). The woodlands and grasslands similarly differentiate but at this point only grasslands land connected with farming, pasture and rough grazing, need to be differentiated. The boundaries between and within the habitats, along with any hedgerows, fences or banks on those boundaries, and the position of any wells, standing or running water within them should also be recorded and mapped. Even if the farm appears homogeneous, has only one land use, crop or livestock, it is still likely made up of several parcels of land with varying properties; properties that are not easily visible in themselves but can be revealed by the recording and analysis of simple data, such as soil texture.

hand textural chart by S Nortcliff and JS Lang from Rowell (1994)

hand textural chart by S Nortcliff and JS Lang from Rowell (1994)

Soil Texture

Soil texture, a property that arises out of the relative proportions of sand silt and clay strongly influences the hydrological and nutrient characteristics of the soil. Variations in soil texture across a field or farm can thus reveal changes in the hydrology or nutrient status of the soil.

Soil texture can be measured by taking a small sample of soil from just below the surface (10cm). Moistened with water or spit the sample is then moulded with the hands into a ball. The ball is then deformed and it’s malleability noted and checked against a chart. The sample is usually taken along a ‘W’ transect positioned across the face of a field and the data bulked to provide a single textural class for that field/plot. All that now remains is to quantify the livestock and crop choices that depend on the land; at this point it is jut to list the type, number and location of stock and crops. This basic reconnaissance map, which needs no equipment to create, can be drawn onto a piece of paper to identify the land use, crop choices, soil texture, location of water and number of livestock.


A Local Inventory in a Global Context

With remote sensing and mobile technology the inventory and soil data could be annotated directly onto a map from the field. Coupled with Geo-statistical strategies this could be further developed to create complex contour maps of textural variation across the agricultural landscapes. With additional external scientific, environmental and economic data this local inventory could be qualified relative to a global economy


data-ready-farm-02science-dataScientific Data

Into this inventory scientific data relevant to the sustainable management of resources and the husbandry of crops and livestock can be appended.

Meteorology           Quarterly precipitation figures.
Crop Data                Nutrition, culture, pest and disease, 
Livestock Data       Nutrition, stocking numbers, general husbandry.
Soil Mineral data   345 nutrient model



Environmental Data

data-ready-farm-02environmentsIntegration of environmental data can help the farm be sympathetic to the needs of the natural environment and the species that inhabit it. Aware of the environments and species around it the data ready farm can identify synergies and conflicts and then use that data to find resolutions to conservation, pollution and emissions issues.

Conserve habitats and species
Prevent pollution from soil erosion and nutrient leaching
Reduce emissions from livestock and management practices



Market Data

To meet global sustainability goals the data ready farm must link and integrate with the ‘wider’ economic, sociopolitical and legal frameworks. Data from supply chain mechanisms, political policies, and legal and administrative bodies must integrate seamlessly with data from the agricultural and natural environments to meet SDG’s and climate change objectives.

Supply Chains               TRASE and the blockchain
Legal Frameworks       COP22 Objective
Political policy              Paris Agreement

A Local Data Hub

A farm that is aware of itself, the environment and the markets it supplies has the means to measure it’s sustainability relative to the environment and the markets. However a farm integrated with neighbouring farms can improve it’s sustainability. A locally connected farm has greater resilience and can better manage and share resources, integrate crop and livestock choices, and supply markets more efficiently. A local data hub can connect remote farmers and help to build trust and educate in using and sharing data.

Applications and Databases

To move beyond a simply inventory and into a sustainable data driven future requires the development of applications and databases that compliment the framework. Some such as TRASE already exist but local databases and applications to share data within a comprehensive and structured framework still needs development. [Data Databases and Distributed Networks]